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Whistler Blackcomb close to deal with VANOC

Aversion factor and lack of promotion inside venues just part of the discussions

How much does it cost to rent the world’s second busiest ski resort for an event?

That’s the thorny question Whistler-Blackcomb officials and staff with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been struggling over for months.

What’s become clear is that you can’t put a finger on the number, said Whistler-Blackcomb’s vice president in charge of operations, Doug Forseth.

“…Who rents a ski hill?” he said.

“You just have no idea what the going rate is.”

For that reason Whistler-Blackcomb has entered into a “make whole agreement” where the compensation will be based on a number of factors including the difference between what the ski hills would normally expect to make and how much they actually do in the Olympic year.

“We are trying to make sure that whatever the payment is it is fair and equitable,” said Forseth.

He hopes a deal will be in place early in the New Year.

Cypress Mountain, host of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, is also in discussions with VANOC about the same type of compensation agreement.

It’s likely that the final dollar figure won’t be settled on until after the 2010 Games are over.

“The venue agreements are in place and we are defining the details in on-going discussions,” said VANOC spokesman Chris Brumwell.

Whistler-Blackcomb’s parent company, Fortress Investment Group, does not reveal financial figures for its individual ski areas, but last year Whistler-Blackcomb recorded more than two million skier visits.

“We took this approach versus what was done in Utah (at the 2002 Winter Olympics) where they all just basically had a flat rent fee,” said Forseth, adding that the payment was in the millions.

“I don’t know how valid that sum of money was or how appropriate it was in some cases.”

And, said Forseth, even though more than 3 billion people are expected to tune in and watch the Games on television, the Whistler-Blackcomb logo and name will rarely be seen or mentioned as the company is not a sponsor.

“They are not called the Whistler-Blackcomb Games,” he said.

“The Whistler name is out there but the Whistler-Blackcomb name doesn’t necessarily get in there at all, and we certainly won’t have signage inside the venues because we are not a sponsor of the Games.

“So everything that has our marks on it will be out of television sight, taken down, covered up, or whatever.”

Whistler-Blackcomb is also concerned about the “aversion effect” where visitors decide not to plan a vacation at all to an Olympic host venue out of fear of price gouging, crowds and construction.

Utah predicted skier visits would be down 25 per cent in its Olympic year and marketed heavily to offset this. In the end skier visits were down 9 per cent, but during the Games ski hills were almost empty.

It will be business as usual for Blackcomb Mountain for the entire season in 2010. Access and parking will be restricted during Games time, but everything will be open over the busy Christmas season.

Whistler Mountain, on the village side, will also be open for skiers during the Games. Access at Creekside, the alpine venue, will be restricted though.

However, with about 85 per cent of Whistler’s accommodation taken up by Olympic family and sponsors, very few destination visitors will vacation here during the Games.