Whistler Blackcomb

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This article is about the ski resort. For other pages with the name Whistler, see Whistler (disambiguation).
Whistler Blackcomb
WhistlerBlackcomb Logo.svg
Panorama of Whistler Blackcomb
Panorama of Whistler Blackcomb
Location Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Peak
Nearest city Vancouver
Coordinates 50°06′30″N 122°56′33″W / 50.10833°N 122.94250°W / 50.10833; -122.94250 (Whistler Blackcomb)Coordinates: 50°06′30″N 122°56′33″W / 50.10833°N 122.94250°W / 50.10833; -122.94250 (Whistler Blackcomb)
Vertical Whistler: 1530 m (5020')
Blackcomb: 1565 m (5133')
Top elevation Whistler: 2182 m (7160')
Blackcomb: 2436 m (7992')
Base elevation Creekside: 653 m (2140')
Village: 675 m (2214')
Skiable area Whistler: 4,757 acres (1,925 ha)
Blackcomb: 3,414 acres (1,382 ha)
Runs 200+
Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg 35 – Easiest
Ski trail rating symbol-blue square.svg 110 – More Difficult
Ski trail rating symbol-black diamond.svg 35 – Most Difficult
Ski trail rating symbol-double black diamond.svg 20 – Expert
Longest run Burnt Stew (Whistler), Green Road (Blackcomb): Both are 11 km (6.8 mi)
Lift system 39
5 gondolas
13 high-speed quad chairlifts
5 chairlifts
16 surface lifts
Lift capacity 65,507 skiers/hr
Whistler: 34,345
Blackcomb: 31,162
Snowfall 10.22 m/year (402 in.)
Snowmaking Whistler: 215 acres
(87 hectares), 4.5%
Blackcomb: 350 acres
(142 hectares), 10.3%
Web site Whistler Blackcomb

Whistler Blackcomb (TSXWB) is a major ski resort located 125 km north of Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada. By many measures it is the largest ski resort in North America; it is 50% larger than its nearest competitor in terms of size, has the greatest uphill lift capacity, and until 2009, had the highest vertical skiable distance by a wide margin. Whistler Blackcomb also features the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for moving between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains at the top; Peak 2 Peak holds records for the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world. With all of this capacity, Whistler Blackcomb is also often the most-visited ski resort, often besting 2 million visitors a year.

Whistler was originally conceived as part of a bid to win the 1968 Winter Olympics, but a series of events led to the bids being withdrawn or losing to other cities. Construction of the resort started in spite of this, and the resort first opened for business in January 1966. The resort expanded extensively in the 1980s and 90s, becoming the centrepiece of a renewed bid on the part of nearby Vancouver. Vancouver/Whistler was selected as the winning bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics in July 2003. Whistler Blackcomb hosted the alpine skiing events, including the men's and women's Olympic and Paralympic alpine skiing disciplines of downhill, Super-G, giant slalom, super combined and slalom. The Dave Murray downhill course towards Whistler Creekside finally hosted an Olympic downhill event, 50 years after it was originally surveyed for this purpose.

Whistler and Blackcomb were originally separate resorts, until they merged in 1997. Intrawest, the BC real estate firm that developed Blackcomb, purchased Whistler and merged the two operations. Over the next decade, the company expanded by purchasing additional ski resorts across North America, before expanding into golf and other resorts as well. Whistler Village, widely recognized for its livable design, formed the basis of similar Tyrolian-inspired developments at their expanding series of resorts, as well as other resorts that hired Intrawest to build similar developments on their behalf. Intrawest resorts share a common recognizable style.

In 2006 Intrawest was purchased by the alternative asset management firm, Fortress Investment Group. Three weeks before the opening of the 2010 Olympics, Fortress failed to make payment on its loan used to buy out Intrawest. This caused its creditors to force Intrawest to divest itself of several of its resort holdings in 2009 and 2010 which included a partial sale of Whistler Blackcomb, in order to reduce its debt load.[1] This was achieved through a public offering of shares of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2010. The net outcome of the reorganization is that Whistler Blackcomb Holdings is the managing partner and controls 75% of the partnerships which own the assets of Whistler Blackcomb. The remaining 25% of the partnerships are owned by Nippon Cable. Intrawest sold its remaining 24% stake in Whistler Blackcomb to KSL Capital Partners in 2012.[2]

Description[edit]

Whistler Mountain is the right-most (southern) mountain when looking at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area from Whistler Village. It has a summit elevation of 2,184 meters (7,165 feet). The total vertical drop is 1,530 meters (5,020 feet) and 4,757 acres (1,925 ha) skiable inbound terrain. Whistler is served by a total of 20 lifts; 2 gondolas, 7 high-speed detachable quad chair lifts, 2 fixed grip chair lifts, 2 T-bars. and the drive station for the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connecting it with Blackcomb mountain to the north. There are 4 on-hill restaurants, as well as a children's ski school facility and children can sign up for a five-day lesson called "Adventure Camp". It is served by two base areas: Whistler Creek, the original base on its southwest flank, and Whistler Village on its northwest flank.

