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The numbers game - part 1



Skier numbers have dramatically decreased in the past decade but the snowsports industry would have you believe otherwise

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

The North American ski and snowboard industry is thriving, according to statistics from industry groups in Canada and the United States.

But an in-depth look at the numbers doesn't necessarily reflect that point of view.

Skier/rider visits have remained relatively flat for the past decade, while other indicators show the actual number of skiers has decreased – by 53 per cent in Canada and 35 per cent in the U.S. – during the same period.

Snowboarder numbers, meanwhile, are not as clear. Overall numbers of boarders have increased in both Canada and the U.S. but, in other cases, have actually shown decreases similar to skier numbers.

"It's hard to tell," says Ed Pitoniak, a former editor-in-chief of SKI magazine who is now Intrawest's vice president of resort operations. "The data is just not good enough."

Statistics from last year's ski and snowboard seasons north and south of the border are a case in point.

Canadian ski resorts recorded 17.7 million skier/rider visits last year – a two per cent increase over the previous season and the most since the early 1990s, according to figures from the Mississauga, Ont.-based Canadian Ski Council.

Skier/rider visits at all Canadian resorts averaged 21 million annually between 1990 and 1993.

According to the CSC, numbers in the Great White North were buoyed by last year's heavy snowfalls in Eastern Canada.

Resorts in Ontario and Quebec each saw 20 per cent increases in skier/rider visits while ski areas in Atlantic Canada experienced increases ranging from 25 to 31 per cent.

But skier/rider visits to British Columbia and Alberta – where the bulk of Canada's destination ski resorts are located – dropped by 12 and 25 per cent respectively due to a lack of snow.

B.C. resorts only saw 4.9 million skier/rider visits last year, compared to 5.6 million the previous season, while Alberta ski areas logged 1.9 million visits compared to 2.6 million in 1999-00.

Heli- and cat-skiing operations based in Western Canada also experienced a five per cent decline in skier/rider visits.

Still, Whistler-Blackcomb recorded more than 2 million skier/rider visits for the second consecutive year, after setting a resort record of 2.18 million during the winter of 1999-2000.

According to CSC figures, the majority of Canada's skiers and snowboarders live in Eastern Canada.

Fifty-nine per cent of the nation's skiers and 58 per cent of snowboarders live in Ontario and Quebec, while 31 per cent of skiers and 29 per cent of boarders live in B.C. and Alberta.