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Interior ski resorts bullish on 2010-2011 season

Skier numbers expected to rise as economy recovers

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Nicolson says they divide their marketing budget evenly between regional and destination markets, but says the real focus is on the message.

"Our research year-in and year-out for 15 years suggests that when people come to Sun Peaks once they will return. For us the single biggest opportunity of the Olympics was the opportunity to bring newcomers to Sun Peaks, because of our high retention rates," Nicolson said.

"Our biggest challenge in the marketplace is to educate people on three things. The first is size: aside from Whistler Blackcomb we are the second largest in the province. And the next thing is we are second in quality - a number of people are surprised and don't expect the level of sophistication of the village and resort amenities, and all the activities going on.

"The last thing for the market to recognize is that Sun Peaks is the next-closest resort to Whistler out of Vancouver or Seattle."

Sun Peaks is promoting snow this year, with an early opening set for Nov. 20. They are also promoting a 10-day wine and skiing festival in January, which is a first for the resort.

For Big White and Silver Star, which are managed by the same company, the experience has been similar - although with a resident population over 150,000, those resorts are generally less dependent on destination visitors.

However, senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall says the resorts did benefit from the aversion effect before the Games. During the Games, not so much.

"We saw reservations spike before and during the Games, but once the Games started we actually saw cancellations - people were having so much fun in Vancouver they didn't want to leave," he said.

The resorts did not allow cancellations, but gave people the opportunity to rebook their holidays for later in the season or for the coming ski season.

Coming into this season, Ballingall says it's a mixed bag. On one hand, he says the Vancouver market has been hit by the financial crisis but will likely be flat when it comes to visitor numbers. On the other, Westjet is now running direct flights from Toronto to Kelowna airport, "and we're seeing some significant growth out of there. Other than that, the U.K. is dismal, the U.S. is dismal. From Australia we're seeing a bump and we're doing better than last year."

As a private company, he says Big White and Silver Star don't do the regular projections. As well, he says there is a very healthy local market, and the number of season pass holders at both resorts has risen this year.

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