Whistler businesses plow ahead

Spring-like conditions persist this week during high occupancy

With only isolated snowstorms over the last two months and the mercury consistently pushing into spring temperatures, Whistler businesses continue to adapt in the face of the challenging conditions.

“We were doing OK until two days ago, then the quality of snowmobile product just hit a point where we didn’t feel it was safe or sufficient for our guests,” said Kirby Brown, CEO of The Adventure Group. “So we’ve closed our snowmobile product for now.”

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Brown also said that the snowcat guests ride during the Superfly Ziplines tour has been replaced with a shuttle bus on a plowed road, much like the summertime experience.

“We’ve got a lot of demand for zipping now, so it allows us to ramp up our capacity to summer levels. People are definitely looking for alternatives to skiing. If this (weather) continues, we’ve also got a treetops course emerging from the snow. If conditions permit we’ll consider opening that up again,” he said.

Environment Canada snowfall figures for November to January show Whistler Village (657m elevation) receiving significantly less snow than the 1981-2010 average, with 75 per cent less in November, 53 per cent less in December, 30 per cent less in January and 78 per cent less in February, so far. The warm temperatures could be due to a weak El Nino, according to an Environment Canada meteorologist.

“Our core group of staff that won’t be doing snowmobiling tours now can move over and do snowshoe and ziplining tours, so hopefully we can keep them as busy as possible.”

Temperatures in the Pacific Ocean just west of B.C. were half a degree to a full degree warmer than usual early in the season.

As a result, many Whistler outdoor operators are contending with challenging conditions. The Lost Lake Nordic trails are closed until further notice, and Whistler Olympic Park re-opened without tobogganing and fatbiking after a five-day closure during the rainstorm last week. Canadian Wilderness Adventures is still running evening snowmobile tours up Blackcomb Mountain, but backcountry tours are for advanced riders only and are sold as an ATV combo tour for guests to reach the snowline. The Adventure Group has invested in several six-seater Polaris Ranger vehicles to be able to shuttle guests in the mixed snow conditions Whistler is experiencing in the valley and is moving staff to where the demand is this week.

“We (adjust) to the weather, that means you have to make some tough decisions and have some backups,” said Brown. “We’re investing in a future of unpredictability. We’ve been very focused over the last year and a half with cross training employees. Our core group of staff that won’t be doing snowmobiling tours now can move over and do snowshoe and ziplining tours, so hopefully we can keep them as busy as possible.”

For U.S. Presidents’ Day week the resort is at near 100 per cent occupancy with little to snow left in the village and a forecast of mostly clear skies for the rest of the week, according to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce

Through talks with the chamber, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has relaxed its bylaws this week pertaining to restrictions on the Village Stroll, allowing businesses to use fixtures such as tents, balloons, mannequins and clothing racks in front of their stores to help animate the Village and engage visitors.

“I think it would be great if we could start to look at this as a tool in our kit for when we think we need to turn up the volume on the animation and colour in the village,” said chamber CEO Val Litwin. “This is something different that shakes up everyone’s schedules, so I hope that this isn’t just great for guests. I hope it also invigorates the entrepreneurs and the teams that take advantage of the relaxing of the bylaws.”

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