Off the Record: Bring back the night (skiing)

It’s always fun to visit other ski resorts and see how they do things.


Generally speaking, I’d say we’re pretty spoiled here with our high-speed, detachable chairs, long runs, ample snow, and the sheer variety of terrain and experiences. But there’s no denying there are some things other resorts do better.


Like night skiing. It’s something they currently offer at Big White, Silver Star, Sun Peaks, Apex, Mount Washington, all three Lower Mainland mountains, Revelstoke, Panorama — the list is long and respectable. Whistler is almost an exception to the rule.


That wasn’t always the case. Whistler did offer minimal night skiing under the Magic Chair once upon a time — probably a decade ago at this point — but it wasn’t hugely popular. And for good reason: it’s a slow chair, there was no terrain park, and it wasn’t supported by a lot of attractions at the base. There was no culture around night skiing in Whistler back then, like the weekly rager that Friday night has become at Big White.


At Big White, Friday-night lift tickets are $10, rentals are $10, lessons are $10, and a large chunk of the mountain turns into an awesome moving party as the sun goes down and the lights come on. Après isn’t necessarily the end of your day, just a break in the action before you head back out.


The good news is that night skiing is coming back to Whistler — it’s in Phase 1 of Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) Renaissance plans. The bad news, according to a recent quarterly report, is that it’s not among the projects being considered for the 2017-2018 season. In my view, it should have been at the top of the list.


As always, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting night skiing. As a season passholder who shares the mountains with 20,000 other people on weekends, I don’t feel I get a lot of value for my pass over the course of the season. Judging by the number of my friends that have stopped buying their own passes — and probably wouldn’t buy an unlimited pass next season if Vail didn’t offer a discounted alternative to the parent pass — I’m probably not alone in this. However, that value proposition would change massively if I was able to get out in the evening as well.


Most importantly, I think night skiing could also reduce some of the traffic congestion we’ve been experiencing on Highway 99.


Adding value for passholders and guests is only one reason we need some quality night skiing. Another is to space out ski-school programs a little bit. Daisy chains of groms can be found all over the slopes on weekends, and it’s rare to board a mid-mountain lift as a threesome without bringing a student along. With night skiing, local kids could take lessons after school instead of adding more traffic and bodies to our base areas at peak times. Local race, ski and snowboard clubs could also use evenings to race gates, hit the bumps, or work on park skills.


With smaller crowds and worked-in snow, night skiing really is a great time to practice your skills or to learn something new. It’s also a good time to experiment with interesting alternatives like snow bikes or snowskates.


One area that Whistler has identified as a priority going forward is offering families more to do in the evenings, something the Renaissance project provides. Night skiing fits the bill perfectly, bringing families together that might otherwise be separated during the day by programs, skill levels, and degrees of enthusiasm.


When it comes to the issue of building a night-skiing culture, there’s also no question that Whistler Blackcomb has come a long way in terms of building excitement around events and attractions. Look at Crankworx, or the success of men’s and women’s nights in the bike park, for example. I really think we’ve reached the point where the resort could create an amazing night-skiing experience that would be a huge hit with locals and visitors alike.


And while my own priority is adding value for passholders, there’s also a good business case for night skiing. It would sell more tickets and passes, keep WB’s bars and restaurants busy later into the evening, and get people here earlier on weekends as well. Clear lenses’ sales would go through the roof.


Most importantly, I think night skiing could also reduce some of the traffic congestion we’ve been experiencing on Highway 99. People would be in less of a hurry to get to the mountain in the morning if they could stay later in the day, and could also leave at different times.


I don’t doubt Whistler Blackcomb has already discussed options for creating a world-class night-skiing zone that would have all the elements it needs be successful — like beginner terrain, a terrain park with small and medium features, a base area with a bonfire pit and optional side attractions, and a place to get warm and buy refreshments.


It’s time to make it a reality and bring back the night.

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