Blackcomb Mountain is the left-most (northern) mountain when looking at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area from Whistler Village. It has a lift-serviced elevation of 2,240 metres (7,350 feet) at the top of the 7th Heaven chair – Blackcomb Mountain itself is higher at 2,440 meters (8,010 feet), but unlike Whistler the peak is not lift-served. Blackcomb has a higher skiable vertical, at 1,565 meters (5,135 feet),[3] and less in-bound skiing area at 3,414 acres (1,382 ha). It is served by 17 lifts; 1 gondola, 6 high-speed quads, 3 fixed-grip triples and 7 surface lifts, as well as the end-station for the Peak 2 Peak. Blackcomb is the location of the world famous "Couloir Extreme" run, which is one of the top ten steep in-bounds runs in the world according to Skiing Magazine. Originally called the Saudan Couloir by local skiers even before it was part of the ski area, the company eventually had to drop the name when extreme skier Sylvain Saudan complained about the unauthorised use of his name.

The two previously separate ski areas of Whistler and Blackcomb were integrated into one operation in 1997[4] after Intrawest merged with Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation. Ticketing, pass, and access control systems for the two ski areas were fully integrated in 2003. Together, Whistler and Blackcomb form the largest ski area in North America at 8,171 acres (33 km2), 54% larger than that of Vail, the next largest, which has 5,289 acres (21.40 km2). Either mountain alone would be in the top-five in terms of size.

The mountains are accessed primarily via three gondolas, Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola and Whistler Mountain Village Gondola in the Village, and the Whistler Creekside Gondola to the south in the Creekside area. Alternates include several high-speed quads. The primary skiing terrain starts about one-third up the mountains. Ski-outs to the valley are usually possible during the months of December through April. The mid- and upper- areas are serviced by 10 high-speed detachable chairs and 5 fixed-grip lifts made by Lift Engineering, Doppelmayr and Poma. Four T-bars service the Horstman Glacier and the Whistler alpine regions and take skiers to the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier. The overall lift capacity, 65,507 skiers per hour, is the greatest in North America.

Travelling from one mountain to the other, while staying in the ski area, was only possible at the valley elevation before 2008. It was only when Whistler Blackcomb connected the two mountains at approximately 1,800 m (5,900 ft) with the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that visitors could then travel between mountains without skiing down and taking the regular lifts up. This lift opened on December 12, 2008.[5] The lift has a total length of 4.4 km (2.7 mi) and the longest unsupported span for a lift of its kind in the world at 3.02 km (1.88 mi) while also having the highest ground clearance for a lift of its kind, 436 m (1,430 ft) above the valley floor.[6]

Whistler Village, which is part of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, a geo-political entity not directly associated with the resort company's operation, is situated at the base of the Whistler Mountain Village Gondola and Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola. The Village incorporates community services, shops, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, hotels, condominiums and vacation properties. The Village is 675 m (2,215 ft) above sea level, and is located 137 km (85 mi) from Vancouver International Airport.

Microsoft Windows XP is codenamed "Whistler" after this ski resort, as many Microsoft employees skied at this resort during its development.[7]

History[edit]

Early visitors[edit]

The valley area between Whistler and Blackcomb was first surveyed and documented in 1858 by Hudson’s Bay men looking for an alternate route into the Cariboo area further north. Although little-used at the time, the route would later become one of the many paths used during the Gold Rush at the turn of the century. Known as the Pemberton Trail, the route followed a path similar to the Sea-to-Sky Highway, leading past the Whistler area to the present day town of Pemberton. In the 1860s British Naval surveyors named the mountain "London Mountain," but it soon garnered the nickname "Whistler" because of the shrill whistle made by the Western Hoary Marmots who lived among the rocks. Four lakes paralleled the route of Trail, the highest then being known as Summit Lake. However, there was another Summit Lake in BC, and in 1910 the name was changed to its current form, Alta Lake.[8]

One of the first permanent residents in the Alta Lake area was trapper John Millar, who set up a cabin next to the trail just south of the base of the mountain. During a trip to sell furs in Vancouver in 1911, Millar stopped at the Horseshoe Bar & Grill for dinner. The cook was Alex Philip from Maine, and Millar invited Philip to join him for dinner. Millar was a storyteller, and during the conversations that followed, he invited Philip to visit the Alta area. Alex and his wife Myrtle visited what was then known as Summit Lake several times over the next few years, and in 1913 they purchased 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land on the northwest corner of Alta Lake for $700.[8]

Rainbow Lodge and other early resorts[edit]

By 1914, their Rainbow Lodge fishing resort was completed with four bedrooms, a large living/dining area and a kitchen. The resort was named for the Rainbow trout that were the main attraction of the resort.[8] That same year, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) reached the lake, from Squamish. Executives of the PGE suggested the Lodge host fishermen from Vancouver, which was now less than two days away (from three or more) via steamship to Squamish and then the PGE to Alta Lake. A standard rate of $2 for a week was applied, and the very first group arrived with 25 people. The resort was a hit.[8] Millar left when the railway arrived, looking to get further away from civilization.

