The ski industry continues to expand in B.C. and skier visits to British Columbia resorts are growing at almost twice the rate of those in Alberta, Washington, Oregon or Montana. Those are some of the findings from a survey of the 19 largest downhill ski areas and 20 heli/snowcat ski operations in B.C. conducted by the Ministry of Employment and Investment. The survey results are for the 1996-97 season but preliminary reports indicate the 1997-98 season will maintain this trend. The last time the ministry conducted such a survey was after the 1993-94 season. The survey shows increases in gross company revenue of more than $44 million since 1994 (to $191.084 million), proposed new ski area investment of almost $52 million in 1997 (and an additional $9 million by the heliskiing and snowcat operations), more than 1,400 new full and part-time jobs and an increase in payroll of more than $20 from 1991. "With direct sales now approaching $300 million per years, assets of almost $500 million and employees in the order of 8,500 people, the British Columbia ski resorts represent a major component of the tourism industry and a significant contribution to the provincial economy," project manager George McKay writes in an introductory summary of the survey. "British Columbia’s Mountain Resorts continued strong performance can be attributed to strong resident and international market demand for mountain resort activities, on-going development at Whistler Resort, expansion of interior ski resorts, tourism trends to mountain resort holidays, improved international market access, favourable currency exchange rates, and new on-mountain hotel and condominium hotel accommodation not generally available in competing regions," the reports states. Total skier visits to B.C. in 1996-97 were 4.5 million, up 340,000 from the previous year but still below the record 4.7 million set in 1994-95. Skier visit totals are expected to top 5 million by the year 2000, reflecting a growth rate of more than 7 per cent per annum. B.C. has captured slightly more than 40 per cent of all skier visits in the region (Alberta, Washington, Oregon and Montana) for the last five season. In 1977-78 B.C. resorts accounted for just over 22 per cent of all skier visits in the region. The report attributes B.C.’s growth in skier visits to "the unique government Commercial Alpine Ski Policy that encourages ski development and construction of mountain resort villages to provide on-site overnight accommodation." Gross revenue per skier day has also increased over the years, to $44.63 in 1996-97 from $39.29 in 1993-94 and $33.83 per skier day in 1990-91. Sources of revenue are diversifying for ski area operators, as reported lift revenues represented only 51 per cent of gross revenues in 1997, compared to 53 per cent in 1993-94 and 55 per cent in 1990-91. Lift revenues last season were up to $99 million ($79 million in 1993-94 and $62 million in 1990-91. As lift revenues increase so do government land lease fees, for resorts on Crown land, as stipulated by the Commercial Alpine Ski Policy. Estimated government land lease fees are now $1.9 million annually. The average posted lift ticket prices last season was $37 ($34 in 1993-94 and $29 in 1990-91) but the yield continued to decline from 72 per cent of the posted rate in 1989-90 to 65 per cent in 1990-91, to 62 per cent in 1993-94 and 49.7 per cent last season. "This 49.7 per cent yield in 1996-97 suggests substantial price discounting through packaging, passes and promotion," the survey states. The mountain resorts reported marketing expenditures of $10 million last season, which represents an average expenditure of about $2.39 per skier visit, compared to about $2 per skier visit in 1994. The survey makes no mention of resort associations and their marketing efforts. New investment at the mountain resorts (excluding private real estate) for 1997 was expected to exceed $51 million ($63 million in 1994-95 and $37 million in 1990-91) with major projects of more than $3 million at Whistler/Blackcomb, Sun Peaks, Fernie, Cypress Bowl and Panorama. Private real estate developments are not included in the figures.