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Whistler-Blackcomb rescues XC season

Lost Lake trails closed due to weather, snowpack

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After just over three weeks in operation this season, the municipality decided to pull the plug on the Lost Lake Cross Country Trails after heavy rains hit in January, and forecasts were issued calling for continued warm weather.

The final decision regarding the Lost Lake trails was made on Tuesday, Feb. 1, two weeks after the rain started on Jan. 17. The trails were first closed to the public on Jan. 19 because of the slush and ice, and until the decision was made to end the season the plan has been to reopen core trails using snow from Meadow Park once temperatures cool.

There is still a chance that people will be cross-country skiing in the valley again this winter.

"If it snows to the bottom we will groom it for free public use," said Roger Weetman, the RMOW manager of program services and community liaison. "But I think the forecast for the near future is more warm weather like this, so the real issue is we have to get the ground to freeze again.

"Even if we do that, we usually struggle in a good season to have (the trails) running through March, so we’re probably looking, at best, at salvaging a couple of weeks. Because of that we decided that the best use of public resources is to cut our losses."

According to Weetman, about a dozen full and part-time cashiers will be laid off as a result of the closure. Other employees are on contract with the municipality or are volunteers.

The trails opened to the public on Dec. 27, which means that the trail system was open for 22 days before the Jan. 19 decision to close operations.

Weetman doesn’t have statistics to compare to other seasons, but said the pass insurance guarantees 10 weeks.

"A normal season is more around the 13-week mark, or somewhere between 10 weeks and 13 weeks – definitely not three weeks," he said.

"I prefer to be the bearer of good news."

Good news came a day later as the municipality and Whistler-Blackcomb agreed to open a cross-country skiing area on Whistler Mountain in the flat area outside the Roundhouse Lodge. The municipality is providing machinery, including the groomer and track setter, as well as staff to set and operate the trails.

The trails will be open to the public for a fee, as well as season pass holders and 10-time pass holders through Whistler-Blackcomb ticket booths for no additional charge.

The goal is to have the track set and open by Saturday, Feb. 5.

According to Ian Goldstone, co-owner of the Whistler Cross-Country Connection, they haven’t given up on the valley yet.

"I can tell you what our plans are," he said. "When winter arrives, we’ll be open five minutes later. As long as it’s safe and enjoyable to ski… we’ll be open."

Goldstone says they have about a dozen part-time staff that aren’t working.

"Our team, most of our staff, work here for fun, they’ll be okay, but it certainly would be nicer to be cutting them some cheques."

The Whistler Nordics program is still on stand-by, and the annual Loppet is most likely cancelled according to president Tom Barratt.

"If we have an opportunity towards the end of the month to have something informal, even if it’s just a kid’s race, we’ll do it. It will be something small on short notice, so at this point it looks like the Loppet is probably not going to happen," he said.

With Whistler-Blackcomb and the municipality reaching an agreement on Wednesday, Barratt was unable to comment on how the opening of a track on Whistler-Blackcomb will impact the Whistler Nordics and its programs.

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