whistler-blackcomb.com wins Internet World Award When Neil Fancourt and his team of website designers set out to create the Whistler-Blackcomb website, they had one clear objective: to create a dynamic and interactive web site experience that blew the competition out of the water. "We did our research," says Fancourt, manager of Whistler-Blackcomb’s interactive media department. "We wanted something that truly represented the number one status of the mountains — there’s a certain level of expectation there which we wanted to do more than just meet." Not only did the site blow the competition away, it also blew away the judges at Penton Media, who awarded whistler-blackcomb.com with an Internet World Impact Award in the category "Changing the Way People Play" on Feb. 16. "It’s amazing when you think about it," says Fancourt. "We set our sites on creating the best mountain site in North America, in that specific category, and we one an award for one of the best sites overall. We are constantly looking around to see what else is out there, and I’m convinced that we have one of best sites in the world." Since the site went on-line on Sept. 15, more than 1.7 million users have logged on to the site, from places as far away as Botswana and the United Arab Emirates. Although Fancourt has only started to analyze the user data in more depth, preliminary surveys indicate that more than 40 per cent of those visitors appear to be repeat visitors from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Japan. Part of that success is attributable to the dynamic content and interactive components of the site, says Fancourt. "It’s never the same site twice. Every time you log on, there’s something different to read about, and there are features like our web cams and live mountain weather reports that can show you what’s going on on the mountains this minute." While most companies strive to make their websites as universal as possible for people with slow modems and antiquated browsers, Whistler Blackcomb has taken the high road, employing some of the most cutting-edge web technology available. Although you’ll need an advanced browser and Flash to enjoy the full whistler-blackcomb.com site, Fancourt says that more than 90 per cent of users are using newer browsers and 86 per cent have Flash. Faster modems are also becoming the norm. "We were worried initially that the technology we used in the site would put it out of reach for a lot of customers, but just the opposite was true. We actually provided a site that gave a lot of customers the opportunity to put all this new technology to use," says Fancourt. "Most websites you go to, all you get is flat content — you sit and you read. Our site encourages users to play, to move things around, to put themselves into the sight. You bring a real experience into a virtual experience, so people can see for themselves what it’s like to stand on top of Whistler Mountain, for example." Some of that technology includes live web cams, virtual tours using 360-degree IPIX panoramic images, an interactive Flash features that allows you to compare the acreage of Whistler-Blackcomb to other resorts and the highest buildings in the world, and up-to-the-minute updates on weather conditions around the mountains. Content is continually updated by Rahoul Ghose, editor and photographer for the site and Higher Ground magazine. There is also a photo gallery, detailed maps of the hill and a calendar of events for the mountains and the town of Whistler. Another growing aspect of the site is it’s ability to customize content to match the preferences of frequent users and members through the new BroadVision platform, which also handles the customization of the e-commerce component of the site. BroadVision allows whistler-blackcomb.com to gauge a users’ prevailing interests, such as snowboarding and checking out the web cam on Glacier Lodge, and customize the content on the front page with snowboarding stories and pictures, and a link to the web cams section. Another element of the site is the fact that the Employee Experience online application component has become a standard in the application process. "Every one of our new employees this year has had to fill out and submit an online application this year," says Fancourt. "Even if they showed up at Employee Experience with a resume in their hand, they would still have been asked to use the terminals that were provided. The advantage is that people can apply from all over the world without having to come to Whistler first." The Interactive Media department is composed of just five employees, who together had the site up and running within 3 months. Fancourt is the manager, a programmer and an Australian who came to Whistler three years ago for a vacation and never left. Sean Wood is the graphical and technical designer for the site. Karla Grenon is in charge of marketing. Molly O’Callaghan co-ordinates e-commerce and retail opportunities. Ghose develops the content.