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Blackcomb’s yurts restricted to day-use Overnighter’s out of luck for now By Paul Andrew It would have been a unique way to spend New Year’s Eve: You and 15 of your closest friends all chipping in for an expensive, opulent and upscale ski vacation right on the mountain — literally. It would have all taken place in the Blackcomb yurts, two cleverly camouflaged huts nestled in the trees off 7th Heaven below some of the most impressive peaks in the Spearhead Range. And a hot tub comes with the territory. Although it’s $1,000 per person for two days, so what? Considering the gourmet dinner, the guided descents, the high-pro equipment rentals thrown in for good measure and the view, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but one that’s on hold for the moment. The centrepiece of the Mountain Adventure Academy when introduced two years ago, the yurts program is on hold right now. "At this point, the yurts won’t be an overnight thing, because the (RMOW) said they’re not zoned for overnight use," said Rob McSkimming, managing director of the Ski and Snowboard School for Whistler-Blackcomb. "When we first put them in, we didn’t know we needed that kind of a permit, or that zoning. So what we’ve decided to do was make it a day-lodge thing, for lunch or just some general use during the day." The lunch-time use is really a continuation of what the yurts have mostly been used for anyway, McSkimming said. During the last two years, the overnight aspect has not been used as much as Whistler-Blackcomb had anticipated. The word "yurt" is defined by Funk & Wagnalls as a tent made of felt used by nomadic Mongols in central Asia. The yurts on Blackcomb are a little different, more permanent and much more modern than the Mongols’ version. These yurts sit side by side; one of them is spacious enough to serve as a sleeping quarters for up to 16 people on 8 full-size futons. Curtains divide the area the way a pie is sliced into eight pieces. The other yurt acts as a kitchen and reception/meeting area. They are attached by a small patio-walkway. The original plan was guests would spend two full days and one luxurious night on the mountain. Members of the Whistler-Blackcomb Freeride Team would act as guides. McSkimming said some of those things may still be available on a limited basis. But, like so many other programs that are innovative and slightly ahead of their time, the Mountain Adventure Academy’s best days are yet to come. "The MAA was a speciality program and we sort of dropped it. Extremely Canadian and our own Freeriders would’ve been a good fit for that but it’s hard to generate interest for it. I think it has a good future and someday it should really take off," McSkimming said. "I assume they still do some of that with the Freeride Team. We have to figure out where (the MAA) will fit in." In the meantime, the yurts are open for lunch, on a limited basis. Perhaps you’re a little frustrated by having to dine with the masses and want to experience Blackcomb’s wild side. If so, you can book ahead through the ski school and reserve the yurt for lunch. It’s about $15 per person, but it’s exclusive and if you’re in luck, you might bump into a Freeride Team member or have a cook who knows some great stories about Body Bag Bowl, which is more or less in your direct line of view as you enter the yurts. If you have a conference and all the participants are of the outdoorsy nature, book the yurts for the meeting rather than a room without a view. "I think any time you can experience something like that it’s pretty special," McSkimming said. "And I imagine the yurts will be open for lunch New Year’s Day. So you could still be the first one to use the yurts in the year 2000 if you book ahead."

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