The snow might have been slow to arrive in Whistler this year, but the local mountains have been in much better condition than neighbouring peaks.
The lack of white stuff has been sending ski and snowboard teams from Grouse and Cypress mountains and Mount Washington flocking to Whistler to train and compete. Last weekend's Mount Washington U16 alpine ski races and Hemlock U14 races were moved to Whistler due to bare home hills. Mount Washington was also offering its passholders free skiing at Whistler Blackcomb for the month of January or until enough flurries flew to allow them to open. The latter finally happened on Sunday (Jan. 12) after a dump of snow.
"Our big advantage here is not only the height of the mountains, but we're left with a pretty great legacy from the Olympics with our snowmaking capacity," said Peter Young, event and terrain park manager at Whistler Blackcomb. "We did upgrades for the Games and that's paying off this year."
Mother Nature might have dumped a ton of new snow in Whistler over the weekend, but snowmakers saved the season up until this point, Young added.
"If we didn't have all those acres of snowmaking our guests would've been going away unhappy or wouldn't have come in the first place. It would've been detrimental to the whole valley, the restaurants and hotels. Snowmaking is a huge part of what makes this work," he said.
While the mountains have been busy with athletes such as Canadian snowboard slopestyle team members training in the terrain park, Young said they're always happy to accommodate last-minute events.
"It's worked out fairly smoothly," he said. "It can displace other groups training there, so it's definitely a bit of a puzzle fitting everyone in. If you get up there and go do a tour, it's pretty packed with different groups.”
This season has been especially difficult for neighbouring resorts desperate for snow, but it's not the first time Whistler Blackcomb has welcomed last-minute races due to poor conditions.
"We've always been recognized for putting on good events and providing venues in tough situations," Young said. "We have picked up events from other places and chances are, as the season unfolds, there may be other races looking for new venues."
A couple of years ago, WB hosted a stop on The North Face Pipe and Park Open Series because Blue Mountain in Ontario was unable to host it, for example.
"We were able to bring that event here and we've been hosting it the last couple of seasons," said Young, as the series returns to Whistler for slopestyle ski competition this week. "We're always ready to pick up events."
But Whistler Blackcomb hasn't been the only local facility to take on extra teams. Whistler Olympic Park (WOP) has also seen a spike in groups from the North Shore and Vancouver Island training on their terrain.
"We have many of the Hollyburn Cross-Country Ski Club members here frequently due to lack of snow on the Nordic trails on Cypress," said John Heilig, manager of Nordic sport at WOP, in an email. "(On Sunday) we had a para-nordic training program that was moved from Cypress and we have had a number of coaching/instructional courses moved here from Cypress throughout the early season."
The facility has also been listed as a potential back-up for a second installment of Soldier On, a sports initiative for current and former Canadian Forces members who have been injured during service, if there is not enough snow at Mount Washington for an event scheduled there for February.
Besides additional events, WOP has been busier than usual with recreational skiers, Heilig noted. "There are more skiers from Vancouver that would regularly cross-country ski at Cypress," he said.