Building followed demand, and over time the lodge grew to include an additional 45 buildings (cabins, tennis courts, general store, post office) and could accommodate 100 people. It became the most popular west coast resort for 30 years.[8][9] The Philips operated the Lodge until 1948 when they sold it to Alec and Audrey Greenwood. The main Lodge burnt down in 1977, but today the area has been preserved as Rainbow Park. The Philips both remained in the valley until their deaths. Alex died in 1968 at the age of 86, and Myrtle died in 1986 at the age of 95.[8]

Following the successful launch of Rainbow Lodge, several other tourist resorts set up in the valley. Russell Anderson Jordan opened the Alta Lake Hotel which burned down in 1930, and replaced it with Jordan’s Lodge on nearby Nita Lake. Bert and Agnes Harrop built Harrop’s Point in the 1920s. This became the Cypress Lodge in 1945 under its then-owner Dick Fairhurst, who built new cabins and a main lodge in the early 1960s. In 1972 the property was purchased by the Canadian Youth Hostel Association and it remained the Whistler Hostel until it was closed in 2010 when the association (now Hostelling International) opened a new, larger hostel. Cecilia and John Mansell moved to Alta Lake in 1945 and built the Hillcrest Lodge near today’s Lakeside Park on Alta Lake. They sold it in 1965 to the Mason Family and others who operated it as Mount Whistler Lodge for skiers. The main lodge was burnt in a fire practice by the fire department in 1986.[8]

There was some commercial use of the London Mountain area as well. Logging had been carried out for some time, but the arrival of the railway in 1914 made this much more profitable and for several years there were a few sizable mills and lumber operations: The Barrs at Parkhurst Mill on Green Lake (to the north), and the Gebharts with the Rainbow Lumber Company on Alta Lake. The fur trade remained for some time, later supplanted by a mink and marten farm. Jimmy Fitzsimmons ran a prospecting support company, which led to mining surveys up Fitzsimmons Valley. The shafts can still be found on the Singing Pass trail.[8]

Olympic dreams[edit]

In 1960 the Canadian Olympic Association visited the west coast looking for potential sites for a future 1968 Winter Olympics. They initially looked at a site on Diamond Head[10] just north of Squamish, which was already developed to the extent of a single chairlift. However, they concluded that the area simply couldn't be developed properly, "it just wasn’t the right terrain for a world-class resort.”[8] Franz Wilhelmsen, a local businessman who had married into the Seagram family, had already come to the same conclusions when he had been scouting areas for a new ski resort. He met with the COA and convinced them to look further north in the London Mountain area, “And they were impressed.”[8]

Encouraged by their positive reviews, Wilhelmsen organized the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) to make a formal bid. At this time there was no road, no electricity, and no piped water or sewer in Alta Lake. Their bid for the Olympics was unsurprisingly rejected, and the Canadian bid was given to Calgary, who came in a close second place to Grenoble. Undaunted, Wilhelmsen decided to press ahead with development of a resort.[8]

In 1962 the Garibaldi Lifts Limited was formed with Franz Wilhelmsen as President. It had two main objectives, to finance and supervise required land/business studies, and to erect and operate ski lifts on London Mountain. The company had little experience in ski operations, so they hired Willy Schaeffler, a well known developer, to help them. Schaeffler proved as enthusiastic about London Mountain as COA and GODA had been. Schaeffler returned and wrote a good feasibility study about the Alta area, which had no mining claims.[8]

From 1962 to 1965 Garibaldi Lifts raised funds and began development of the ski area on the south side of the mountain. The government agreed that they would set aside a 56-acre (230,000 m2) plot at the base of the mountain for Garibaldi Lifts Limited to buy, and agreed to bring the highway to the base of the mountain if they could raise enough money. By 1965 they had reached their goal of raising $800,000 and started planning for development. However, they were not happy with the name, and on August 27, 1965 London Mountain officially became Whistler Mountain.[8]

By 1965 the Provincial Government had completed a narrow gravel road from Vancouver. Electricity arrived the same year with the installation of a substation along the lines from Bridge River. Everything was in place, and the Alta area became a hive of development.[8] GODA made a bid for the 1972 Winter Olympics, but Banff won again and eventually lost to Japan.[8]

Whistler opens[edit]

By the fall of 1965 the ski area featured a four person gondola to the mountain’s mid-station, a double chairlift to the alpine tree line (the Red Chair), and two T-bars, all provided by GMD Mueller. In addition a day lodge was constructed and six ski runs cut into the hill. Whistler officially opened for skiing for the first time on January 15, 1966. The new mountain won instant acclaim for its vertical drop, good snow conditions, and huge alpine area. The only problem at the time was the road—it was a dirt logging track, which was only plowed on Saturday, to the detriment of Friday travellers.[8]

With real infrastructure in place, in 1968 GODA made another bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics, and this time the joint Vancouver/Garibaldi won the Canadian nomination. However, in 1970 when Montreal won the voting for the 1976 Summer Olympics, Vancouver/Garibaldi was removed from further consideration and the games eventually went to Denver, Colorado. In a stunning turn of events, Denver turned down the games after winning the bidding.[11] The games were then offered to the other North American entry, Vancouver/Garibaldi, but political turmoil due to the recent change in government led to their bid being withdrawn as well, and in desperation the IOC returned the games to Innsbruck for a second time in a row.

The gravel road was paved to Whistler in 1966, and to Pemberton in 1969. The Blue and Green chairlifts were added in 1970, providing access to additional terrain. In 1972 these were joined by the Olive and Orange chairlifts. A parallel lift to the Green Chair to alleviate crowds came in 1974, and the Little Red Chair came in 1978. The Roundhouse, an on-mountain lodge and restaurant, was completed in 1980. This new lodge provided respite for cold skiers who had survived the long ride up on the Red Chair.

