News » Whistler

busy year

Record winter may carry over Skier visits will top 1.5 million, but not everyone busy The winter of 1994-95 is already another record year for skier visits at Whistler — and may set a record for North American skier visits — but not all businesses are benefiting. As of last Sunday skier visits this winter totalled 1,486,597, up 14.5 per cent over the same time last year. Last season's final skier visit tally was about 1.45 million. Rob McSkimming, director of Dual Mountain Programs, says that at the present rate of skier visits the season total should be approximately 1.6 million. "We're still powering through. The next two weeks look very strong," McSkimming said Tuesday. For several years Vail has been number one in North America in terms of skier visits, totalling about 1.5 million. "If we can get to 1.5 million I think we'll surpass Vail," McSkimming said. "They were off at the start of the season and have picked up some since, but Vail's total has been around 1.5 million the last few years." Vail is expected to close for the season in the next couple of weeks. Whistler Mountain, which reports skier visits are up more than 10 per cent over last year, will close April 23. Blackcomb, which last week topped 800,000 skier visits for the first time, will stay open until May 22. But even though skier visits are up, Alan Hannebauer says the people aren't coming as fast as the new retail shops are opening. Hannebauer, who owns For Keepsakes and For Nature's Sake, two shops in the village, says the proliferation of new retail space, particularly in Marketplace and Whistler Village Centre, is hurting village shops. "Everybody who I have spoken with who speaks candidly about operating in the village is down," said Hannebauer. "Some months you are up, some months are down and others you break even. It's obvious less people are coming through village shops." He says the shortage of free parking in the village is a drawback, while Village North businesses have plenty of free parking. Hannebauer says village landlords are also eyeing the higher lease rates charged in Marketplace and Whistler Village Centre and considering raising village leases to fall in line with other areas. "It looks like the cost of doing business may be going up, but the amount of business is not," he said. "If there are twice as many pieces coming out of a marginally bigger pie, logic dictates your piece of the pie is going to be smaller." Part of the problem is new developments such as Whistler Village Centre have opened the retail portion of their buildings before the hotel rooms are finished. But while more retailers are fighting for the same dollar, hoteliers have enjoyed a great winter. "Winter has been fabulous," said Diana Waller of the Radisson Blackcomb Suites at Whistler Resort. "Occupancies have been up 3-to-5 per cent and everyone's average rate has been up as well." Other hotels and pensions report similar increases for the winter, and many expect the demand for rooms to spill over into the summer. "Summer is always dependent on weather, but our summer reservations are on target, three or four per cent ahead of last year," Waller said. "The interest is there and with the weak Canadian dollar it's still a bargain for U.S. visitors." But she adds the price charged for rooms this summer will also be significant. "The WRA is trying to keep rates up for the summer. I think the prices overall have gone up (over last summer)." Although summer rates are still significantly below peak winter rates, Waller doesn't expect too many $49/night packages, as were offered at times last summer. "It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to the rates," she said. Summer business is still more dependent on rubber tire traffic — visitors driving to Whistler and staying a night or two — than destination visitors, who come for a full week in the winter, but that too is changing. The phone at the Whistler Campground has been ringing off the hook with people making reservations, many of them Europeans who are renting vehicles while they vacation in B.C.