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Whistler-Blackcomb's kinder, gentler community spea



By Vivian Moreau

Will the downhill runs be ready in time, how many kilometres of cable will Peak to Peak need and what will Intrawest’s ownership change mean were just some of the questions Whistler-Blackcomb staff fielded at a community open house held Dec. 9 at Legends in Creekside.

Several hundred people showed up for coffee, cookies, and a chance to chat with some 30 Whistler-Blackcomb staff representing a half-dozen departments.

Grooming manager Stan Kelly answered questions about the challenges of modifying Franz’s run so that men’s and women’s World Cup downhill races can be staged in early 2008, a precursor to the 2010 Winter Games. Working with 2010 Games staff this summer Kelly and about 50 other workers brought in three dozen pieces of heavy machinery to widen training and race runs and install snowmaking gear.

“Some of the rock knobs and cliff sections in there were much too abrupt,” Kelly said, “and wouldn’t allow for safe passage for a downhill so those were softened somewhat.”

Chief electrician Laird Brown has worked for almost 29 years on the mountains. Most people at the open house asked him about the 30-centimetre cable chunk on display, he said, handing over the wrist-snapping four-kilogram chunk for inspection.

“That’s the track rope for the (proposed) Peak to Peak tram,” he said. “We’ve got 4.2 kilometres of that.”

Bear Ridge resident Noel Villard was happy to learn about some new heli-ski runs he hadn’t been aware of, but wasn’t too keen on everyone learning about the new Symphony Bowl, that will open Dec. 16 with the launch of the $9 million Symphony Express high-speed quad chairlift.

“I used to hike over there and ski the powder,” Villard said, “and it wasn’t a secret but was more secret than it is now.”

Although Whistler-Blackcomb has in the past held open houses to highlight specific events, like the Peak to Peak proposal two years ago, this was only the second expansive open house the company had organized in almost 10 years.

Whistler-Blackcomb’s chief operating officer fielded questions about ownership changes from residents and pass holders and said there will be more open houses in the future as the Intrawest subsidiary takes a more proactive approach to interacting with the public.

“We believe we’ve always had an open door but… we do have to take the initiative and step out a bit and step up more,” Dave Brownlie said. “When people think of Whistler-Blackcomb or Intrawest they think it’s this big company,” he added, “but at the end of the day we’re people that work and live in this community, that are bringing up families here and we want to make this place the best it can be and work as a part of that.”