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A ski season like no other

Monday is last day of winter operations for Blackcomb; Peak 2 Peak re-opens this weekend



The 2009-2010 ski season will go down in the record books for several reasons, from the early start and record snowfall in November (560 cm), to the second-most snow recorded in 40 years - 1,486 cm when all is said and done, just shy of the 1998-1999 record of 1,693 cm.

But it was hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games that most people will remember.

"'What an incredible winter' doesn't even begin to describe it," said Stuart Rempel, vice president of operations. "From kicking off the season with the snowiest month ever, to hosting the world in February, to capping off the winter as the second snowiest season on record, it's been one of the most memorable here at Whistler Blackcomb."

Before the season began there were concerns that people would stay away from Whistler because of the well-documented Olympic aversion effect experienced by other Games hosts over the years. People tend to avoid travelling to host destinations before and after the Olympics because of the perception that it will be hard to access, expensive, crowded and construction going on everywhere.

Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler took steps to battle the aversion effect early, cutting pass prices to their lowest level in 10 years, pushing early bird packages with the resort's first "lowest price guarantee," and taking out ads in key markets to address the Olympic misconceptions head-on. As well, steps were taken to ensure that visitors could get parking right up until Games-time, with the Whistler Golf Course driving range filling in while the municipal day lots were closed for Olympic use.

As a result, Whistler Blackcomb sold more passes than ever before. And while overall skier visits were down they were ahead of predictions, according to Whistler Blackcomb.

The Olympics and Paralympics both set records in terms of ticket sales, and virtually all of the events taking place in Whistler were sold out. Alpine events for both Games experienced weather delays due to snow and visibility issues, but crews worked around the clock to stage all of the events as planned.

Whistler Blackcomb is already looking ahead to the 2010-2011 season as well as to leverage the Games.

"Heading into the Games our biggest opportunity was to increase awareness and future visitation through the global media coverage that the Games would deliver," said Rempel. "By telling stories behind North America's largest, most diverse ski area, and showcasing the world record breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola we were able to make a lasting impression on the 3.5 billion people watching Games coverage across the globe."

As well, while the economic downturn has resulted in overall declines in visitor numbers for the past year - not including the Games period - Whistler Blackcomb is expecting that visitor numbers will rise again over the coming years as the economy recovers.

Post-Games, Whistler Blackcomb has seen increased traffic to its website from Germany, France, Italy and Austria, as well as increased traffic from the U.S. and Australia - a sign, Whistler Blackcomb says, of increased awareness.

However, there are a few challenges to overcome next season. One is pay parking, which is being implemented in the day skier lots in June. Whistler Blackcomb still has 1,268 spaces at Franz's Trail, and 1,500 spaces in lots 6, 7 and 8 on Blackcomb. As well, day lots 4 and 5 will remain free.

The Harmonized Sales Tax is another challenge for the resort and tourism in general.

"HST presents a significant challenge for the tourism industry," said Whistler Blackcomb chief operating officer Dave Brownlie. "A primary reason Whistler Blackcomb offered season passes for sale this spring for the first time ever, was to help guests avoid HST. Whistler Blackcomb is working with our tourism partners to express concern over the implementation of the HST and help government see the entire picture of the HST impact on the tourism industry."



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