But projections for the future not so rosy
The 2002-03 winter was a record year for skier visits in both Canada and the United States, but projections for the future are not so optimistic and ski areas are continuing efforts to introduce more people to skiing and snowboarding.
Figures released by the Canadian Ski Council show 18.9 million skier visits at Canadian ski areas last winter. That ties the record set in the 2001-02 season.
Interestingly, while the total number of skier visits was the same over the last two winters, snow conditions varied greatly over the two seasons. The eastern part of the country experienced substantial snowfall last winter while much of the west received less snow than normal. In the winter of 2001-02 the situation was reversed, with the west receiving generous amounts of snow and the east less than normal.
Eastern Canada saw the biggest increase in skier visits last winter, with Quebec ski areas reporting 6.9 million visits, a 13 per cent increase over the prior season. Ontario ski area visits went from 3 million in 2001/2002 to 3.2 million this past season, a 7 per cent increase.
British Columbia and Yukon ski areas tallied 5.5 million skier visits, down from 6.34 million in 2001-02 Whistler-Blackcomb counted more than 2 million of those visits.
B.C.s 6.34 million total in 2001-02 was a record year for the province and represented a 33 per cent increase over 2000-01.
Alberta totalled 2.4 million skier visits in 2002-03, down from 2.6 million the previous year.
Ski areas in Atlantic Canada reported 570,000 visits last winter, while the prairie provinces experienced 220,000 skier visits.
Meanwhile in the U.S., a record 57.6 million skier visits were counted last winter. Thats a 0.45 per cent increase over the previous record of 57.3 million, set during the 2000-01 season. Its an 11.3 per cent increase over the long-term national average, measured from 1978-79 to 2002-03.
The U.S. figures were compiled independently by both the Kottke Report and by the National Ski Areas Association.
Despite the record 18.9 million total skier visits in each of the last two winters, Canadian ski areas are scrambling to boost participation rates. Projections by the Canadian Ski Council show a 21.9 per cent decline in domestic ski and snowboard visits over the next 15 years unless programs are put in place to mitigate the decline.
Industry workshops organized by the CSC last summer focused on three key areas: trial, conversion and retention. A press release from the CSC last month stated: "Essentially, the mandate for future snow seasons is to attract beginners to initiate ski/snowboard participation, to convert the participant into a core skier/boarder who visits an area often each season, and then to retain the participant in skiing/boarding throughout their lifetime."
In addition to a national perspective, the CSC growth model has also been broken down into three principal regions Canada West, Ontario and Quebec to aid in identifying where regional differences in trial, conversion and retention exist.
"The model shows each region is unique in the depth and scope of issues leading to varying levels of decline over the next 15 years," according to the CSC.
The organization will continue to gather research this winter, including conducting surveys at ski areas across the country.
The CSC is also compiling a Best Practices manual which will be distributed to ski areas this fall. The manual will consist of the best practices used by ski areas across the country for increasing trial, improving conversion, strengthening core participation and maintaining growth. As well, initiatives used by the U.S.-based members of the National Ski Areas Association will be included in the manual.
The CSC is also continuing with a number of marketing initiatives this winter, including the Nissan National Ski and Snowboard Week (Jan. 17-25, 2004), Discover Skiing/Snowboarding/Iniski/Inisurf Programs, and the Grade 5 SnowPass Program.
The Grade 5 SnowPass Program provides Grade 5 students, or children born in 1993, with three free ski passes to each participating ski area in their region or province. The program is based on statistics which show that people who learn to ski or snowboard at age 10 or 11 are most likely to make the sport a lifetime activity.