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Whistler-Blackcomb gears up for expansion

Flute Bowl comes into play

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No new lifts planned as Whistler ski area boundary grows by 30 per cent

North America’s largest ski resort just got a lot bigger.

The ski area boundaries on Whistler Mountain are being pushed a little further back this winter on two sides of the mountain to encompass the Peak to Creek and Flute areas, a move that effectively increases the skiable terrain by about 1,100 acres, or 30 per cent. According to Whistler-Blackcomb, it’s the biggest single expansion in the history of the resort.

No new lifts are being planned to service these areas, at least not at first. Already well-travelled, both areas will now officially be within the ski area boundaries, which means avalanche control and ski patrol.

Whistler-Blackcomb announced the expansion last week, as well as several other initiatives for the 2004-05 season. All together, Whistler-Blackcomb is spending $14.2 million on improvements this summer, as well as increasing their annual operating costs as a result of the new boundaries.

The goal according to Doug Forseth, Whistler-Blackcomb senior vice-president of operations, is to satisfy a growing "thirst for terrain" on the part of visitors.

"We’re working on a long-term plan called Whistler-Blackcomb 2014 in an attempt to understand what our clients and customers want," said Forseth.

"That report has not been completed, but what we’re seeing is that the demographics are changing. The baby-boomers are getting older…and now we’re seeing the generation X-ers, the echo boom come through, and they’re looking for a different kind of experience.

"For example, we’ve seen a growing demand for backcountry ski lift passes and the backcountry experience. Users might see the Flute expansion as a positive thing.

"The (Peak to Creek expansion) will add something different.

"It’s one of the longest runs on the mountain, probably one of the longest runs anywhere.

"It’s rugged, it has a lot of features and has a lot of character, and that’s why people like it."

Once the 2014 plan is completed, Whistler-Blackcomb will have a better idea whether or not they are going to build any new lifts to service either the Flute or Peak to Creek areas. In the meantime, Whistler-Blackcomb decided to offer both areas as unique and skiing experiences.

"We thought the environmentally sensitive approach made a lot of sense," said Forseth.

Whistler-Blackcomb acknowledges that the expansion might be unpopular with die-hard locals and long-time customers because it could increase traffic in two popular areas.

"We tried to be sensitive to that," said Foseth.

"The Flute area is self-limiting – you have to have the motivation to walk up there and then walk back out. Not everybody is going to want to do that. This creates a safer experience for people out there. Locals that consider that their space have been very lucky, because people have died out there.

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