Skiers, skiers everywhere Record numbers on top of last record year By Chris Woodall Snow sliders have been mobbing Whistler in record numbers this year. leaving last year's record visits in the tree well of marketing. There have been 6.2 per cent more skier visits to Whistler/Blackcomb to date than during the 1996-97 season, says Dave Perry, vice-president marketing and sales. "And of course, last year was a record year," Perry observes, making this year's numbers even more important. Like snow sports themselves, there have been ups and downs so far. "January was a very good month," Perry says, following a fabulous Christmas week that included single day skier visit records for both Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. Skier visits are now calculated by combining the two mountains into one number. And this season that number, to March 8, is 1.262 million since the season opened Nov. 21. The downside has been the first two weeks of February, when visits were slower than expected. "January is a value season," Perry says. "As soon as we step into February, we are back to high season rates. "Because there have been a higher number of hotel rooms available, people had the ability to choose whichever week they wanted," Perry explains. "So we saw a shift into January and away from February." There may be more to read into this. "To me, it's a bit of an indication we're hitting some price thresholds in room packages in the high season," Perry says. But since early February it's been full steam ahead. "Late February and early March were very strong weeks," creating records visit numbers compared to the same weeks last year, Perry says. All those skiers and boarders had to come from somewhere. From Britain, for one. The U.K. has been a big source of market growth, with the strength of the U.S. greenback motivating Americans to get to Whistler/Blackcomb's "higher ground." "Aggressive marketing in Eastern Canada and California is showing indications of paying off this year, but especially in April," Perry says, looking ahead to next month. April may be the cruellest month for poets, but it'll be nothing but golden for Whistler. Blame it on the bigger and better World Ski & Snowboard Festival, April 10-19. "The festival is driving the growth. It's the centrepiece of activity in the resort when every other resort is closing down for the season," Perry says. As March rolls toward that festival, we also say good-bye to El Niño. The weather condition has been rather bitchy toward most of North America, but it has been a good buddy to Whistler. "We have a massive amount of snow in the alpine and enough snow in the valley," Perry says. "We've continually had, on average, among the best snow conditions in the world. That clearly has to be one of the reasons for the high number of skier visits."