Whistler Village[edit]

In 1974 the provincial New Democratic Party of British Columbia was interested in developing tourism and took a number of steps affecting Whistler. At the time, the Alta Lake area was overdeveloped, so the government instituted a development freeze while they studied the problem. The only solution was to continue development in another location. They quickly decided to focus on the table between Whistler and Blackcomb, about 4 km to the north of the existing facilities on Alta Lake. At that time this was the site of the Alta Lake dump, and the remains of a Volkswagen Van are still buried under the modern village.[8]

In 1975 the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was formed, the first Resort Municipality in Canada and also the first place in British Columbia since Canadian prohibition where bars were allowed to be open on Sunday. The act also created the Whistler Village Land Company who would oversee all development of the new Whistler Village. In 1977 the provincial government named Al Raine the Provincial Ski Area Co-ordinator, in charge of expanding BC's skiing capabilities. Raine was previously National Coach for the Canadian Women’s Ski Team, and was married to famous Canadian skier Nancy Greene. Raine saw the potential in developing Blackcomb Mountain, then part of the Garibaldi Provincial Park, and joined the Whistler city council. The Blackcomb area was currently zoned for logging, but Raine and Greene successfully lobbied the government to remove the zoning and allow development as a ski area.[8]

In 1977 the Municipality hired Sutcliffe Griggs Moodie Development Consultants to design a layout for Whistler Village's development. However, their design was considered too conventional and allowed too much car traffic. Raine recommended Eldon Beck, who had been the primary designer at Vail, celebrated for its layout. Beck’s designs included a pedestrian Main Street Village Stroll and an elevated covered walkway system, limiting all vehicles to the outside of the developed area. To this day the Village retains this basic design in spite of dramatic expansions, and has won worldwide acclaim in architecture circles.[8]

In January 1978, 53 acres (210,000 m2) of crown land were given to the Whistler municipality to develop the town centre. The first sod for the village was turned on August 18, 1978 by first Mayor Pat Carleton. By 1979 lots of amenities were in place, including Municipal Hall, Fire Hall, Health Care Centre, and Elementary School. Phase 1 expansion included 11 parcels in the modern Village Square area, including the Whistler Conference Centre, a variety of hotels, restaurants, grocery store, hardware store, etc. An enormous underground garage was built to support all of the buildings in the area, completed before any construction could start above it.[8] The first hotel, the Blackcomb Lodge, anchors the Village Square area to this day.

Blackcomb opens[edit]

Blackcomb Mountain logo, 1980–1985

In 1978 a call for bids was issued to develop Blackcomb for skiing. The bidding to develop Blackcomb was contested by two companies, the Aspen Ski Company, and the newly formed Blackcomb Ski Company.[8] Aspen, having recently developed the Fortress Mountain Resort in Alberta, won the contest. A new company, Fortress Mountain Resorts, was formed with a 50–50 partnership between Aspen and the Federal Business Development Bank of Canada. The new competition, paid for partially by tax dollars, was not initially appreciated by Whistler. Initial development of the mountain included four triple chairlifts (later named Cruiser, Stoker, Catskinner and Fitzsimmons) and one double chairlift supplied by Lift Engineering.The double chair was installed on the lower cruiser run and was used as a beginner chair at a reduced speed. At the time the lifts were referred to only by number.

Blackcomb opened for skiing on December 6, 1980,[9] along with the newly constructed Village. To ensure guests could continue to easily access Whistler from the new Village, three triple chairlifts were added to Whistler for the same season; the Village, Olympic, and Black Chairs which met up with the top of the Orange chair at the top of the mens [DH] downhill course. Whistler's original base began to be referred to as Whistler Creek, or Creekside, after the creek that runs through the area.

Competition and buildout[edit]

Throughout the 1980s the two ski areas competed strongly for ticket sales among the Village visitors, which led to a rapid buildout of new lifts that opened new areas and improved ride times.

In 1982, "Chair 6" (later rebranded Jersey Cream) opened in the Horstman Creek drainage on Blackcomb. Whistler cut new trails along the northern flank of the mountain. In 1983 Blackcomb acquired a used T-Bar from Fortress Mountain and installed it on a south-facing slope, in full view of Whistler Mountain. This 7th lift was coined 7th Heaven T-Bar and gave access to high alpine and glaciated terrain. It also gave Blackcomb the highest lift-serviced vertical drop of any ski area in North America, with the top of the lift at 7,494 feet (2,284 m). Blackcomb promoted themselves as the “Mile High Mountain".

Whistler responded in 1986 with the Peak Chair to the summit of Whistler Mountain at 7,160 feet (2,180 m). Although not as high as 7th Heaven, this lift opened up Whistler Mountain's alpine terrain, and allowed access to the Harmony Bowl area. The new terrain made Whistler the largest alpine ski area in North America.[9]

Skiers could buy a Blackcomb pass, a Whistler pass, or a Dual Mountain pass. Locals loved when tourists would ask “Where is Dual Mountain?”[8]

Intrawest buys Blackcomb[edit]

Blackcomb Mountain, as seen looking north from Whistler Mountain. The trails served by Seventh Heaven are seen face-on just right of mid-frame, the upper half of these trails are not obvious in the large "bowl" along the top of the peak. The majority of Blackcomb's trails run down the slope to the left, and are not easily visible in this picture.

