All roads lead to Whistler Hotel, skier visits break records for '97-'98 By Chris Woodall More. That one word says it all when describing what kind of season it was for skiers, snowboarders, hoteliers and the rest of Whistler's resort industry. The crowning glory was the last month of the "regular season" — from the opening Nov. 21 to the last day for Whistler Mountain, April 20 — which saw hotel occupancy rates rivalling the traditional Christmas rush. The Whistler Resort Association reports that 75 per cent of available hotel rooms were filled during the April 1-9 part of the month, dropping to 71 per cent occupied during the World Ski & Snowboard festival period April 10-19. Although the rest of the month was affected by Whistler Mountain closing for the season (26 per cent total occupancy during April 20-30), the over-all occupancy rate for April averaged out at 55 per cent. "Last year we had a 49 per cent occupancy rate for April," says WRA statistician Arlene Schieven. Not only does the 6 per cent jump look good, but "that's even with all the new inventory of rooms we've added since last year," Schieven explains. "By far it's the best April we've ever had," Schieven says. In terms of room nights generated, April will see a boost "of more than 30 per cent," over the number of nights last April, Schieven reports. April's big finish means that the whole ski season saw 17 per cent more room nights generated than last year, the biggest year-to-year jump since the 1989-90 season, Schieven says. That year Whistler experienced a 23 per cent spurt in business over the previous year. "But that was on a much smaller base of rooms," Schieven points out. Two factors account for the pneumatic rise in visitor numbers. The first one-third of April saw WRA's roll-out of value season price packages, including a joint WRA-Whistler/Blackcomb "fly for free" deal offered to Californians (stay four-five nights and the flight is included in the package); and a direct mail three-night deal offered to Washingtonians. As for Whistler/Blackcomb, El Niño didn't hurt a bit. Both mountains broke records for skier visits on days of the New Year's weekend (26,500 total skier visits Jan. 2) and saw a repeat of those kinds of per-day numbers during the ski and snowboard festival. "As of April 26, our business is up 16 per cent over last year's record year," says Dave Perry, Whistler/Blackcomb vice-president marketing and sales. Projecting numbers to Blackcomb's season ending on the Victoria Day weekend, Perry says visits will be 8.5 per cent over last year, easily surpassing 1,830,000 counted so far. "The other interesting milestone is that, although we now calculate our totals for both mountains together, Blackcomb Mountain itself surpassed one million visits — the first time ever for a Canadian ski resort," Perry says. "The main factor was the World Ski & Snowboard Festival," Perry says of this year's success. "And don't forget Easter was later this year, so April benefited from U.K. visitors coming on both sides of that holiday." Visitors from Mexico also arrived in larger numbers because of the Easter date this year, Perry says. April was great despite closing Whistler Mountain one week early, April 20. Whistler Mountain will be closed to all summer activities due to construction projects. "Whistler Mountain will return to its late April date next season," Perry says of a scheduled April 25 finale for 1999. The Roundhouse is being dismantled as you read this and excavations for the new Roundhouse complex are being dug, Perry says. Construction crews may be ferried by Creekside Gondola up the mountain later, but a road to the top has been ploughed for now. Preliminary work for Intrawest's Whistler Station complex in Creekside also begins this summer.