The U.S. company that owns Whistler Blackcomb is plowing tens of millions of dollars into upgrading the skihill, as it backtracks on plans for a water park and roller-coaster.
A new gondola and two upgraded chairlifts will move 4,000 more people an hour on the skihill – a capacity increase of about six per cent – as the resort targets areas where skiers and boarders line up for too long.
“It’s all around focusing on the heart of our operation,” said Whistler Blackcomb’s Chief Operating Officer, Pete Sonntag. “It’s a significant upgrade to the places that matter most.”
The biggest addition will be a 10-passenger gondola that will replace the Wizard and Solar chairlifts on the Blackcomb side, said Vail Resorts, which has owned Whistler Blackcomb for about a year.
The gondola will take skiers and snowboarders from the base of the mountain all the way to the Peak 2 Peak gondola.
The investment also includes upgrades to the Family Ski Zone, an upper-mountain area that features intermediate trails suitable for families. That area will get a new six-passenger lift.
The Catskinner three-passenger lift will be replaced with a four-passenger, high-speed lift to improve access to Blackcomb Mountain's beginner and intermediate terrain. The resort's mountain bike park will also be upgraded, adding 21 kilometres of biking trails by the summer, Vail said.
And gone is a $345-million plan that included a water park and a roller-coaster.
“People ask all the time: what’s the future of the water park. You would see that we are deferring the water park. That moves to the back of the priority list,” Sonntag told Whistler’s Chamber of Commerce.
That move makes sense to skier Jacqueline Stoesser.
“You don’t come to places like this for a water park,” she said at the base of Blackcomb, gesturing to the snow.
Her friend Tara Yant told CTV News that at $130 per day, prices are high.
“Hopefully this doesn’t up the price of lift tickets any more. They’ve topped out. We need to encourage young people to ski and lift ticket prices are a hindrance to some people,” she said.
Whistler’s mayor also acknowledged that the city faces some challenges welcoming more skiers and housing more employees for the resort.
“Of course it’s got ramifications but off the bat it’s great news,” she said.
She said the municipality has a housing plan that’s going to council at its next meeting that involves building 1,000 new beds in five years.
Sonntag also told CTV News his company has a plan for housing, but wouldn’t say what it was. He said that right now, he’s focused on securing housing for a workforce of about 4,100 people by signing long-term leases – what other businesspeople are also trying to do.
"The market will dictate the prices. We’ll do what we need to do to find a solution for our own staff," he said.
Whistler Blackcomb staff told CTV News they house about 30 per cent of their workers in company housing, or about 1,350 beds. The company is considering building more, the staff member said.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Jon Woodward