Despite a slumping economy and the obstacles created by hosting the 2010 Olympic Games, the 2009-2010 season was a record for Whistler Blackcomb when it came to season pass and Edge Card sales. A big part of the reason was a decision to discount the early bird sale price to $1,099 from the previous year's price of $1,529, and the price of a spirit pass to $999, down from $1,149.
"It had to do with access, closing parking lots, a reduction of terrain during the Games," explains Stuart Rempel, vice-president of sales and marketing for Whistler Blackcomb.
The economy was also a factor, hence Whistler Blackcomb's decision to offer the same $1,099 price until April 30 of this year - and save on the 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax.
"It was a tremendous success, not only in getting people to renew and upgrade from an Edge Card, but also for new customers and people who have not had passes before," said Rempel. Whistler Blackcomb doesn't give out numbers, but Rempel says sales are already on track to beat last year's record.
"We've never done a spring offering on passes before, and I can say it was a great success."
Now, until Oct. 11, the early bird price is $1,349, slightly more than the $1,299 price listed after the April HST deadline. That's still a savings of $350 for the regular season pass price of $1,699, and six per cent less than the price two years ago - even with the HST.
Also back this year is a promotion that allows pass holders to purchase a Whistler Blackcomb gift card valued at $500 for just $399, which can be redeemed at any of Whistler Blackcomb's restaurant, rental or retail locations, as well as for ski school lessons - with all season pass discounts applying. As well, pass holders can purchase an additional three tickets for $139, which is $47 per ticket.
Rempel believes the pass is good value at the early bird price.
"We have one of the longest ski seasons in North America, from November to May; we are the largest resort in North America and one of the largest in the world, and we have a great variety of terrain and a great, consistent snowfall," he said.
As well, season pass holders will receive a 20 per cent discount at mountaintop restaurants and all retail stores; $50 off Snow School, $100 off Whistler Heli-Skiing, two-for-one Fresh Tracks Breakfast tickets (available until Dec. 24), discounts for summer glacier skiing and unlimited summer sightseeing.
Spirit Passes, offered to employees who work for companies that belong to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, will be priced at $1,149, the same as the 2008-09 season.
According to Rempel, Whistler Blackcomb has stepped up advertising and marketing for the coming season, after sitting back last year with the Games.
"Last year was a challenge with the resort basically sold out for the month of January, and the perception of construction and closures, but obviously that's all gone away and the Games have created a massive amount of awareness of Whistler," he said.
"We're working hard to put relevant and compelling offers in front of guests, regional and destination markets," he said. "Last year our regional visits were tremendous, we sold more season passes and Edge Cards than every year before, and we suspect we will sell more this year."
Whistler Blackcomb is the only resort to advertise in the September issue of Powder Magazine, and one of the only resorts to advertise in other publications like Ski, Skier, Skiing, Transworld Snowboarding, Snowboard Canada and other industry magazines. As well, the resort has been doing direct marketing in destination markets like the U.S., U.K. and Australia, while working with tour operators to focus more on the long haul and long stay market.
As well, Whistler Blackcomb has boosted its presence at major ski shows in the U.S. and Canada with an emphasis on snow and the fact that Whistler Blackcomb had its second best season in history in 2009-2010 with 1,492 cm of snowfall.
While the economy continues to be an issue, Rempel says a lot has been done to make Whistler more attractive.
"The highway is an amazing asset for the people in Vancouver and Seattle, and when the border crossing work is completed at Douglas and the Pacific Crossing it will be even better," said Rempel. "There are improvements to the airport in Vancouver and we've made all kinds of on-mountain improvements with VANOC (for the Games) such as a huge increase in snowmaking. The Peak 2 Peak is an asset that no one else has, and a huge driver of business both summer and winter. Our summer visits were up over last year, and last year was a 45 per cent increase over the year before."
Whistler Blackcomb has spent roughly $8 million in on-mountain improvements this year, ranging from repainted lift towers to summer grooming of runs that allow them to hold the snow better and open with less snow. The Village Gondola cabins have also been improved this year.