Opinion » Editorial


Across most of southern British Columbia investors are pouring millions of dollars into expanding mountain resorts. We can see what has been happening in Whistler, but you’d be hard pressed to find a B.C. resort that isn’t growing. Big White, Cypress Bowl, Mount Washington, Silver Star, Sun Peaks, Apex, Rossland, Fernie, Panorama — all have significant real estate and on-mountain expansions underway or planned. There are a number of reasons for this growth. The success of Whistler spilling over to the rest of the province is one; real mountains and good snow is another. A provincial ski area policy that allows for resort expansion is also factor (although development of brand new resorts is another story). A generally strong economy in our corner of the world, prosperous baby boomers looking for places to investment their money and the advent of the condo-hotel are some of the financial reasons why B.C. resorts are growing. But despite all this growth, one has to wonder if the mountain resort industry in this province is doing enough to ensure future generations will make skiing, snowboarding and the mountains in general part of their lives. Condo sales have been strong, in Whistler and elsewhere, but many people have bought for the investment value, rather than because they want to play in the mountains. South of us, mountain resorts in several states have taken steps to woo their future customers by offering them free lift tickets. It began last winter with the resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA initiating the Fifth Grade Ski Passport Program. All fifth graders can receive the pass, which is good for up to three days at each of the state’s 24 resorts. The program was based on research that found people who began skiing at age 10 (Grade 5) were most likely to make the sport a lifetime activity. Those kids are also at the heart of the next significant bulge in the population that will be coming along, the echo boomers. Last year Colorado issued 12,200 passports to Grade 5 students. The program is back this year. In New Hampshire this winter, a similar program is in effect for Grade 4 students but an educational component is tied to the passes. All 35 New Hampshire ski areas are participating in the program. Killington in Vermont and The Canyons in Utah, two resorts owned by the American Skiing Company, are offering any junior high school or high school honour roll students in their respective states free season passes. At Boyne USA Resorts in Michigan, all 10 year olds are allowed to ski for free this year. This program is part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will be back next winter, but it’s interesting that they chose 10 year olds. Whistler and Blackcomb have offered discounts on tickets, rentals and lessons for school ski trips for years, and haven’t sought or received much recognition for their effort. But these are generally once-a-year trips for most schools. A co-ordinated effort by all resorts across the province to give youngsters repeat opportunities to get a taste for skiing or snowboarding might be a better investment in the future of B.C. mountain resorts than developing another block of condos.