Early season optimism on the slopes 

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There's just something about opening day — its promise of heady days to come, new adventures on the horizon — it does the body and the soul a lot of good.

Winter is finally here, another season is upon us and it's going to be... epic.

And as I do every year, I think about what it is that I want to do this season: I will leave the 2013/14 season a better skier than when I began. I will push myself beyond my comfort zone. This is going to be my year. I will not let mundane things like work or laundry get in the way of my powder days.

Inevitably, work and that never-ending pile of laundry will start to cramp my ski style, but at the beginning of the season it feels like anything is possible.

That first day brings with it all that optimism, the excitement, the clean slate, the new thermals, the promise of things to come.

Reading between the lines, I'm not the only one looking up.

Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said this week that winter 2013-14 is pacing ahead of the past two winters... and those are the strongest on record in terms of room nights.

The pace of bookings on Whistler.com, for example, has increased by more than 40 per cent over last year.

And let's not forget we're on the heels of a record-breaking summer, which has buoyed our spirits.

A little further afield, the president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, David Lynn, was bullish in his predictions.

He outlined five reasons for an optimistic outlook in his President's Message in November's newsletter in terms of the economy, the weather, and the recent capital investments.

Whistler Blackcomb is leading the charge in western Canada on that last front with its $18 million expansion of the Crystal Zone on Blackcomb Mountain and the Harmony Chair on Whistler Mountain.

But look beyond our narrow valley: last year Mt. Seymour poured $5 million into its new Mystery Peak Express Quad Chair, Red Mountain will finish its Grey Mountain expansion in time for this season, a project that added close to 1,000 acres and a whole new mountain to Red, and last year Fernie opened its Polar Peak Lift, a fixed grip triple providing access to alpine skiing in the Currie Bowl.

It all points to confidence in western Canada's ski industry.

That confidence is buoyed by what Lynn calls the "robust levels of marketing support, particularly in B.C. and Alberta."

In addition to the investment from large resorts, Destination BC is providing a major push through the $1.6 million Destination BC Ski Marketing Campaign and $500,000 Experiences BC Ski Marketing Campaign.

The goal is to target key markets in Ontario, California and Washington State.

It's designed to bolster B.C.'s tourism revenues in the winter months, of which skiing is the biggest driver. There were more than 6.5 million skier visits in 2012 in B.C. and almost half were from outside the province.

The other reason to look up is the general economic outlook.

Lynn cites unemployment rates, growth in the gross domestic product both in Canada and the U.S., softness in the Canadian dollar and improvements in the stock markets — all things that can help the coming ski season.

This week, too, Whistler Blackcomb Holdings announced refinancing of the long-term debt for Whistler Mountain Resort Limited Partnership and Blackcomb Skiing Limited Partnership — a $300 million, five-year secured revolving credit facility with a syndicate of nine Canadian and U.S. banks.

This is what WB's president and CEO Dave Brownlie said about the refinancing and what it means for the future:

"The refinancing positions our organization strongly for the future and reflects the confidence of the lending community in our business.

"We expect a significant reduction in our annual interest expense as a result of the refinancing and the new fully revolving feature will allow us to manage working capital more effectively and provide us with significantly increased flexibility to pursue growth initiatives."

Even the weather appears to be cooperating.

According to AccuWeather, the winter will bring plenty of snow in both the west and east, though the west will get off to a much quicker start.

Check — 12 days quicker!

The forecast is for "near normal" snowfall for most of western Canada, although the Coast could have "above normal" temperatures in the second half of the season.

But let's not dwell on that now. You never know which way the wind will blow, literally.

Instead, let's revel in the charm of seeing those skis on shoulders, walking with a funny gait through the village. Let's enjoy those nerves and the butterflies as we ride up the gondola for the first time again this season.

Let's see skiing through the eyes of our three-year-olds, their skinny legs poking above their first ski boots, skis on the living room carpet: "Look mommy, I'm skiing. It's awesome."

Oh, you have no idea. Just you wait and see.


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