As the scent of butter and syrup drifted through the air at the Crystal Hut on Saturday (Jan. 19), Whistler Blackcomb’s president and CEO Dave Brownlie remarked with a smile that getting more waffle makers is going to be a big deal next year.
The hut, located at the top of the Crystal Chair on Blackcomb Mountain, is famous for the Dutch confections, so with a major lift expansion project coming that will increase the chair’s skier carrying capacity by 65 per cent, Brownlie is probably right.
On Friday (Jan. 18), WB revealed an $18-million capital plan for 2013 to install a brand-new Doppelmayr detachable six-pack chairlift at Harmony Express and a new high-speed quad to replace the Crystal Chair.
“This is tremendously positive both for our company and also for the resort,” Brownlie said. “As we are successful as the resort is successful, we have a commitment to reinvest in these mountains and these facilities.
“Our goal as a team is we want to be the No. 1 mountain resort in the world, both in the winter and in the summer and we know that is going to take continued commitment to that reinvestment and strategy.”
The new high-speed quad chairlift in the Crystal Zone will be 1,708 metres (5,604ft) in length, with a vertical rise of 535 metres (1,755 ft). Skier carrying capacity will increase over the current lift to 2,400 skiers per hour. The aspect of the new lift line is different, however, and will originate 158 metres (518 ft) lower than the old Crystal lift. The bottom elevation will be 1,292 metres
(4,239 ft) and the top elevation of the lift will be 1,827 metres (5,994 ft).
“Of course the Crystal Zone is something that is near and dear to our hearts,” Brownlie said. “There is so much terrain here, from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Ridge Runner to the tree skiing we have here, but also Blackcomb Glacier.
“That will make this whole terrain pod so much more accessible on a daily basis.”
The Harmony high-speed chairlift will dramatically improve the uphill capacity by 50 per cent; going from 2,400 skiers per hour to 3,600. The Harmony chair will service terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl, adjacent to the Peak Express. This area, known as the Harmony Zone, makes up over 485 hectares (1,200 acres) of Whistler Blackcomb’s 3,306 hectares (8,171 acres) of total terrain.
The Harmony Six has the same alignment as the current Harmony quad; spanning 1,729 metres (5,672 ft) in length, with a vertical rise of 525 metres (1,722 ft). The top elevation of the lift is 2,107 metres (6,912 ft); the bottom elevation is 1,582 metres (5,190 ft).
Construction on the lifts will begin this spring and will continue through the summer and fall with an expected opening at the beginning of the next winter season.
Brownlie said the increased capacity of both lifts, and access to more terrain for skiers and boarders will provide a better balance across the two mountains and guest experience.
Vice-president of planning and special projects Doug Forseth said while the numbers are a significant increase, the terrain can handle it.
“The terrain pod here (in Crystal) actually has the capacity to handle 2,400 people an hour, so that will be a very good balance and that is always what we look for,” he said. “That will alleviate traffic on the rest of the mountain.”
Forseth said WB has been working with Whistler-based mountain planners EcoSign on the lift replacements, and updating the master plan for the ski hill.
The last major capital project for the company was the $53-million Peak 2 Peak project in 2008. Vice-president of marketing and sales Stuart Rempel said, alongside that project, WB and VANOC spent $27 million in snowmaking and trail improvements leading up to the Olympics.
Before that, he said, $5 million was spent upgrading the Whistler Village Gondola and $9 million was spent in 2006 on the Symphony Express. Capital improvements prior to that included the Fitzsimmons Express, Garbanzo Express and Peak Express after the merger of the two mountains in 1997.
“There has been a significant constant investment in Whistler Blackcomb in those times and on top of that there has been between $8 million and $12 million a year in maintenance capital,” Rempel said.