The Daily Courier
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
One Million Skiers
By Steve MacNaull
Non-stop flights from Toronto and skiers and snowboarders seeking good snow have resulted in record-breaking visits to Big White and Silver Star ski resorts.
“Combined, the resorts saw total skier and snowboarder visits of one million this season,” said vice-president Michael Ballingall.
“That’s up about five per cent from last year.”
The 2004-05 season ran from late November to early April and the final skier-snowboarder counts were just made public.
What makes this biggest-ever season more impressive is that it happened at the time when many were ready to write off the B.C. ski industry because of warm weather.
“They may have had dicey snow on the Coast, but we had consistent snow,” Ballingall said.
“As a result, we saw more skiers and boarders from those near-in markets of Vancouver and Seattle. However, we still have some education to do in far-off markets like Australia and the U.K. because they just thought a bad year in B.C. meant the Okanagan, too.”
Because of a lack of snow, events were moved from Whistler to both Big White and Silver Star this season.
Both Big White near Kelowna and Silver Star near Vernon are owned by Schumann Resorts, a family company from Australia.
The breakdown for skier-snowboarder visits is roughly 650,000 for Big White and 350,000 for Silver Star.
While weather was a big story, Ballingall says the most significant factor was the introduction of daily non-stop service by WestJet to Kelowna from Toronto on Jan.10.
“Non-stops bring in skiers and boarders,” said Ballingall.
In addition, Air Canada flew weekend non-stops for the ski season to cater to skiers and boarders with ski and accommodation packages.
As well, Air Canada and Horizon Air put bigger aircraft on their Vancouver-Kelowna and Seattle-Kelowna routes so more skiers and boarders – and their bulky gear – could be flown in.
Big White and Silver Star are as much about real estate as they are lift tickets.
Building booms continue at both mountains.
Big White has a total of 15,400 beds, including all hotel rooms, condominiums and chalets.
About 1,000 more are under construction this off-season.
At Silver Star, there are 3,800 beds and 4090 under construction.
Ski resorts keep stats by bed number rather than number of units because the number of people a unit can sleep is important for rentals.
Snow arrived early at both resorts in the fall so they could open in time for the lucrative American Thanksgiving long weekend in November.
The resorts closed April 10, but not because of the lack of snow.
By that time, spring had sprung in the Okanagan and crowds dropped off at the mountains in favour of yard work and golf.
One of the last snowboarders of the season in early April was singer Sting who fit in time at Big White while in Kelowna for a concert at Prospera Place during his Broken Music Tour.
Silver Star operates a summer program starting July 1 and also offers a chairlift to carry mountain bikers and hikers to higher altitudes.
The resort’s hotels and restaurants will be open and it will be home to various festivals, including the Summer Okanagan Wine Festival Aus. 4-6.
Here come the Texans
Big White and Silver Star have just learned their bid to host 300 to 500 skiers and boarders from the Texas Ski Council in February was successful.
Texas doesn’t have any ski resorts, but the 17 ski clubs in the state that make up the council have 15,000 members who vacation at major resorts every year.
To land the business, the local resorts worked with Tourism Kelowna, Colorado-based ski tour operator Beyond Boundaries, Seattle-based Horizon Air, The Grand Hotel and local wineries to put together a convincing bid.
Big White and Silver Star also hosted council executives at both resorts this winter as part of the bid.
In February 2002, some 300 members of the Los Angeles Ski Council visit Big White and Silver Star and left behind an estimated $525,000.