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Spring break cause for celebration

Visitors flock to Whistler for deals, fresh snow

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It will be a month or more before Tourism Whistler can put spring break 2009 in any kind of numerical perspective, but it was easily the busiest week of a challenging winter for local businesses.

It's difficult to compare the week directly with last year, when spring break coincided with the Easter long weekend, but numbers were above average.

"It was an unbelievable spring break," said Dave Brownlie, chief operating officer for Whistler Blackcomb. "From when the snow started we got 158 cm of new snow, which really transformed the experience into the true Whistler experience that residents and regional guests know and love. There was definitely a lot of pent-up demand in the marketplace to come and enjoy our product.

"If you look at past spring breaks outside of the Easter holiday period, this would be in our top three ever. It was a really successful nine-day run for us. It's been a challenging winter, but when the product is there it's unbelievable."

With that much snow falling it was tough to get lifts and alpine areas open, but Brownlie praised his employees for stepping up and working hard to get as much terrain open as early as possible each day, and for the quality of grooming while snow was still falling - the kinds of things that most visitors won't notice, but make all the difference to the guest experience.

Brownlie says better snow through the season would have increased numbers up to this point, but he believes the financial crisis would still have resulted in an overall decline over last season.

"There would still be challenges for us, but they wouldn't be as great," he said. "When you don't get the snow into February, you lose certain markets and momentum in markets to get people here."

Whistler hotels are also celebrating a good week.

At the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, rates were down about 30 per cent compared to last year with $99 deals still available for the hotel's 20 th anniversary, and the result was an actual increase in room nights over last spring break of roughly three per cent.

"It was very successful for us," said Chateau spokeswoman Lynn Gervais. "Obviously there was a lot of last minute pickup, which is the trend these days.

"Snow is white gold for us, we're seeing a lot of pickup every time it snows."

Gervais says the hotel is also being more aggressive with its promotions, and is focused on offering customers deals. For example, the Wildflower restaurant was offering different $10 dinners every night during spring break, as well as a $5 children's buffet from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. each night.

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