An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: So how does one bring more people into our ski resort?

So another week and another story of powder and ‘freshies’ as they like to call ‘em up in these parts. In more rudimentary terms, there’s been plenty of snow falling for many, many people to enjoy.

We had a new event roll into our valley called the ‘Yeti’. Quite apart from being ‘abominable’, this was a fun event that sees outdoor snow enthusiasts and athletes alike donning their competition snowshoes and running around 5 and 10km of trails. Of course, the event happened to be staged up in the Whistler Olympic park, decent elevation and extremely high snowfall levels and this all combined to ensure a very challenging environment. It was, however, deemed a great success and all involved hope to bring this race series back to Whistler next year.

It would also seem that latest news reports all indicate that as fantastic as this winter has been to us all, despite Ullr’s amazing gifts that just keep on coming from upon high, the resorts’ visitor numbers just haven’t been what everyone had expected, or at least had been hoping for. Small, private prospective hostelries and B&Bs have had applications or licences denied, owing mainly to that fact that the numbers across the ‘main’ Whistler hotels were falling a little flat and too many signs were of empty beds. The thought being, ‘why open up more beds and further dilute the hotels numbers when we are all trying to fill them’! Personally, walking around the village, it comes as something of a surprise to hear that hoteliers aren’t impressed with their performance this year, when the streets, restaurants and bars are often bursting at the seems.

So what is Tourism Whistler going to do to assist? Reduce lift ticket pricing, improve their marketing campaigns, look to more affluent parts of the globe, appeal to the strategists and politicians to lift visa restrictions on parts of the world such as Mexico (who now have to jump through hoops even to simply visit us on vacation)?

I think they’ve done an amazing job in bringing and creating a number of events to Whistler that attract their own following crowds. For example, there are numerous running and trail events, such as the inaugural half marathon this June, the re-introduction of the trail run ‘Comfortably numb’ (named after an infamous biking trail) appropriately called after 25+km’s of undulating terrain. Tough on a bike, equally hard on foot. Last year we saw the first Grandfondo road bike race stretching from Vancouver to Whistler and saw some 2000+ athletes take part and brought probably an equal number of additional families and friends into town to support and celebrate their conquest with them. We also saw the Xterra off road trail triathlon world championships and numerous other sporting events of which I could go on. Now these are all fantastic and as both a local and an athlete I applaud those behind all these, but is it enough strategically or financially for the resort?

Perhaps everyone hoped for a bigger payoff after the Olympics firmly placed us on the map. Maybe it will come, just a little slower than was planned. However, time stands still for no-one and although Whistler has consistently been voted North America’s No.1 ski resort for each of the last 12 years, it simply cannot afford to rest on its laurels!

So what next? Well, without wishing this to read like Groundhog Day, there is a fair bit of snow in the coming forecasts. There will be more staged events, both on the alpine slopes, in the terrain parks, down in and around the valley with more cross country skiing races and more running events pencilled in. The visitors will keep coming. Ok, so maybe the demographic is constantly evolving as our financial climate does. Maybe, things will need to change in our local business models as we all adapt to the challenges around us, but be confident of this much – those coming to Whistler will continue to enjoy some of the biggest, baddest, safest skiing and boarding experiences that money can buy. The in resort entertainment will continue to keep everyone happy as everyone soaks up the sumptuous dining opportunities and après (some of the finest around!!), some awesome activities such as cat skiing, on hill fondue dinners, snow mobile adventures, ice skating, dog sledding, sleigh rides, back country touring by snowshoeing. The list is endless, but those in the know will continue to come, whatever their reasons, be it for work conferences, pure escapism, family adventures or just simply to enjoy all that is our winter wonderland... So who’s looking forward to summer?

Hopefully, I’ll be able to let some good friends of mine really experience a little something of what I’ve just mentioned when a bunch of my old UK pals come out in the coming weeks. I wonder what their feedback will be...