With snow in the alpine and opening day still a few weeks away, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) staff are reminding eager skiers and snowboarders looking to score a few early turns to refrain from hiking up the mountains before they officially open for the season.
“We want people to understand the mountains are closed, and we’d like them to respect that,” said WB safety manager Kira Cailes.
This means all hiking, biking, skiing or snowboarding is currently off-limits, she added.
While last week’s heavy snowfall atop the peaks undoubtedly served as a temptation to many, Cailes assures anyone looking to make the uphill trek that it won’t be worth the effort: WB staff have been instructed to tell anyone they encounter hiking up the mountain to turn around.
“The hazards are significant enough that we want people to be aware that if they are going to be venturing out there, there’s a lot of things they need to be concerned about,” said Cailes. “People just need to remember that they don’t want to end their season before it starts.”
With the mountain operations teams hard at work preparing the terrain for opening day — currently scheduled for Nov. 24 — Cailes said there are numerous hazards that could pose a danger.
“What people don’t understand is that right now we’re doing lots of work in preparing to open for November,” she explained, adding that this preparation is facilitated by a high volume of trucks, snowmobiles, snowmaking guns and hoses.
“It’s basically a full operation of construction and preparation, but not set up in such a way to accommodate the public to travel through there safely,” she said.
Furthermore, Cailes adds the natural hazards that are regularly managed by WB aren’t yet ready for the public either, citing ditches, rocks barely covered with snow, and cliffs — none of which are properly marked — as well as the risk of an avalanche.
“We don’t have a regular avalanche control program happening pre-season, prior to having our staff up there and opening,” she explained.
While WB doesn’t keep track of how many people are caught hiking up the mountains in search of snow during the pre-season, Cailes said she’s noticed it become an increasingly popular trend in recent years.
“People see the opportunity for early season turns and they get excited,” she said. “They see the snow up there and people are ready to go, and it really fuels their excitement, so we do see an increase in that.”
Cailes credits this rise in pre-season hikers to a recent surge in the popularity of backcountry skiing, as well as an increase in the quality and accessibility of backcountry gear.
While Whistler and Blackcomb remain off-limits until opening day, there is another option for those who just can’t wait to hit the snow: Cailes said the backcountry is a viable and available option for those with proper backcountry training, accessible by Singing Pass.