The 1998-99 ski season was not only a record year for Whistler-Blackcomb, the ski industry across the province set new standards for skier visits and revenues.
A review of the 1998-99 season by B.C. Assets and Lands shows a continuation of B.C.’s 20-year pattern of growth in skier visits and a corresponding increase in employment in the industry and wages paid.
"One result of this continued growth is that investor interest and employment potential in additional ski developments in British Columbia is at an all time high," writes George McKay, manager of strategic planning and investment for BCAL’s Land Program Service Branch.
Downhill skier visits to B.C. ski resorts exceeded 5 million days for the first time last winter (5.58 million in total; the previous record was 4.7 million in 1994-95), with Whistler-Blackcomb accounting for slightly more than 2 million of those skier visits. Record snowfalls in many parts of the province — and below average snowfalls across most of the rest of the continent — were significant factors in B.C.’s skier visit totals. A favourable exchange rate, tourism trends toward mountain resort holidays, improved international market access and more on-mountain accommodation were also factors contributing to the record season.
The review was based on surveys of the province’s 17 largest ski areas. Although there are approximately 60 ski areas in B.C., the 17 largest provide about 90 per cent of both total skier volume and skier revenues. Whistler-Blackcomb accounts for more than one-third of the industry in B.C.
o Gross resort revenues for ski area operators increased more than $75 million, from $191 million in 1996-97 to $266 million in 1998-99.
o Proposed 1999 new ski area investment of almost $100 million by ski areas ($20 million alone was spent at Whistler-Blackcomb last summer).
o Average revenue per skier day breaking $50 for the first time ($50.72, up from $44.63 in 1996-97).
o More than 7,900 full and part-time jobs and a payroll of more than $82 million reported in 1998-99.
o Lift revenues for 1998-99 were more than $137 million, compared to $99 million in 1997-98.
"With direct sales now approaching $300 million per year, and assets of almost $500 million, British Columbia ski resorts represent a major component of the tourism industry and are a significant contributor to the provincial economy," the review states.
Ski industry growth in British Columbia has far outpaced growth in Alberta and neighbouring states. In 1978 the total skier visits for the Pacific North West region was 5.9 million, with B.C. resorts capturing 22 per cent of these skier days.
In the 1998-99 season, skier days in the Pacific North West region totalled more than 12.3 million, and B.C. resorts had more than 45 per cent of these visits. "The growth can be attributed in part to the unique British Columbia government "Commercial Alpine Ski Policy" that encourages ski development and construction of mountain resort villages to provide on-site overnight accommodation," the report states.
The province also benefits directly from increasing business at ski areas. As lift revenues increase so do government land fees. Not all mountain resorts are on Crown land, but an estimate of annual land lease fees to government from lift tickets based on the CASP pricing formula is approximately $2.6 million in 1998-99, compared to $1.9 million in 1996-97.
Lift revenues represented 51 per cent of resorts’ reported gross revenues in 1999, the same as they did in 1997. However, lift revenues have declined as a percentage of gross revenues over the years. In 1993-94 lift revenues represented 53 per cent of gross revenues and in 1990-91 they made up 55 per cent.
In a separate report, Statistics Canada confirmed this week the number of Americans who are hitting the slopes in Canada is growing, and 1998 marked the first time that Americans making overnight trips to downhill ski in Canada outnumbered Canadians who made overnight trips to ski in the U.S.