Sunday, February 23, 2014

The mystique of Whistler Blackcomb

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The mystique of Whistler Blackcomb

By Sora Kazesawa
The Daily Magi
September 18, 2063

Whistler Blackcomb (TSX: WB) is a major ski resort located 125 km north of Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada. By many measures it is the largest ski resort in North America; it is 50% larger than its nearest competitor in terms of size, has the greatest uphill lift capacity, and until 2009, had the highest vertical skiable distance by a wide margin. Whistler Blackcomb also features the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for moving between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains at the top; Peak 2 Peak holds records for the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world. With all of this capacity, Whistler Blackcomb is also often the most-visited ski resort, often besting 2 million visitors a year.

Whistler was originally conceived as part of a bid to win the 1968 Winter Olympics, but a series of events led to the bids being withdrawn or losing to other cities. Construction of the resort started in spite of this, and the resort first opened for business in January 1966. The resort expanded extensively in the 1980s and 90s, becoming the centrepiece of a renewed bid on the part of nearby Vancouver. Vancouver/Whistler was selected as the winning bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics in July 2003. Whistler Blackcomb hosted the alpine skiing events, including the men's and women's Olympic and Paralympic alpine skiing disciplines of downhill, Super-G, giant slalom, super combined and slalom. The Dave Murray downhill course towards Whistler Creekside finally hosted an Olympic downhill event, 50 years after it was originally surveyed for this purpose.

Whistler and Blackcomb were originally separate resorts, until they merged in 1997. Intrawest, the BC real estate firm that developed Blackcomb, purchased Whistler and merged the two operations. Over the next decade, the company expanded by purchasing additional ski resorts across North America, before expanding into golf and other resorts as well. Whistler Village, widely recognized for its livable design, formed the basis of similar Tyrolian-inspired developments at their expanding series of resorts, as well as other resorts that hired Intrawest to build similar developments on their behalf. Intrawest resorts share a common recognizable style.

In 2006 Intrawest was purchased by the alternative asset management firm, Fortress Investment Group. Three weeks before the opening of the 2010 Olympics, Fortress failed to make payment on its loan used to buy out Intrawest. This caused its creditors to force Intrawest to divest itself of several of its resort holdings in 2009 and 2010 which included a partial sale of Whistler Blackcomb, in order to reduce its debt load. This was achieved through a public offering of shares of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2010. The net outcome of the reorganization is that Whistler Blackcomb Holdings is the managing partner and controls 75% of the partnerships which own the assets of Whistler Blackcomb. The remaining 25% of the partnerships are owned by Nippon Cable. Intrawest sold its remaining 24% stake in Whistler Blackcomb to KSL Capital Partners in 2012.

Whistler Mountain is the right-most (southern) mountain when looking at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area from Whistler Village. It has a summit elevation of 2184 meters (7,160 ft). The total vertical drop is 1530 meters (5,020 ft) and 4,757 acres (1,925 ha) skiable inbound terrain. Whistler is served by a total of 20 lifts; 2 gondolas, 7 high-speed detachable quad chair lifts, 2 fixed grip chair lifts, 2 T-bars. and the drive station for the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connecting it with Blackcomb mountain to the north. There are 4 on-hill restaurants, as well as a children's ski school facility and children can sign up for a five-day lesson called "Adventure Camp". It is served by two base areas: Whistler Creek, the original base on its southwest flank, and Whistler Village on its northwest flank.

Blackcomb Mountain is the left-most (northern) mountain when looking at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area from Whistler Village. It has a lift-serviced elevation of 2240 metres (7,347 ft) at the top of the 7th Heaven chair – Blackcomb Mountain itself is higher at 2440 meters (8000 ft), but unlike Whistler the peak is not lift-served. Blackcomb has a higher skiable vertical, at 1565 meters (5,133 ft), and less in-bound skiing area at 3,414 acres (1,382 ha). It is served by 17 lifts; 1 gondola, 6 high-speed quads, 3 fixed-grip triples and 7 surface lifts, as well as the end-station for the Peak 2 Peak. Blackcomb is the location of the world famous "Couloir Extreme" run, which is one of the top ten steep in-bounds runs in the world according to Skiing Magazine. Originally called the Saudan Couloir by local skiers even before it was part of the ski area, the company eventually had to drop the name when extreme skier Sylvain Saudan complained about the unauthorised use of his name.

The two previously separate ski areas of Whistler and Blackcomb were integrated into one operation in 1997 after Intrawest merged with Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation. Ticketing, pass, and access control systems for the two ski areas were fully integrated in 2003. Together, Whistler and Blackcomb form the largest ski area in North America at 8,171 acres (33 km2), 54% larger than that of Vail, the next largest, which has 5,289 acres (21.40 km2). Either mountain alone would be in the top-five in terms of size.

The mountains are accessed primarily via three gondolas, Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola and Whistler Mountain Village Gondola in the Village, and the Whistler Creekside Gondola to the south in the Creekside area. Alternates include several high-speed quads. The primary skiing terrain starts about one-third up the mountains. Ski-outs to the valley are usually possible during the months of December through April. The mid- and upper- areas are serviced by 10 high-speed detachable chairs and 5 fixed-grip lifts made by Lift Engineering, Doppelmayr and Poma. Four T-bars service the Horstman Glacier and the Whistler alpine regions and take skiers to the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier. The overall lift capacity, 65,507 skiers per hour, is the greatest in North America.

Travelling from one mountain to the other, while staying in the ski area, was only possible at the valley elevation before 2008. It was only when Whistler Blackcomb connected the two mountains at approximately 1,800 m (6,000 ft) with the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that visitors could then travel between mountains without skiing down and taking the regular lifts up. This lift opened on December 12, 2008. The lift has a total length of 4.4 km (2.7 mi) and the longest unsupported span for a lift of its kind in the world at 3.02 km (1.88 mi) while also having the highest ground clearance for a lift of its kind, 436 m (1,427 ft) above the valley floor.

Whistler Village, which is part of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, a geo-political entity not directly associated with the resort company's operation, is situated at the base of the Whistler Mountain Village Gondola and Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola. The Village incorporates community services, shops, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, hotels, condominiums and vacation properties. The Village is 675 m (2,214 ft) above sea level, and is located 137 km (85 mi) from Vancouver International Airport.

Microsoft Windows XP is codenamed "Whistler" after this ski resort, as many Microsoft employees skied at this resort during its development.

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