A frigid high-pressure system greeted eager locals at the opening of the Crystal Ridge Express on Saturday (Dec. 7) with temperatures dropping below -20 degrees Celsius. While the 90-minute wait was uncomfortable, it did not curb the enthusiasm at the front of the line.
“This is one of my favourite areas to ride,” said Kevin Welsh, a five-year Whistler local and winner of the competition to name the new chair.
“I’m excited to be able to lap Ridge Runner top to bottom. It’s a high-speed express so it’s a lot faster, it makes the fun runs over there a lot more accessible, and you can pull off more runs off in a day.”
Welsh and three of his friends boarded the first chair just after 10 a.m., naming Ridge Runner as their first run in the Crystal Zone this season.
“I’m pumped to check it out,” said Australian Brad Hanson, who also lives in Whistler.
“I’m not going to miss the old Crystal chair though, just how slow it was. But it does look nice sitting on my buddy’s deck. That’s where it should be now, as a relic.”
The frigid opening was a fanfare with a guitar duo performing and treats being handed to the public by Whistler Blackcomb staff as they milled through the corral on their way to boarding the Crystal Ridge Express for the first time.
The newly-constructed lift line runs through a previously cleared corridor in the Crystal Zone known as Cancer Man, and a popular tree skiing area called Fraggle Rock.
Though some Blackcomb riders are disappointed by the opening of a semi-secret powder zone, some are anticipating what the new lift line skiing will look like.
“Watching the mayhem under the chair first thing in the morning, it’s going to be pretty cool,” said local pro skier Stan Rey.
“I’ve got mixed feelings (about Fraggle Rock), obviously more people are going to know about it, but at the same time it’s good to share some awesome runs with the general public.”
Pro skiers Suz Graham and Ian Morrison joined Rey for their first ride on the Crystal Ridge Express, though their first run ended up being rather short.
“We’re going in for some waffles actually,” said Graham.
Whistler Blackcomb hosted a media function at the Rendezvous shortly afterwards, where COO Dave Brownlie thanked the key staff and Whistler-based contractors that helped complete the project during the summer construction window. Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden highlighted the importance of investment into winter offerings in Whistler, given that 67 per cent of the tourism spend is from winter guests. She also noted that Whistler is responsible for 22.5 per cent of tourism revenues in B.C.
“What’s good for Whistler Blackcomb is good for the (Whistler) community is good for the province,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
The Crystal Ridge Express was a part of an $18 million investment that also included converting the Harmony Express on Whistler into a six-seat chair lift.
The new Harmony 6 Express will open this Saturday (Dec. 14).