Could snowmaking be in the future for Lost Lake trails?

Local outfitter seeks long-term solution to late season opening

For the second winter in a row, Cross Country Connection owner Ian Goldstone has had to weather a poor start to the snow year in the Whistler valley.

Now, he’s hoping the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will consider snowmaking to allow for a firm opening day. The cross-country ski outfitter and guiding service, located at the entrance of the Lost Lake trails, is one hundred per cent reliant on sufficient snow to cover the trails, but can operate on significantly less snow than an alpine resort. The municipality, which maintains the trails, opened the venue on Dec. 29.

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“If the ground is frozen, we don’t need much snow,” said Goldstone. “We need a good adherence with cold temperatures and that’s what we got (over the last week). We managed to get an eight-cm base and that was enough to open.”

Whistler Olympic Park opened a one-km loop for its high performance athletes by mid-November due to a diligent snow stockpiling effort by Whistler Sport Legacies, but Lost Lake has neither the space nor the resources for such an initiative. The RMOW and Whistler Blackcomb have partnered the last two seasons to open up a small trail loop next to Green Chair on Whistler Mountain, but that location is more for local pass holders and not particularly conducive to beginners needing to rent equipment at the opposite end of the Village.

What Goldstone would like to see is an investment in snowmaking at Lost Lake in order to give Whistler’s most accessible cross-country trail system a firm opening every year.

“You open the door, put the equipment out in front of the shop and people show up,” said Goldstone of the growing demand for Nordic skiing in Whistler. “Once we get the snow, people are ready to ski and showshoe and we’re busy. The grooming staff do an amazing job. They work so hard moving and farming snow to get the snow to where it needs to be. But if we had snowmaking, we could open firm in early December every year, which would drive both season pass and regular ticket sales. That’s on the Santa’s wish list for all cross-country skiers in Whistler.”
In a statement from the RMOW communications department, the municipality revealed that it hired a contractor in 2014 to perform a feasibility study for snowmaking in Lost Lake Park.

“The study was undertaken in recognition of the need to replace existing aging lighting infrastructure in the next few years to determine what the incremental costs would be to install water and upgraded power infrastructure should the municipality wish to pursue snowmaking in Lost Lake Park for cross country operations,” read the statement from Michele Comeau, RMOW’s communications manager.

“The resulting report indicated a rough cost estimate of approximately $1 million for a phased installation of snowmaking infrastructure and equipment for approximately 4.5 km of trails. The report recommended a conceptual snowmaking plan involving bringing water down from the Blackcomb Creek intake into the Lost Lake parking lot area to generate enough water pressure to run a smaller type of portable snow gun while providing an opportunity for a micro hydro station to be installed.”

The statement went on to say that further analysis of the micro hydro portion of the project is required, as well as a business case analysis to determine if this type of infrastructure investment would be worthwhile for the municipality.

Goldstone remains optimistic and hopes to see a more on-schedule opening next season.

“We have an excellent partnership with RMOW and with the help of our trail host volunteer army, we work very hard to make it happen every year,” he said.

Cross Country Connection will be hosting a party to celebrate Nordic culture in Whistler on the evening of Jan. 24 at the Lost Lake Passivhaus. All Whistler cross-country enthusiasts are encouraged to attend.

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