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A 'Taste of the Future': The Ski Industry Faces Its New Reality in B.C.

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb11,2024

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Whistler Blackcomb, December 29, 2023. It is one of many ski resorts that suffer from a lack of snow in the west of the country.

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In British Columbia, Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, is not immune to the vagaries of the weather. For many, the current season is a taste of the impact of climate change on an industry that represents $2 billion and more than 20,000 jobs in the province.

At the Fanatyk ski and bike store in Whistler, customers are already preparing for their mountain biking season in the middle of February.

[In Pemberton north of Whistler], the world usually does ski doo, but this year, there is no snow, so all the traditional bike trails are open, says Bernard Duval< em>.

The Quebecer, established in the region for 45 years, has seen, by his own admission, all kinds of winters since his arrival. Definitely, this year is different, he said. It's not the best, but it's not the worst.

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In his store located in the village, Bernard Duval notices that customers are buying less new equipment this year.

In the store where he is a partner, ski equipment is already on sale. After a rather slow start to the season, the mountain was affected in January by a series of atmospheric rivers. Due to the warm weather associated with El Niño this year, precipitation fell as rain, even at the summit.

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Since then, mountain teams have been working hard to repair the slopes. The lack of powder and snow at the bottom of the slopes, however, seems to put off visitors, who have to pay up to $300 if they buy their ticket on the day.

In the pedestrian village of Whistler, several merchants report lower traffic than usual at this time of year.

An unusual sight in February, the snow cannons are still working at full capacity, hoping to save the rest of the season.

It's absolutely a challenge, confirms Dane Gergovic, spokesperson for Vail Resorts, owner of the Whistler-Blackcomb resort. The mountain is not as accessible as normal, but as soon as the temperature permits, our teams make snow.

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Normally, snow cannons stop operating at the end of January in Whistler-Blackcomb. Due to rain at 2500 meters altitude last month, they are still operating at full capacity.

Whistler, however, due to a ski area mainly located at an altitude of over 2000 meters, fares better than other lower ski resorts.

In Metro Vancouver, Mount Seymour has yet to reopen its slopes, while Cypress Resort, which hosted events at the 2010 Winter Olympics, has only a few slopes open and no longer allows its customers to ski down to the bottom of the slopes.

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Cypress Mountain ski resort, 20 minutes from Vancouver, had to close for several days to rework its slopes due to heat and rain.

In a province where, according to the Canada West Ski Areas Association, the sector represents more than $2 billion per year and more than 20,000 jobs, the situation is worrying.

The next few weeks will be decisive. In the absence of snow, some, like former Whistler mayor Ken Melamed, even fear that Whistler Blackcomb, despite its infrastructure, will not be able to remain open until the end of May, as is usually the case.

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Ken Melamed was mayor of Whistler from 2005 to 2011. During his two terms, he tried to ensure that the community had a more sustainable development model.

It's really sad and even it makes me angry, he said, associating this unusual year with global warming. Successive governments have failed to do what needed to be done, and we see the consequences of having done nothing.

What we're seeing this year is a taste of the future, Arthur De Jong also believes. We will have good ski seasons in the future, but less.

This former director of sustainable development at Whistler-Blackcomb, now a consultant and municipal councillor, was one of the main architects of the resort's strategy to adapt to climate change, notably by focusing on the diversification of its activities.< /p>Open in full screen mode

Vail Resorts relies on season ticket and travel package sales well in advance to have the financial resources to adapt to increasingly unpredictable weather conditions.

Result: According to Tourism Whistler, approximately 55% of the region's approximately 3 million annual visitors choose summer over winter to enjoy outdoor activities like golf or cycling.

According to him, low altitude stations must quickly initiate this transition to survive increasingly significant temperature variations.

Every climatologist I speak to says that low altitude ski areas have very little room to maneuver, they haven't had any for a while now and they have less and less .

A quote from Arthur De Jong, consultant and municipal councilor

Despite a difficult year, the CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, Christopher Nicolson, turns out to be more optimistic. I'm pretty sure there will be an industry in 20 years, he believes. It will still thrive, even in places like Vancouver.

An audio version of this report is broadcast on the show All terrain.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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