Ready or not, here it comes.
Heavy snow in the alpine over the past week on top of ongoing snowmaking operations have allowed Whistler Mountain to open almost two weeks early this year, with opening day moved up to Saturday, Nov. 14 from Thursday, Nov. 26.
According to a Whistler Blackcomb press release on Tuesday, between 70 and 100 cm of snow have fallen in the alpine over the past weeks, and forecasts are calling for another 50 cm by opening day.
Lifts and terrain are limited for opening weekend. The main access is up the Whistler Village Gondola, and three lifts will be in operation - Big Red Express, Emerald Express and Franz's Chair. Blackcomb and Creekside will not open until Nov. 26.
Whistler Blackcomb is also cautioning that early season conditions are in effect, and skiers and snowboarders are urged to stay within the temporary boundary markers that will be moved back as the snow base allows.
In addition to groomed runs, the Whistler Blackcomb Park Rangers are getting a few rails and obstacles ready for jibbers.
Whistler Blackcomb Guest Relations in Whistler Village and Blackcomb Lodge will open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday to assist guests purchasing and picking up passes and to handle the volume of skiers and riders.
Skiing and riding with care
Whistler Blackcomb began posting online snow reports on Wednesday and according to the report the snow base at Pig Alley Weather Station on Whistler Mountain stood at 90 cm Wednesday morning - good for an opening day, but not enough to fill in all the gaps between rocks, cover stumps and open the alpine.
And while the Canadian Avalanche Centre is not posting ratings as yet because of a lack of data, they issued a special advisory last week that heavy snow and strong winds may be creating slabs and producing unstable conditions at upper elevations, similar to mid-winter conditions.
In other words, it might be a good idea to heed signs and stay in bounds.
In light of last season's avalanche deaths on Whistler Blackcomb, the company has created a new Temporary Boundary sign in addition to regular boundary signs. The Temporary Boundary sign "indicates a non-permanent boundary line to denote areas that are considered unsafe to open up to guests due to snow conditions and natural or man-made hazards." The red signs are specifically intended for early and late season and meant to indicate that an area may have unmarked hazards. Guests who ski past these markers do so at their own risk, and areas outside the markers are not patrolled.
"We see too many accidents because of people simply ignoring warnings, and nobody wants to see accidents happening unnecessarily," said Whistler Blackcomb spokesperson Christina Moore. "There's so much excitement about the new snow - and many (temporary boundary) areas will likely look in great shape at the top - but... the area is not skiable in its entirety and unmarked hazards will likely exist. We want our guests to stay safe."
Other signs to watch for include the orange Ski Area Boundary Signs, Permanently Closed signs (lift privileges will be revoked), Closed Avalanche Hazard signs (lift privileges will be revoked), Avalanche Prone Area signs which you can only enter through gates if they are opened by patrollers, Closed signs, Marginal Skiing signs, Unmarked Rocks & Obstacles signs, and Experts Only signs.
Pass-a-Mania pushed to Blackcomb opening
The decision to open 12 days early this year made it impossible to host the Pass-a-Mania competition for opening day, but organizers at Whistler Blackcomb are following through with their plan to award free passes to the male and female who pass a series of challenges over 24 hours.
The contest is being moved from the base of Whistler to the base of Blackcomb, and will get underway at 8 a.m. on Nov. 25 for the Nov. 26 opening day on Blackcomb.
At Pass-a-Mania a field 20 contestants will match skills and wits for a chance to win one of two season passes as well as space on the first gondola up the mountain.
The competition will take place in a Peak 2 Peak gondola cabin with 15 challenges over the course of the day. Each challenge is worth points and the contestants with the most points at the end of the 24 hours will win.
To participate, go to wwwwhistlerblackcomb.com/opening to register. Ten men and 10 women will be selected at random to take part.