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Thousands turn out for cheap lessons

Learn to Ski and Ride Week package popular

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For years the ski industry has been waging an uphill battle against demographics – the average age of skiers and boarders has increased, while fewer new people are trying the sport, and getting hooked. Without snowboarding, high-speed chairs, parabolic skis and twin tips, ski resorts would already be looking at a decline in the overall size of the skier market.

Facing an already challenging season, Whistler-Blackcomb pulled out all stops for their Learn to Ski And Ride Week, offering guests lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons for just $69, $30 cheaper than last season.

In the first four days of the promotion, which was introduced for Women’s Week, more than 400 beginners a day took advantage of the program, doubling the number of lessons typically offered by Ski School during the same period.

The deal also attracted beginner skiers from across Canada and the U.S., from places like Boston and Toronto, as well as international visitors from places like Hong Kong, with bookings starting to pile in three weeks out.

According to Otto Kamstra, the general manager of the adult ski school program, the package was extremely successful.

"For our staff it was great, it got them out there and gave them a chance to share their passion for the sport," he said. "The goal was to get the absolute beginners up top and take them around Burnt Stew Trail after three days, which with the sunny weather has been just fantastic. For people who’ve never been up there, it’s just a mind-blowing experience."

It’s hoped that the experience will make the beginner skiers into return customers for the ski school and the resort. Kamstra says the goal is to introduce 10,000 new people to skiing through the Whistler-Blackcomb ski and snowboard school. According to a study, visitors are 20 per cent more likely to return to a resort if they have taken a lesson from the ski school, and are more than 25 per cent more likely to return to the same hotel.

Another benefit has been the work for instructors. January and early February are typically slow for ski school, and the promotion helped to put more instructors to work says Kamstra.

Doug Forseth, the senior vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, said they don’t have numbers yet, but the promotion will likely be back again next year.

"I would think so. We seemed to have good participation, there was a nice take-up of the offering, and we definitely saw some new customers," he said.

"We have a focus, as we hope does the entire ski industry, to grow the business and to do that we need to reach out and help more people in, help more people try it, and hopefully get the bug."

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