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Latest atmospheric river delivers fresh snow for Whistler opening day


“The route to Whistler from the Lower Mainland obviously has not been impacted, so there still is some traffic coming up here to the resort, for sure,” — Lauren Everest, Tourism Whistler.

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Flurries of snow greeted early birds for what was a fairly typical opening day Thursday at Whistler Blackcomb resort, officials say.

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Atmospheric-river conditions that delivered more rain on top of flood-ravaged areas of the Fraser Valley through Thursday prompted a rainfall warning on the Seay to Sky Highway for anyone heading to Whistler.

On the mountain, however, those conditions dropped 20 cm of fresh snow on top of the 10 cm that fell overnight for a crowd of about 900 skiers and boarders who were in line at three village sites before the 8:15 a.m. opening, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Smith.

“This is a regular opening day,” said Smith, senior communications manager in the Pacific Northwest for Whistler Blackcomb’s parent company Vail Resorts. “We just certainly understand that for our B.C. customers, many of those people can’t come up an join us just yet.”

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Smith said Whistler Blackcomb opened to “run our business like any of the other businesses in town,” despite the severe weather that has dealt devastating blows to transportation links through the Fraser Valley and interior.

With Highway 99 fully open to traffic to Whistler, Smith said Thursday’s crowd likely represented a lot of local ski enthusiasts as well as international visitors who were able to make their way to the resort.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Highway 99 “is functioning well from the Lower Mainland through to Lions Bay, Squamish, Whistler,” though travel restrictions remain on past Pemberton to Lillooet.

“For that area, it’s only for passenger vehicles and nothing larger than a cube van at this time,” Fleming said during a briefing Thursday. “And as with all the travel orders that remain in place, we will be updating on a daily basis, the status of those necessary restrictions.”

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Drivers arriving in Whistler likely won’t face shortages in the availability of gasoline to travel back from the resort with supplies appearing stable, according to Fleming, after a “very brisk weekend of sales” throughout the region where stocks have been limited.

Most drivers pulling up to the Chevron station on the north side of Whistler were voluntarily complying with the province’s request to limit non-essential fuel purchases to 30 litres per visit, said manager Adam Naundorf, so their sales have been “kind of normal.”

A Tourism Whistler spokeswoman didn’t have statistics on the number of tourists, but “there are absolutely still visitors coming to the resort.”

“The route to Whistler from the Lower Mainland obviously has not been impacted (by flooding), so there still is some traffic coming up here to the resort, for sure,” said Lauren Everest, Tourism Whistler’s senior manager for communications.

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Everest said early-season bookings for the resort have been strong enough for the agency to forecast a 64-per-cent hotel occupancy rate, which is 42 percentage points higher than last year’s pandemic-struck season, but still seven points below the 2018-19.

Alta Bistro owner Eric Griffith said he had seen a few Washington state and Oregon licence plates in the village, “so people are definitely making the trip,” though he guessed some people are changing last-minute plans, based on conversations he’s had with hoteliers.

“Bookings were trending really well three weeks ago and kind of dropped off when all (the flooding) went down,” Griffith said.

Still, the fresh snow and busy lifts on opening day leave the restaurateur hoping they’re getting a good start to the season to get over last January and February when he had to close three days a week.

“After tonight, we’ll see how many people decided to come up today,” Griffith said. “Look, conditions are great, so people have been jonesing to ski.”

depenner@postmedia.com

twitter.com/derrickpenner 

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