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Weather, war, and economic warts combine to make this one of Whistler's most challenging seasons recently

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There is no doubt that Whistler has faced one of its most challenging times over the last several months.

First there was practically no snow at the beginning of the season. Then there were snowstorms followed by more on-again off-again ski conditions until March.

Add to that the on-going soft U.S. economy, the threat of war and finally the outbreak of war in Iraq March 19, SARS, and woes in the airline industry and it’s surprising there is anyone smiling in the resort at all.

"Undoubtedly this has been an exceptionally challenging year," said Barrett Fisher, vice-president marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler.

"When you combine all of those things into one year we haven’t been given a lot of grace this year."

Tourism Whistler had been predicting a slow March and April for a few months and the crystal ball wasn’t wrong.

Fisher said March saw a 16 per cent decline in room nights over last year. Most of the decline came from the loss of long haul U.S. and overseas business.

The World Ski and Snowboard Festival helped out with April numbers, as did the late Easter, but overall room nights are expected to be below last year’s levels for April too.

The decline was confirmed by Slope Side Supply,

"The bottom line is sales were down 12 per cent," said Slope Side co-owner Dave Krasny, referring to toilet paper sales in the valley in March and April. Slope Side supplies most of the toilet paper used by commercial operations in the valley.

On the bright side, said Fisher, while numbers are down overall regional and local traveller numbers were up in the same period.

That reflects an on-going increase in the number of people who are choosing to drive to their destinations rather than fly.

"So the good news is our marketing efforts are working, our analysis of what the issues are has been thorough, so therefore our solutions and our proactive attitude has been successful," she said.

"But, that said, has it been enough to counter world-wide issues? No it has not been.

"But we will just continue to plug along and we will see ebbs and flows in our business as things like the economy and things like wars and things like health issues, that are out of our control, happen."

Pam Nielsen, owner/operator of Apres Accommodations said they had no cancellations.

"But booking just dropped off in March," she said.

"People who had booked still came but new bookings just weren’t there."

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