In 1986, Blackcomb's assets and real estate rights were bought by fledgling real estate developer Intrawest. Intrawest was an early developer of timeshare listings, and saw the potential in developing the ski resort with condominium assets as a timeshare destination.[12]

Intrawest immediately carried out massive upgrades on Blackcomb. They started by moving the 7th Heaven T-Bar to Horstman Glacier, and adding the Showcase T-Bar running up the back of the Glacier to the 7th Heaven peak. The original 7th Heaven T-Bar was replaced by a new Doppelmayr high-speed quad chairlift. Two additional Doppelmayr detachable quads were added as the Wizard and Solar Coaster lifts, cutting the ride time from base to the alpine area from 45 minutes to 15. The Rendezvous Restaurant was redubbed Base 2 and the moniker moved to the restaurant at the top of the Solar Coaster lift.

Renewed competition[edit]

In response to Blackcomb Mountain's construction of three high-speed quads, Whistler Mountain undertook one of the biggest ski-lift construction projects ever realized in Canada at the time, the construction of the Whistler Express Gondola. Carrying passengers 1,157 m (3,796 ft) vertically and 5 km (3.1 mi) horizontally over 63 support towers, the lift opened on November 24, 1988. In 1990 Whistler began upgrading its aging fleet of fixed grip chairlifts with the addition of its first high-speed quad chairlift. The Green Chair Express, which replaced the two Green Chairs, was built by Lift Engineering (Yan), and substantially cut long lift queues in the Green area of the mountain. A year later, Whistler Mountain replaced three double chairlifts and the original Creekside gondola with two high-speed quad chairlifts, the Quicksilver Express and Redline Express lifts, also built by Lift Engineering. 1994 saw the removal of the Blue Chair, and the construction of the Harmony Express to Little Whistler Peak, built by Poma.

In 1994, Blackcomb made its last major lift expansion with the replacement of the Stoker, Cruiser, and Fitzsimmons lifts with the high-speed Excelerator quad chair and Excalibur Gondola. The second is dubbed by some as the "gondola to nowhere" since it doesn't connect with any restaurant or access additional terrain. However, it allowed rapid alpine access for skiers in Whistler Village, who previously had to take 4 chairlifts to Rendezvous (Fitzsimmons, Stoker, Cruiser, and Jersey Cream, with 3 of those being slower chairs). The Excelerator also opened up a vast area of intermediate-difficulty terrain to the left of Solar Coaster and below Jersey Cream that was previously neglected and under-utilized, because skiers who travel those slopes frequently had to go all the way to the bottom of the mountain, which is over-skied and icy.

This competition had driven development of the two mountains at a rate no other resorts could come close to matching. In 1992, Snow Country Magazine voted Whistler the Number One Ski Resort in North America. Similar No. 1 rankings quickly followed from other major magazines, and between 1992 and 2000 it won No. 1 ranking from one of the major magazines every year. In 1996, it became the only resort in history to be simultaneously named No. 1 by Snow Country, SKI and Skiing Magazines.[9]

Intrawest buys Whistler[edit]

Whistler Mountain, as seen looking south from Blackcomb Mountain. The original Whistler area starts mid-frame and extends down and to the right. Whistler Peak is just to the right of the fold. To the left of the peak is the Harmony Bowl area, Little Whistler Peak, and then the recently opened Symphony Bowl. The Black Tusk can be seen in the distance between Whistler Peak and Little Whistler.

In 1997, the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation was also bought out by Intrawest.[9]

Like their expansion on Blackcomb, Intrawest immediately started a major build-out on Whistler. The Quicksilver lift was replaced with a Poma gondola, the Creekside Gondola, while the Green Chair Express and Redline lifts were removed and replaced with Doppelmayr high speed quad chair lifts, aptly named the Emerald Express and Big Red Express lifts. The original Roundhouse was demolished and a new lodge built in its place. Around this time Intrawest began marketing the two mountains as one large ski area under the name "Whistler-Blackcomb". On April 20, 1999, Whistler Blackcomb became the first North American ski resort to top 2 million skier visits in one season.

1998 saw the replacement of the Peak Chair with a high-speed quad. The original Peak Chair was renamed to Franz's Chair and moved parallel to the Big Red Express chair with a return station approximately halfway up the Big Red Express lift line. Franz's Chair runs primarily in early and late season, when lower altitudes are not well covered. The Black Chair was replaced with a high-speed quad (Garbanzo Express Chair), and another was added (the Fitzsimmons Express Chair) in 2000, following the line of the long-gone Village Chair. The top of the Fitzsimmons and the bottom of the Garbanzo are co-located in the Village Gondola Olympic station area, providing extra lift capacity from the Whistler Village to the top of the mid-mountain zone in addition to the gondola itself.

