In the midst of one of its strongest winters to date, Whistler Blackcomb has announced $8 million in capital investments expected for completion ahead of the 2016-17 ski season.
Plans include enhancements to ski and snowboard learning areas, improvements to alpine hiking trails, and major upgrades to both the Roundhouse Lodge's viewing deck and the Garibaldi Lift Company's (GLC) patio.
"These plans are designed to improve guest experience, enhance our weather resiliency and contribute to the year-round growth of our business," said Whistler Blackcomb president and CEO Dave Brownlie in a release. "Reinvesting in our operations and continuing to provide new offerings to guests year after year is something we are very proud of."
Upgrades to Whistler Mountain's learning areas will involve earthwork to open up more beginner-friendly terrain in the Olympic Station area, as well as re-grading Olympic, Fantastic and the Upper Whiskey Jack runs to make them more accessible for novice skiers and riders. Whistler Blackcomb will also add two new covered magic carpet lifts at Olympic Station and 25 new energy-efficient snow guns to the area to ensure optimal ski conditions.
"One of the things we think is really important as the business continues to develop and grow is to give people the best possible introduction to the sport. Hopefully that means more of those people who try it, stay with it," said Rob McSkimming, WB's VP of business development. "For us it's about being able to really optimize the terrain we have."
The resort's emphasis on the entry-level skier is at least partially to do with the burgeoning Chinese ski market, McSkimming said, with country officials banking on the excitement of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to bring up to 300 million new skiers to the slopes.
"I think that the growth in that Asian and Chinese market is a factor in pretty much all of the initiatives we've announced," he added.
A more pressing contributor is WB's desire to effectively weatherproof the resort, which it is now well positioned to do with the addition of its new fleet of state-of-the-art snow guns. Along with being more energy efficient, the guns are also quiet enough to run 24 hours a day, dramatically upping WB's snowmaking capability.
"Right now our snow guns are so loud that they interrupt the experience, so we run them at night and turn them off during the day," McSkimming said. "The combination of more guns and the ability to run them 24-7 gives us we think a lot more opportunity to produce snow when we have the temperatures to do so."
The summer experience will get a boost as well with resurfacing and widening planned for the Harmony Lake, Peak Express Traverse and Whistler Summit Interpretive Walk hiking trails on Whistler Mountain, along with the Alpine Walk trail on Blackcomb. Plans for Blackcomb also entail some landscaping to "provide a better sense of arrival" once guests unload off the Peak 2 Peak, McSkimming said.
"The Alpine Club is in favour of human-powered access to alpine areas, so... getting people onto those trails that they can explore with their own feet is wonderful," said Alpine Club of Canada Whistler chapter member Mitch Sulkers, although he added he'd like to see trail improvements made in the area around Decker Pond on Blackcomb.
The Roundhouse Lodge glacier-view deck will get a facelift with the addition of 1,828 sq. m. of space with a new upper and lower deck, as well as an "umbrella bar" with a collapsible roof that can accommodate changing weather conditions. The construction will add approximately 160 new outdoor seats to the lodge, 63 of which are slated for the heated umbrella bar.
"We'll run that part of the deck in the winter, so it will provide a bar-type service in the wintertime as well as the summer," explained McSkimming.
At the GLC, upgrades will include a renovation of the section of patio overlooking Skier's Plaza with the addition of a new roof, heaters and fire pits. The improvements will increase the GLC patio's capacity by 24 covered seats.
"It's obviously a great improvement for the GLC, but it will also enhance the look and feel of that whole gondola entrance," said WB's VP of food and beverage, Paul Street.
Whistler Blackcomb posted its highest year-to-date skier visits in company history during its quarterly financial report last week, tallying 1.14 million visits for the year so far.