Lightning and Lifts – How Whistler Blackcomb Navigates This Operational Safety Challenge 

Lightning is one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring events. It also has the potential to be damaging and dangerous. Here in Whistler, lightning is most prominent during the summer months. Given this, we wanted to share some information to help educate guests about how we approach lightning safety.  

At Whistler Blackcomb, we operate in a vast mountainous area which spans more than 8,000 acres of lift-accessed terrain. When lightning is in the forecast, our teams adapt quickly to manage the risk and avoid endangering our guests. In fact, we have several different lighting monitoring tools used by our weather forecasters – if there is a strike within 100 km and moving towards us, we take action. 

The procedures outlined below are an essential component of our commitment to safety and can have a significant impact on our operations – including closures of our lifts.  

The first steps our mountain operations teams take when there is lightning in the forecast is building awareness by placing alerts and signage at the base of Blackcomb, Whistler Village, and Creekside Guest Relations informing visitors of potential service interruptions. 

When lightning does strike, we react with a phased approach that prioritizes mitigating risk from higher elevations downward. Our approach differs depending on how far away the most recent strike was – 100km, 60km, 30km and 20km all have different operational implications which are explained below: 

  • 100km: Peak Chair is put on stand-by with closure signs placed at the T-Bar crossing on Pika’s Traverse. Guests are asked to obey signage and avoid entering alpine hiking areas. 
  • 60km: All sightseeing lifts (Village Gondola, Blackcomb Gondola, PEAK 2 PEAK, Peak Express, Showcase) and Bike Park lifts (Garbanzo, Creekside, and Village Gondola) will go on stand-by. Also, ticket sales in the village move to stand-by. At this point, Patrol will begin sweeping alpine zones and hiking, Top of the World bike trails, and Glacier ski camps, to ensure guests begin downloading.  
  • 30km: When lightning strikes this close to the resort, our Patrol teams will begin sweeping lower elevation areas such as Garbanzo and Creekside Bike Park Zones. All guests are encouraged to take shelter inside until lightning activity subsides.   
  • 20km: Patrol sweeps Fitzsimmons Zone of the Bike Park (the lowest elevation). All guests are encouraged to take shelter inside until lightning activity subsides.    

Another key element to guest safety as well as protecting the resort and community is procedures to minimize the risk of strikes causing forest fire. When we have a storm on top of the resort, we dispatch staff to several locations across the valley to observe strikes and potential fires, and respond, when necessary. As well, our vantage points across the valley allow us to locate strikes that happen. 

Service interruptions happen. They are a regular component of mountain resort operations. We don’t take them lightly but only take action when it’s necessary for guest safety. Lightning is no exception, and we pride ourselves on the procedures in place and measures we take to ensure you are protected from it.