Opinion » Editorial

There's always a silver lining



Can you believe the weather?

OK, that has to be about the most-asked question in the resort right now. Let's be honest — we are all snow lovers here, but having such a warm spell just feels good on the bones, and I'm a little excited that my high-up Alpine Meadows lawn might actually have functioning grass thanks to a regular-length growing season.

Sacrilege to even mention gardening, I know, as March comes upon us.

And I know that for every smile a ray of sunshine brings, it is also responsible for the grating of teeth across the resort as businesses from Whistler Blackcomb to the little guys try to get creative about how to make the best of it.

Snow guns are going full blast when they can, groomers are grooming (all hail the groomers!), and winter-based activity companies are getting creative about how they keep their guests happy.

But underlying the weather chat is a river of speculation about how soon WB can get the bike park open. Bike fever has struck!

Digressing from the snow conditions... it was interesting to read recently that a proposed golf course operator in the Kootenays has switched from its original plan and decided to focus land development on creating mountain-bike trails instead of greens.

"Canadians are playing less golf than they used to and there are several world class golf courses in the area, already," Simon Howse, general manager of Parastone told Business in Vancouver recently.

Parastone has seen a rapid sell out of the first phase of its 20 home sites at Montane in Fernie.

(It should be pointed out that golf is still the most popular sport in participation in B.C. with 410,000 people over the age of 12 having played golf at least once in the past 12 months.)

The issue of climate change has been much in the news over the past few weeks with the unseasonably mild temperatures.

Obviously there is no debate that it is occurring — as David Helfand, president and vice-chancellor of Quest University Canada in Squamish told Pique last week.

"There is no debate about what is happening," he said. "There's debate about the future, and what will happen... but there's no debate about the basic data.

"It doesn't matter what your political position is. The arctic sea ice cover has fallen by close to 50 per cent in the last 15 years, and that's a fact. You can't wish it away or pretend it doesn't exist."

Every industry in B.C. including tourism will have to adapt in the long term to a changing climate.

For the ski industry that means looking at snow levels and planning into the future as WB has done with its investment in structures like the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. The ski industry provides a livelihood for 12,000 people in the province with the province's 85 ski areas bringing in $600 million in revenue annually. Indeed according to Destination B.C. mountain resorts account for eight per cent of total tourism revenue in B.C.

Environment Canada's snowfall figures for the last three months, or so, show that the valley received a lot less snow than the 1981-2010 average with 75 per cent less in November, 53 per cent less in December, 30 per cent less in January and 78 per cent less in February to date.

While statistics aren't available, anecdotally it's clear that thousands fewer skiers are taking to the slopes these days even with the bluebird spring conditions out there to enjoy.

Most think the weather an anomaly — and it likely is — but it doesn't hurt to think outside the box about coping strategies. Recent reports have Chinese tourists flocking to Canada thanks to the struggling Canadian dollar.

According to the Globe and Mail in January, Chinese applications for visas to Canada climbed 51 per cent over last January — roughly 15,000 in a month that is typically quiet for visa requests. Some are coming as tourist, others to buy real estate or invest.

As part of brand building, Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)-China and Destination British Columbia were the headline sponsors of the 8th Canada Nanshan Ski Mogul Slope Championship on Feb. 14 — Nanshan is a favourite resort of Chinese skiers that's one hour from Beijing. 

Skiing is a fledgling sport in China, but travellers are nonetheless fascinated by it, and there is no doubt Whistler will capitalize on that, as the mountains are so accessible to visitors, not just skiers and boarders. Though the Chinese traveller is heavily focused on high-end shopping Whistler could still benefit greatly if the numbers stay high.

This week also saw the CTC re-focus on the U.S. market, in part thanks to the low loonie — relative to the U.S. dollar.

"We are in the process of going back into the U.S. market," CTC president David Goldstein told the Globe and Mail.

"We are currently in negotiations with our partners in the industry on a U.S. leisure market campaign."

The CTC hopes to resume marketing in the United States this spring and has asked for more federal funding, though it is unclear if there is any more money on the table for this.

But the U.S. is undoubtedly one of Whistler's most important markets, so this is nothing but good news, and we need all the good news we can get right now.