Features & Images » Feature Story

Bringing ethnic diversity to the slopes

Targeting the non-white population to cultivate a new market of skiers and snowboarders



When former "Crazy Canuck" Ken Read, coined the term "White Circus" he was talking about the World Cup circuit, and the colour of the snow, not the athletes, but with our population growing ever more ethnically diverse Canada’s ski slopes are looking conspicuously white.

When you look at the history of resort development it’s obvious European immigrants and their descendants built most, if not all, of North America’s ski resorts. Today, however, most Canadian immigrants are not from Europe, so the ski industry needs to find a way of reaching out to our ethnically diverse population to increase skier visits.

In fact, figures released this week by Statistics Canada indicate that by 2017 – Canada’s 150th anniversary – more than half of those living in Vancouver and Toronto will likely be members of visible minorities. In Vancouver, nearly one half of that majority of visible minorities will be Chinese.

Last July the Canada Ski Council (CSC) hosted a State of the Industry workshop in Toronto. Highlights from the two-day retreat include some startling predictions about British Columbia’s resorts: "Without further growth in international visits, skier/rider visits will drop from 5.8 million in 2003-04 to 5.2 million in 2018-19," and "International visits may have peaked (based on data for the past three seasons) and competition will be fierce as the U.S. focuses on recapturing visitation lost to the Canadian market."

The workshop, however, was not all doom and gloom; several positive strategies to continue growth were identified, including: "Continued focus on increasing trial especially in the under 19 segment." and "Focus on increasing trial among minority youth."

Smart resorts are looking to target these ethnic minorities to cultivate a new market of snow sports enthusiasts.

The demographic shift and the ethnic diversification of Canada’s population are highlighted in a report published this past February by Frank Trovato and Zheng Wu. The report has some astounding figures including the fact that, "The visible minority population grew from about five per cent of the national population in 1981 to over 13 per cent in 2001, largely because of immigration from non-traditional sources countries."

Until 1967, non-white immigration to Canada was suppressed, by a mechanism of place of origin preference. Because of these predilections our European cultural heritage, remained predominant.

Trovato and Wu go on to explain how Canada has become so much more diverse. "Current immigration patterns are driving the ethnic diversification of Canada’s population. Of recent immigration, the top five source countries are China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Iran."

Few statistics are available on the minority participation rate at Canadian resorts, but the American ski industry reflects a national rate of less than eight per cent, surprisingly the number is less than seven per cent in America’s best known ski state, Colorado. Ski slopes are apparently a lot whiter than we imagined.