B.C. resorts offer incentives for skiers and snowboarders to hit the slopes

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New is a small word that outperforms its size by half. No currency can match its worth, especially at this celebratory time of year. Look around. Whether or not you can see it, everyone’s sporting new outdoor gear. During the holidays, Santa spread a lot of love around town, from merino wool base layers to shiny skis and boards.

Now is the time to put recreational fashion into action at winter destinations around B.C. Fact is, for those in search of overnight-travel bargains, there’s plenty of room out there in the white world—literally. In a slopeside interview at Sun Peaks Resort last December, former provincial cabinet minister Pat Bell told the Georgia Straight there is currently a surplus of accommodation.

“There are twice as many beds in B.C. winter resorts as there is demand. The challenge is filling them before adding any more inventory,” Bell said, perhaps in oblique reference to the developers of the proposed East Kootenay–based Jumbo Glacier Resort, which will have 6,000 beds.

Bell said the government and industry hope to capture 10 percent of the estimated 600,000 new skiers and snowboarders expected to swell snow-sport ranks from China and India’s burgeoning middle class, a demographic slice already beginning to make its presence felt on Vancouver’s three North Shore mountains and at local resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb.

Last month, Whistler Blackcomb added a six-person chairlift to its inventory. It seems that during the summer, the WB crew played musical chairs. The former Harmony quad chairlift on Whistler Mountain was airlifted across to Blackcomb Mountain, where it was reinstalled, lengthened, and renamed the Crystal Ridge Express.

The new Harmony 6 Express—a never-before-seen people mover in a resort that already features 37 lifts, including the world’s longest unsupported gondola ride between its twin peaks—will carry families and friends on the equivalent of a flying chesterfield. Trust the minds at Doppelmayr—which engineered the 1,729-metre Harmony span, one that the Austrian-based company quaintly refers to as a “ropeway”—to mark the occasion in true Alpine style by ringing a large cowbell as the new chair swung into action.

In the case of the Crystal Ridge Express’s inauguration—the first chairlift installed on Blackcomb Mountain since 1994—they took a new approach, one that reflected the significant change in perspective on traditional land ownership. This was acknowledged during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which culminated with the opening of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre at the foot of Blackcomb.

With a ceremonial salute, aboriginal youth ambassador Swo-wo Gabriel greeted the hundreds of skiers and snowboarders who had lined up to ride the new lift on December 7. “It does my heart good to welcome everyone here to my people’s homeland,” he said before launching into a spirited rendition of a traditional healing song.

What attendees will likely remember most was the surprising depth of snow (in what has been thus far a sparse season for white stuff) and the numerous youngsters in attendance. An aging population coupled with a sharp drop in the number of children participating in recreational activities means winter-sport resorts around B.C. are looking for new approaches to bring families into skiing and snowboarding at a time when the price of a lift ticket has never been higher.

To counter sticker shock, destinations such as Revelstoke Mountain Resort have begun offering free passes to those skiing or riding with children aged five and under. As well, students in grades four and five now qualify for free season passes from the Canadian Ski Council, good for three days of schussing at each of more than 150 hills in Canada.

That’s music to the ears of Sheena Koo and Alain Consigny, parents of two preschoolers with whom the Straight rode the new Crystal Ridge Express. “Skiing is something we’re looking forward to sharing with our kids, especially as a family tradition,” Koo said.

When it comes down to what drives snow sports, it’s all about snow. Although that may seem obvious, climate change might present as equally troubling a variable as childhood obesity. Whistler Blackcomb’s mountain planning and environmental resource manager, Arthur DeJong, acknowledged as much in conversation with the Straight at the opening ceremony. “Over the past several years, we’ve been blessed with plenty of early snow and didn’t need to make any. We invested $3 million in snowmaking in the newly expanded Crystal Ridge zone. This year, we’ve already made more than all of last season.”

Welcome to winter’s new reality.

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Ian
You got that right - "...price of a lift ticket has never been higher." It's been a few years since my wife & I have gone to any alpine ski area. Yes we still have our old & trusted gear but for the last few seasons nordic skiing gets our attention. Ticket prices, however, are not the only reason we can't get too excited about downhill anymore. The cost of upgrading gear is outrageous as the alpine ski industry engineers, builds & markets entirely new boot/binding/ski combinations all too frequently. We can no longer replace one piece of gear every 2 or 3 years because the new boot/binding/ski probably won't fit with the older gear. Sure, new might be better but after decades of skiing with no injuries I have found the old stuff works just fine. Contrast that with the nordic equipment scene where I can replace items knowing they will work with my other stuff that still is in great shape. Our kids have also decided to go nordic for these same reasons. So here may be another reason why the downhill ski industry may not be doing so well.
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