Starting in 2000, Intrawest started redeveloping the Creekside area with new village layout. Throughout, Intrawest also extensively developed the summertime attractions, notably golf and mountain biking. Today, Whistler Blackcomb averages 2 million visitors during the ski season, but another 2.5 during the summer.[8]

Whistler Blackcomb's 2006/2007 season saw the construction and opening of the Symphony Express, a high speed quad that begins towards the bottom of the Symphony Amphitheater and carries riders to the top of Piccolo.[13] One of the original names suggested for this lift was Piccolo Express.[14]

A more ambitious upgrade is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which connects Whistler and Blackcomb's mid-station restaurants, about 2/3 of the way up the mountain. Peak-to-Peak opened for the first time on December 12, 2008, but low snowfall meant it was rockbound at the time. The first summer operation day was June 6, 2009.

Renewed Olympic bid[edit]

A statue of Ilanaaq, mascot of the 2010 Olympics, located at the top of the Whistler Village Gondola on Whistler Mountain

As Whistler Blackcomb continued to win awards – eight consecutive by 2000 – the resort formed the basis of a renewed Olympics bid, this time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Calgary also bid for the Canadian entry, as their equipment from the 1988 Winter Olympics was already in place and allowed them to offer a low-cost bid, as did Quebec City, which lost the 2002 bid. Calgary was eliminated in close voting on November 21, 1998, and Vancouver-Whistler won the second round of voting on December 3. In IOC voting Pyeongchang, South Korea won the initial round, which eliminated Salzburg, but in the second round on July 2, 2003, they won every one of Salzburg's supporters and bested Pyeongchang 56-53.

Whistler Mountain hosted the alpine skiing events. The men's skiing took place on the Dave Murray Downhill course, while women's skiing took place on a new course, which starts on Wild Card, cuts across Jimmy’s Joker to Franz's Run and connects at the bottom of the Dave Murray Downhill. In order to serve the spectators and judges who needed to travel only to the timing area a short distance above the Creekside area, the Timing Flats Express, a Doppelmayr high-speed quad, was added to the Creekside base. This alleviated demand on the main gondola and other lifts that serve the starting areas, much higher up the mountain. The lift was only temporary and in the summer of 2010, it was dismantled and trucked to Sunshine Village, Alberta and replaced the Strawberry chair.

Blackcomb Mountain hosted the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events at The Whistler Sliding Centre. Whistler Olympic Park hosted Olympic and Paralympic biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping, some distance to the south of the Creekside area in the Callaghan Valley.

The British Columbia government paid $600 million for major upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway,[15] which carried the majority of visitors to the alpine sites.

2010s[edit]

Summer 2010 had two lift construction projects at Creekside Base, site of skiing at Vancouver 2010. The Timing Flats Express, used for passenger transport for the games, was removed and rebuilt as the Strawberry Express at Sunshine Village, Alberta, Canada. The second project was the construction of the Kadenwood Gondola, providing access to the Kadenwood Estate Homes from the Creekside base. Built by Doppelmayr-CTEC, the pulse gondola with 8 passenger cabins in two groups of 2.

WB announced plans on January 18, 2013 regarding plans for 2 high-speed detachable chairlift installations for the 2013-2014 Season.[16] The brand new Harmony Express, a high speed six pack constructed by Doppelmayr, will be installed to replace the existing Harmony Express installed in 1994, upgrading the capacity from 2,400 to 3,600 persons per hour. The lift was installed in the same location of the current lift. The original Harmony Express was then reinstalled in the Crystal Ridge of Blackcomb Mountain as the Crystal Ridge Express lift. The lift begins just below the Blackcomb Glacier Road near the base of Ridge Runner, with the top being located at the same place as the existing Crystal triple at Crystal Hut. The lift line for this lift had been cut many years prior in anticipation of construction, and the Crystal Ridge Express allows skiers and riders to lap all of the runs in this area without needing to go all the way to the Excelerator Express.

In January 2014, WB announced new cabins to upgrade the Village Gondola. The current cabins have been in service since 1988 and have transported millions of skiers up the mountain, and now sightseers as well during summer operations. The cabins will be produced by Sigma, a subsidiary of POMA who originally installed the lift. [17]

Major Lifts[edit]

Winter Lifts[edit]

Lift Name Length Vertical Type Ride Time Hourly
Capacity
Mountain Make Year
Peak 2 Peak Gondola 4,400 m 36 m 3S Gondola 11 min 4,200 Doppelmayr 2008
Whistler Village Gondola 5,000 m 1,157 m 10 Person Gondola 30 min Whistler Mountain Poma 1988
Creekside Gondola 644 m 6 Person Gondola 7 min. Whistler Mountain Poma 1996
Excalibur Gondola 367 m 8 Person Gondola Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1994
Kadenwood Gondola 925 m 228 m 8x2x2 Pulse Gondola 6.1 min 160 Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2010
Harmony 6 Express 524 m High Speed Six Pack 3,600 Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2013
Big Red Express 555 m High Speed Quad 15 min Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 1997
Emerald Express 425 m High Speed Quad 7 min Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 1997
Fitzsimmons Express 347 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2000
Symphony Express 509 m High Speed Quad 8 min Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2006
Garbanzo Express 660 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2002
Peak Express 401 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 1998
Excelerator Express 509 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1994
Wizard Express 565 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Solar Coaster Express 623 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Jersey Cream Express 375 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1989
7th Heaven Express 588 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Glacier Express 599 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1992
Crystal Ridge Express 535 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Poma 2013
Franz's Chair 272 m Triple Chairlift Whistler Mountain Poma 1998
Olympic Chair 123 m Triple Chairlift Whistler Mountain Lift Engineering 1980
Catskinner 364 m Triple Chairlift Blackcomb Mountain Lift Engineering 1980
Magic Chair 94 m Triple Chairlift Blackcomb Mountain Lift Engineering
Showcase 148 m T-bar Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Horstman 206 m T-bar Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Glacier Bowl 2 188 m T-bar Whistler Mountain Mueller 1965

