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Ski industry greets the changing face of Canada

One of every five Canadians was born outside the country

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The Great White North is not nearly as white as it used to be, according to the latest report released by Statistics Canada, based on information from the 2006 Census.

According to the report, almost 20 per cent of all Canadians are foreign-born, which is up more than a full percentage point over the previous census in 2001. During the same time frame Canada’s population grew by 13.6 per cent, while our Canadian-born birthrate stalled at just 3.3 per cent. More than two-thirds of the country’s population growth is the result of immigration.

In British Columbia the trend is even more pronounced, with 27.5 per cent of roughly 4.1 million residents born outside Canada.

That’s the highest number of foreign-born Canadians in about 75 years, but what makes it more pronounced is where new Canadians are coming from. While the majority of immigrants in the 1920s and 30s came from Europe, now about six in 10 immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006 came from East Asia and the Middle East. China is at the top of the list, accounting for 14 per cent of new immigrants between 2001 and 2006, followed by India at almost 12 per cent. The Philippines and Pakistan are third and fourth at seven and five per cent respectively, while the U.S. is fifth on the list. Rounding out the top-10 are South Korea, Romania, Iran, the United Kingdom and Columbia.

Europeans still make up a large portion of immigrants, roughly 16.1 per cent, but that’s way down from even 1970 when Europeans accounted for more than 60 per cent of all newcomers to Canada. As well, many new European immigrants are also coming from less affluent European countries such as Romania, rather than Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

While the changing face of Canada is easy to see in Canada’s urban centres like Vancouver and Toronto, it’s less visible on the ski slopes. While the ski industry has been aware of changing demographics for decades, as well as the impact of aging baby boomers, Jimmy Spencer of the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) says the most recent census is another call to arms.

“I think all the operators are very conscious of the trend, such as the large Sikh and Chinese populations in Vancouver, and a lot of overtures have been made right across Canada to try and engage those groups,” he said. “It was one of the major issues we discussed at our meeting last year, and our goal is definitely to try to get these Canadians introduced to skiing and snowboarding.

“This is an important thing for us. These numbers will continue to grow, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to try to induce these communities to get into these sports.”

Although it’s challenging to get foreign-born residents with no experience skiing or snowboarding onto the slopes, the CWSAA members are having better luck selling winter sports to their children.

Spencer says the Grade 5 Snowpass program, which is good for up to three free lift tickets at each ski resort, has already been a huge success. In 2006-07 more than 35,000 kids across Canada took part, up from roughly 10,000 participants 10 years ago.

“It’s a very popular program, and it’s great to get kids into the sport at virtually no cost to them,” said Spencer. “At the same time a lot of operators are also offering their own programs to get kids to learn to ski and snowboard, like an extension of one free ticket for kids going into Grade 6, ski school programs, and programs to get the schools out.”

Spencer says the demographic shift for younger kids has been noticeable, but that operators still have a long way to go to attract Canada’s growing foreign-born populations.

“We’re all aware of it, and through groups like the Canadian Ski Council we’re working together to a degree to get more youth into the sport — not just foreign-born, but youth in general. That’s the future of the industry,” he said.

Whistler-Blackcomb is one resort that has taken steps recently to encourage more participation and introduce the sport to growing communities in the Vancouver area that are not typically into skiing and snowboarding.

“We’re definitely looking at ways to make sure skiing and snowboarding are inclusive, and is representative of the demographics of our country and how they’re shifting,” said Meredith Kemp, brand and destination marketing manager for Whistler-Blackcomb.

“For example, we’re making sure our photography represents the demographics of the country more and more to reflect the diversity we already have. We’re also getting the word out about our Learn to Ski and Snowboard week in January, and our Discover Days to introduce new people to the sport of skiing and snowboarding. We’re targeting some of our ads to different ethnic markets as a way to bring new people into the fold, and get them involved.”

According to Kemp, the “Learn To” program will run from Jan. 12 to 20 with special deals for residents on rentals and lessons. As well, Whistler-Blackcomb is again backing Discover Whistler Days from Jan. 14 to Feb. 11, offering 50 per cent off learn to ski and ride programs, and providing discounts for kids programs. The Grade 5 Snowpass program has also been successful.

One area where Kemp sees room for improvement is in school groups. Following a lawsuit by a high school snowboarder who was injured in the terrain park, school group participation declined for several years but is now on its way back up.

“That was definitely an area of concern for us, and why we are taking active measures to make sure we get the youth out there and participating,” she said. “We don’t leave it up to them to decide whether or not to get involved, we’re actually putting it right in front of them to learn to ski and ride at Whistler-Blackcomb. The more kids we can get to try it, the more that they are going to become lifelong skiers and snowboarders.”

According to Natalie Laplante, who recently released a study of ski and snowboard trends for the 2006-07 season, the Canadian Ski Council has been working on a report regarding minorities that is due out in the new year.

The study was compiled using data from the 2001 census, and is now being updated with the latest census numbers. If anything, she says the latest figures underline the shift towards foreign-born citizens and their growing importance to the well-being of the ski industry.

“I know operators are keen to see the study in the New Year, which will include an evaluation on how some of our programs to engage these communities are working,” she said.