Whistler-Blackcomb is still king of the ski hill in British Columbia, according to a B.C. Assets and Lands Corp. report.
BCAL, which released its 1999-2000 end-of-season review of the B.C. ski industry in May, calls the season "another record year for B.C. mountain resorts."
Annual skier days topped the 5.6-million mark, continuing a trend of annual growth of more than six per cent each ski season. More than 5.5-million skiers also visited B.C. resorts in 1998-1999.
The B.C. ski industry outpaced neighbouring Alberta, which saw only 2.5-million skier visits in 1999-2000. BCAL also notes that Colorado a major competitor for B.C. among destination skiers saw its skier visits drop due to poor snow conditions.
Whistler-Blackcomb was again the busiest resort in the province during the 1999-2000 season averaging more than 6,500 skiers per day. In contrast, Interior resorts saw an average of 2,000 skiers per day.
Whistler-Blackcomb also topped the province with a ski season that lasted 200 days in 1999-2000, 53 more days than the average.
Gross resort revenues for the 1999-2000 ski season were $281 million, up from $191 million in 1996-1997. Skiers also spent an average of more than $52 per day.
Whistler-Blackcomb is home to 33 of B.C.s 123 ski lifts and has 54 per cent of the provinces high-speed lifts. The uphill capacity at Whistler-Blackcomb is 59,000 skiers per hour, compared to the provincial average of 10,000 skiers per hour.
Whistler-Blackcomb is also the largest employer, followed by the Intrawest-owned Panorama, which is located near Invermere. The provinces ski industry employed more than 4,300 workers on a total payroll of more than $87 million.
The only part of the report where Whistler-Blackcomb did not come out on top was ski-area size, as measured in hectares. Sun Peaks near Kamloops was named as the biggest resort.
According to the BCAL report, the continued strong performance of B.C. ski resorts can be attributed to:
International recognition of Whistler-Blackcomb;
Continued expansion of Interior resorts;
Strong demand for mountain tourism and resort activities;
New on-hill hotel and condo accommodation
Favourable exchange rates.
However, $308 million in proposed investment at the provinces ski resorts is down from the reported $540 million in 1998-99, despite the fact that only four major resorts did not indicate multi-million dollar long-term expansion plans.
Private real estate developments, such as the $574 million invested in Whistler by Intrawest between 1994 and 1998, are not included in the BCAL report.
Meanwhile, B.C.s major heli- and cat-skiing operators recorded gross revenues of $91 million and 90,000 skier visits in 1999-2000. Revenues and skier volume are up since 1997.
Canadian Mountain Holidays, owned in part by Intrawest, runs 11 heli-ski operations but is considered to be one company in the BCAL report.
According to early reports trickling into BCAL, overall revenues and skier visits for the 2000-2001 ski season will be better than expected despite the worst snow conditions in more than 20 years and a snowpack that was 55 per cent of normal.
New investment, development and expansion such as Intrawest-owned Whistler-Blackcomb and Panorama; Kicking Horse near Golden; Fernie and Kimberley in the East Kootenay; Silver Star and Big White in the Okanagan; and Sun Peaks combined with good snow conditions might bump skier visits over the 6-million mark in the near future.
The BCAL report is based on a survey of 16 of the largest downhill ski areas and 14 of the major heli- and cat-skiing operators, and provides the most recent statistics on the B.C. ski industry.