Summer Lifts[edit]

Lift Name Length Vertical Type Ride Time Hourly
Capacity
Mountain Make Year
Peak 2 Peak Gondola 4,400 m 36 m 3S Gondola 11 min 4,200 Doppelmayr 2008
Whistler Village Gondola 5,000 m 1,157 m 10 Person Gondola 30 min Whistler Mountain Poma 1988
Fitzsimmons Express 347 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2000
Garbanzo Express 660 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 2002
Peak Express 401 m High Speed Quad Whistler Mountain Doppelmayr 1998
Wizard Express 565 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Solar Coaster Express 623 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
7th Heaven Express 588 m High Speed Quad Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Showcase T-Bar 148 m T-bar Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986
Horstman T-Bar 206 m T-bar Blackcomb Mountain Doppelmayr 1986

Other facilities[edit]

Whistler Mountain Bike Park[edit]

Aerial View of the Whistler Bike Park

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2008. Having consistently grown since its inception, it sees an average of 100,000 bikers each summer.[citation needed]

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park uses the Fitzsimmons and Garbanzo quad chairlifts, as well as the Whistler Village Gondola to shuttle bikers to around midstation, at 1,200 m (3,900 ft). The park has 47+ trails for all skill levels totaling 250 km + of trails. There are smooth trails with gentle banked corners for beginners, steep twisty trails for intermediates, tight trails with jumps and stunts for advanced riders, and challenging trails with giant jumps, drops, and root-strewn terrain for the experts.

Riders waiting in the Fitzsimmons chairlift line

During the summer, high speed quad chairlifts (Fitzimmons and Garbanzo) used by the bike park have every second chair replaced with a bike rack. These racks fit four bikes, three in grooves and one on a hook on the side of the chair. The bikers then get on the next chair which is a normal passenger carrier.

The bike park has two zones: the Fitzsimmons Zone (the lower zone) and the Garbanzo Zone (the upper zone). All riders take either the Village Gondola or the Fitzsimmions quad to the Olympic Station area. Then intermediate and advanced riders can take the Garbanzo quad up further to the Garbanzo zone. Garbanzo riders can then return to midstation or Whistler Village, the base of the bike park. From the top of Garbanzo to the village is an impressive 1,100 m (3,600 ft) vertical descent; eclipsed only by the more expensive guided descents from the top gondola station or the top of the Peak Chair, the highest accessible point on the mountain. "A-Line" is the most well-known track. The Boneyard Slopestyle Course is part of the Fitzsimmons Zone and is located at the very bottom of the bike park, visible from the base of Whistler Mountain. The Boneyard features a collection of high-intermediate and advanced slopestyle features, including drops, dirt jumps, and more.

Each summer since 2004, the park hosts Crankworx, the largest annual freeride mountain biking competition in North America. Another major competition, Harvest Huckfest, was held there each fall from 2002 to 2008.

Whistler Blackcomb's Tube Park[edit]

For the 2005–06 ski season, Blackcomb Mountain opened the Tube Park to allow for recreational tubing at the resort. The tube park is located at Base II alongside the Village Run.

Incidents[edit]

Quicksilver Express grip failure, December 23, 1995[edit]

The lift operator on the Quicksilver lift pressed the button to make a routine stop, to allow a fallen skier to get out of the way of the unloading ramp. Instead, the emergency brake activated, sending shockwaves down the cable. Grips on at least two of the chairs slipped, and caused chairs to slide down the cable and slam into each other. In all, eight were injured, and two were killed in one of the worst ski lift accidents in North America.[18] [19] The lift's manufacturer, Lift Engineering/Yan, entered bankruptcy after the incident in July 1996.[20] The cause was found to be a design fault in the Yan detachable grip. The Quicksilver lift was removed and replaced by the Creekside Gondola.

Excalibur Gondola Collapse, December 16, 2008[edit]

The Excalibur gondola had a major malfunction on December 16, 2008, when the upper portion of one of the lift towers detached and collapsed, causing several of the gondola cabins to drop near to the ground,[21] leaving 53[22] people trapped on the lower section of the lift line. Firefighters rescued passengers from a cabin dangling over Fitzsimmons Creek, and from another gondola that landed on a bus shelter. The third cabin had crashed into the trees, narrowly missing a condominium. Twelve people suffered minor injuries.[23] According to Whistler-Blackcomb, a joint in the tower separated due to the buildup of ice from water that had seeped into the tower.[24] The undamaged upper half of the lift running from Blackcomb's Base 2 was reopened on Saturday December 20.[25] After repairs were made to the collapsed tower, the whole lift was back in service on Wednesday December 24.[26]

Harmony Express grip failure, February 18, 2009[edit]

