Whistler Blackcomb staff were treated to fresh tracks during a well-deserved employees-only ski day on Wednesday, Nov. 23, but commoners without a staff pass will have to wait until Thursday morning to get in their first turns of the season.
The resort officially opens for the 2022/23 winter season at 8:15 a.m. tomorrow, Nov. 24.
How much terrain will be open at Whistler Blackcomb on opening weekend?
Whenever skiers and snowboarders do make it up to higher elevations over opening weekend, they’ll be greeted with roughly 125 acres (or about 50 hectares) of skiable terrain on the Blackcomb side and about 116 acres open on Whistler.
During an interview on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 22, Whistler Blackcomb chief operating officer Geoff Buchheister acknowledged that “isn’t a lot” of terrain, but maintained the resort's “opening is going to be good.”
In addition to the Whistler Village, Blackcomb and Excalibur gondolas, Whistler will have Garbanzo, Emerald, Fitzsimmons and Franz’s chairlifts running on opening day, while Excelerator, Jersey Cream and Catskinner will be spinning on Blackcomb. Those lifts will offer access to a variety of mostly man-made trails on both mountains.
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola will also be open to shuttle guests between Blackcomb's Rendezvous Lodge and the Roundhouse on Whistler.
As is often the case early in the season, mandatory downloads will be in effect for skiers and snowboarders from mid-station until the ski-outs fill in.
The resort currently boasts a base depth of 70 centimetres, according to its snow and weather report. Forecasters say a weather system will head into the Sea to Sky corridor Thursday evening, predicted to bring about 10 to 15 cm of natural snow accumulation to Whistler Blackcomb's slopes.
When will the new Creekside lifts be ready?
Two lifts that won't be running Thursday morning? The Creekside Gondola and Big Red Express.
As Buchheister confirmed earlier this month, the lift replacement projects will miss their opening day target thanks in part to lingering supply chain shortages and shipping delays.
While major progress on both lifts has been made in recent days—staff from lift manufacturer Doppelmayr were working to splice the Gondola's haul rope together on Tuesday afternoon, after the long-awaited piece of equipment finally arrived in the resort on Friday morning, while about 100 of the further-along Red Chair's 175 carriers were loaded as of Nov. 22—Buchheister still anticipates an early-December opening for Big Red and says the resort has "a shot" at finishing the Gondola by the holidays.
Whistler Blackcomb announced plans in September 2021 to replace the six-seater Creekside Gondola with a new high-speed,10-person gondola, and swap out the Big Red Express quad for a new high-speed, six-person chair ahead of the 2022/23 ski season. Resort officials expect the higher-capacity gondola to increase out-of-base uphill capacity by 35 per cent, and say the new six-seater Red Chair will increase uphill capacity by about 30 per cent.
How to get from Creekside to Whistler Village in the meantime
With only two of its three bases currently ready to welcome guests, Whistler Blackcomb officials are doing what they can to make the early-season experience as painless as possible until the new lifts are complete.
The mountain operator is enlisting third-party charter buses to serve as free shuttles that will circulate continuously between Creekside’s free parking lot and the village, while temporary signage installed in partnership with B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will display available parking information. Parking in Base II Lots 6 to 8 will also remain free.
Each bus will be bound for either the Blackcomb Gondola or Whistler’s Skiers Plaza, where guests can access the Whistler Village Gondola or the Excalibur Gondola, which deposits skiers and snowboarders of the base of Blackcomb’s Excelerator chair.
“The goal is really to not have people waiting at Creekside; it's to constantly be moving,” Buchheister explained. “I think there'll be days where we have to move a lot of people and there'll be days where the village has enough [capacity] to soak up the volume. We’re ready on either end.”
Guests loading the shuttles will receive proof of their Creekside status as they step onto the buses—likely in the form of a hand stamp, said Buchheister—that will then grant them priority access to an expedited queue in the gondola corrals. Buchheister said those queues will function similar to the way ski school groups merge into existing line-ups.
“We're going to try and make the Creekside experience as comfortable as possible so people feel like they can start their day there,” said the COO.
The shuttles will run between from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the system is designed to be “flexible” in order to meet increased demand on weekends and powder days. Those times were determined after resort officials heard the public feedback questioning if a previously proposed 8 a.m. start-time for the shuttles would create a backlog ahead of the lifts’ 8:15-a.m.-at-the-earliest opening.
“If after the first day, there's some adjustments that need to be made, I mean, we'll be doing a debrief every afternoon, trying to see what we could do better,” said Buchheister.
The last day to purchase a Whistler Blackcomb pass is Dec. 4
As in previous winters since Vail Resorts assumed ownership of Whistler Blackcomb, EPIC passes and EDGE cards will only be available for sale for a limited time once lifts start spinning.
This year, the final date to buy a pass—whether you’re in the market for full-season, unlimited access, a single-day pass, a 10-day EDGE card or one of the resort’s numerous other products—will be Sunday, Dec. 4. Day tickets will be sold throughout the season after passes go off sale, but the amount of day tickets available each day will be limited.
Stay tuned to Pique's website, or pick up a copy of Thursday's print edition for more from Pique's recent sit-down with Buchheister.