Last week, Canada's second-largest ski area, Sun Peaks, revealed $60-million in capital improvements—just the latest spending spree at British Columbian ski resorts announced recently.
Among the big-ticket plans will be a new, $4-million chairlift; two new snowcats; a $7-million makeover of the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel and Conference Centre; and the $7-million Sun Peaks Centre, a multi-purpose indoor facility.
"I think it bodes really well," said Aidan Kelly, Sun Peaks' director of marketing, of the investment. "It shows a lot of confidence in what we've been doing as a destination over the last couple years. Not just us, but I think the whole ski industry in Western Canada has had a couple really good years for a variety of reasons."
Sun Peaks is not alone in unveiling plans to spend big. Earlier this month, Big White Ski Resort announced $10-million in spending, the largest single-year investment into the Kelowna property in the last decade. In December, Whistler Blackcomb announced an historic $66-million investment into a new gondola and lift infrastructure, part of the tweaked $345-million Renaissance plan that was first unveiled in 2016, prior to Vail Resorts' takeover of the resort. In June, Silver Star Mountain Resort, northeast of Vernon, unpacked plans to build a new Doppelmayr gondola, replacing the fixed double chair that has been in operation since 1970.
Chris Nicolson, president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, said the current period of spending is a sign of the ski industry's economic recovery. "Capital investments don't happen overnight, so a lot of ski areas have actually been rebuilding since 2008 after going through a big economic crisis," he said.
"It's the peak of that cycle where investor confidence is there, and investments are being made."
Significant chunks of B.C. ski resorts' recent investments focused on the summer, with the aim of rounding out their year-round tourism offerings in a province that is increasingly moving up the list of global vacation destinations.
"For the province, when you look at the tax revenue (summer visitation) generates, when you look at year-round employment instead of seasonal employment, all these investments from resorts help with that, so, for moving the province forward, not just as a national but a global destination, those are positives," Nicolson noted.
"I don't know if (investing in summer tourism offerings) is the new reality, but it's definitely the opportunity," said Kelly, who noted how Sun Peaks has seen its summer visitation increase by roughly 20 per cent annually over the past two years.
Located northeast of Kamloops, the resort views its multimillion-dollar Sun Peaks Centre, which, with a capacity of 3,000, will enable the community to host everything from large sporting events to concerts and corporate trade shows, as one way to leverage its burgeoning summer business—and it looked to its provincial rival for inspiration.
"Whistler was the shining example of how that could work with all the traffic and activity that happens there in the summer months now. We're on that trajectory as well," added Kelly. "Compared to all the other resorts in B.C., I'd say that we're next in line in terms of the most evolved with our summer business."
Nicolson sees ski resorts' investment into summer business as an indirect way to introduce more potential winter visitors to the mountains.
"Overall, the mountains provide a natural environment that a lot of people within, say, urban centres are looking for. They're trying to escape, and they may not want to give up all their creature comforts, but they want to be in a natural environment, and the mountains offer that and everything from the scenery to the smells and scents, to the activities that are healthy, outdoor and active," he said. "If people are introduced to that in the summertime, then there's opportunities to introduce them to a winter experience as well."
For more information on Sun Peaks' recent investment, visit sunpeaksresort.com/media/new-releases/sun-peaks-resort-announces-significant-investment-for-2018.