A single grip on Whistler's Harmony Express failed and fell off the haul rope overnight on Wednesday, Feb. 18/Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009. The lift operations team was experiencing some problems with the lift during the day on Wednesday. The fallen chair was found overnight by a grooming machine operator at Tower 11. Upon inspection the next morning, maintenance crews discovered that a sheave train component on the downhill side had failed. This caused a compression sheave train arm to deflect into the path of a carrier, ultimately resulting in the release of the carrier from the cable. Further investigation revealed that the failed component was the 'articulation arm mounting bolt'.The lift has been inspected since the accident. All similar bolts on the Harmony chair have since been replaced. All terrain in the Harmony Zone was still accessible while the lift was closed, via the Peak chair with a small hike from the top of the Saddle Run. Symphony Bowl was open with a ski out all the way to either the Emerald or Garbanzo Express Chairlifts, past the base of the closed Harmony Lift.[27]

The lift reopened on Sunday, February 22, 2009. The affected chair No. 37 has been permanently removed from operation.

Whistler T-Bars summer maintenance incident, August 31, 2009[edit]

On Monday, August 31, 2009, two Lift Maintenance employees were injured when the lift began to move, after being given the go-ahead while a maintenance person was safety-harnessed to the tower. The person remained attached to both the tower and the maintenance carrier while the second employee was secured to the carrier. The safety harness ended up pulling so hard on the maintenance carrier, the carrier became detached from the cable and dropped to the rocky ground below, severely injuring the worker in it. The employee hanging from the tower only received bruises.[28]

Big Red Express Bolt Failure, December 6, 2009[edit]

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, at 8:55 am, a passenger aboard the Big Red Express on Whistler Mountain noticed that a sheave train had broken off Tower 31 and had fallen to the ground. They immediately notified the lift operator at the top terminal (2 towers away) and Whistler Blackcomb Lift Maintenance department. After almost a 30 minute inspection, they determined the issue was not severe enough to evacuate the lift. The lift was run at low speed to evacuate all passengers. All passengers were finally off the lift just before 10 am. The lift was closed down for the day, repaired, and back in operation Monday, December 7. This issue arose almost a year after the Excalibur Gondola tower collapse, and 9 months after the Harmony Express incident (which is very similar to this incident, excluding the fact the chair fell off on Harmony)[29]

Photographs[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Intrawest on the auction block". montrealgazette.com (Canwest Publishing). January 20, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2010. [dead link]
  2. ^ Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc., Annual Information Form for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2011[1]
  3. ^ "Whistler Blackcomb Ski Guide". Retrieved September 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ Intrawest: History[dead link]
  5. ^ Johnston, Greg (December 12, 2008). "Tram catches air between summits". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (The Hearst Corporation). Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Whistler Blackcomb – PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola – Details". Whistler-Blackcomb. Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  7. ^ http://www.winsupersite.com/faq/longhorn.asp
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Walking
  9. ^ a b c d e History
  10. ^ "Diamond Head (mountain)". BC Geographical Names. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/17301.html.
  11. ^ John Sanko, "Colorado only state ever to turn down Olympics", Denver Rocky Mountain News, October 12, 1999
  12. ^ Intrawest
  13. ^ "Symphony Amphitheatre & the Symphony Express". Whistlerblackcomb.com. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ "New Piccolo Lift For The 2006/07 Season". Whistlerblackcomb.com. March 31, 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Microsoft Word - S2S Capital Project Plan-3.doc" (PDF). Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  16. ^ "2 New Lifts Announced". Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  17. ^ http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/about-us/news-releases/feb-4-2014.aspx
  18. ^ Nixon, Emily Disaster and Emergency Management: The Quicksilver Chairlift Incident, Graduating Essay, University of Victoria, Geography Dept., April 2004
  19. ^ Pyn, Larry (February 9, 2008). "Minimizing the risks on B.C.'s ski lifts". Vancouver Sun (Canada: Canwest Interactive). Retrieved February 29, 2008. 
  20. ^ Markels, Alex (January 16, 1997). "The Rise, Fall and Return of a Ski-Lift Entrepreneur". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company). Retrieved February 29, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Gondola tower snaps at ski resort". BBC News channel. December 17, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Excalibur Gondola Update". Whistler-Blackcomb. December 17, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  23. ^ Culbert, Lori; Mary Frances Hill; Jennifer Miller (December 16, 2008). "Twelve injured, rescue complete after Whistler gondola accident". Vancouver Sun (Canada: Pacific Newspaper Group). Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  24. ^ "Whistler Blackcomb Operations To Resume Following Bc Safety Authority Secondary Inspection". Whistler-Blackcomb. December 17, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  25. ^ "Whistler Blackcomb press release: Upper Line Of Excalibur Gondola Re-Opens Saturday". Whistler Blackcomb Resort. December 19, 2008. Retrieved December 31, 2008. 
  26. ^ "Whistler Blackcomb press release: Excalibur Gondola Will Fully Re-Open December 24". Whistler Blackcomb Resort. December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 31, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Whistler – Harmony Chair Statement". Whistlerblackcomb.com. February 21, 2009. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Whistler, CANADA". Pique newsmagazine. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Whistler – Whistler Blackcomb Media Statement". Whistlerblackcomb.com. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]