Skier visits are up 18 per cent over the same time last year, and last year was a record winter for Whistler-Blackcomb. An all-time record of 100,000 room nights was set in the month of January. And there are indications that the demand for rooms will far exceed supply during the peak periods of Christmas and spring break next winter. The demand for non-ski-related businesses, such as snowmobile tours, cross-country ski retreats and snowshoe adventures, appears to be stronger than ever. And, "If the retailers aren’t whining you know things are all right," one retailer said recently. No one is whining. Record winters are nothing new for Whistler. Since 1990 we’ve experienced an average increase in skier visits of over 5 per cent per annum. You have to go back to 1985-86 for the last time Whistler actually had a decrease in the number of skier visits from the previous year. But the winter of 1998-99 has, so far, been beyond all expectations. One local business owner recently commented that we are seeing numbers that weren’t expected until 2002 or 2003. The question that Whistler has to ask itself is, is this winter an anomaly or have we actually catapulted ahead three or four years in one season and will we continue to grow from this point? Certainly there are some external factors that are helping boost Whistler’s numbers this year. The discount Canadian dollar, which has received a lot of media attention in the United States recently, has helped draw Americans and Brits. The fact that Colorado and most of the American North-East states have had at best only average accumulations of snow while our area has had an abundance of snow all winter has also helped. (If the North Shore mountains hadn’t also been receiving huge amounts of snow this winter, there might be even more Lower Mainland skiers and boarders at Whistler than there have been.) But if there have been a lot of people coming to Whistler for the first time this year, there probably haven’t been too many who have left disappointed. And whether they come back themselves or whether they spread the word among friends, it’s going to mean more visitors down the road. Add to that the detailed, tightly focused marketing plan the Whistler Resort Association has put together for this year and the various initiatives of the One Whistler group — including renovating the conference centre, expanding and improving employee training programs and getting more bang for the marketing buck through greater co-operative efforts — and there’s a good chance that this winter’s numbers won’t be an anomaly. And that, of course, brings up a new set of problems. At times this winter Highway 99 between Function Junction and the village has more closely resembled a parking lot (or on snowy days a wrecking yard) than a highway. If visitor numbers have jumped ahead three years, implementation of the still uncompleted transportation plan needs to make a quantum leap forward, too. Whistler-Blackcomb also has to look at the timing of the next access lift out of the village. And of course the province, which has been touting the virtues of the ski and tourism industries recently, would ideally look at transportation between the Lower Mainland and the Sea to Sky Corridor sooner rather than later. While it’s true many towns would kill for Whistler’s problems with being a success, those problems will become more significant if they aren’t dealt with soon.

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