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Revelstoke Mountain Resort to open Dec. 22 | News
Sunday, Dec 02, 2007
Skiers stoked about the powder possibilities of new resort
James Stevenson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Brand-new ski resorts don't come around very often, particularly ones as promising as Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and it's been the talk around town for, oh, about 20 years.
"You can't go anywhere without people talking about what's going on here," says Mark McKee, mayor of Revelstoke, B.C.
"People are calling from all over the world, they're coming through here to see what's going on. We're in the international spotlight, and rightly so."
Located in the Selkirk Mountains about halfway between Lake Louise, Alta., and Kamloops, B.C., the area is famous for its deep powder. And it's no coincidence that the Canadian Avalanche Centre is headquartered in Revelstoke. The average annual mid-mountain snowfall at the new resort is 12 metres.
This first year the mountain will make do with one gondola and a high-speed quad chairlift. New lifts slated for the 2008-2009 season will give Revelstoke the very-marketable title of having North America's longest vertical descent of 6,000 feet (1,830 metres).
McKee doesn't even try to hide his enthusiasm for the grand opening planned just in time for Christmas.
"Come Dec. 22, the boards will be pointing straight down the hill."
McKee isn't the only one looking forward to this season. In total there were about 18 million visits to Canadian ski hills last year, and the industry is doing its best to keep the numbers up across the country with offerings of new lifts, lodges, sun decks and snow makers.
Still, last season saw a drop in nearly one million ski visits, in large part due to the lousy snow - or complete lack thereof - in Eastern Canada.
Last year also set a record in the industry for tourists, with one in five ski-hill visitors coming from outside Canada. A total of 12 per cent came from offshore, primarily the U.K. and Australia, while nine per cent came from the U.S.
It's hard to say what will happen this year, with the soaring value of the Canadian dollar outmuscling its American counterpart for the first time in a generation or more.
Iain MacMillan, editor of Ski Canada magazine, says the stronger loonie and tighter passport requirements from the U.S. could lead to a "double whammy" for ski hills.
"Now that you've got fewer Americans who have passports to be able to come, and there's no deal coming to Canada that they perceive, that would be probably worrisome to resorts."
Statistics Canada says American visits to Canada fell more than four per cent in the past year.
But major operators like Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, which owns a whole stable of hills including Lake Louise, Fernie, Kimberley and Mont Sainte Anne, says the Americans will come anyway.
RCR spokesman Matt Mosteller says the average U.S. ski tourist is "well-travelled and well- informed."
"The feedback we're getting is the Canadian Rockies, and specifically Lake Louise and Fernie, offer an incredible experience. And really an experience that can't be matched or compared to in a lot of the U.S. resorts or other places," says Mosteller.
He says snow, natural scenery and beauty are all more important than currency strength to U.S. visitors.
"They want an escape."
One thing that might not sit well this year - particularly with skiers and boarders who thrive on big air - is RCR's announcement early in November that it would get rid of all man-made snow jumps within its terrain parks to reduce the chances of serious injuries.
"When we are making decisions about safety at our resorts, the big jumps in the terrain parks always come into the equation," Mosteller said in a release. "We decided to make a change."
Jean Hunt, general manager of the Ski Cellar Snowboard store in Calgary, says the decision was clearly related to the liability insurance issue that everyone faces, from resorts to gear rental shops. And Hunt wouldn't be surprised if other ski hills followed suit because of the limited number of insurance companies that deal with the industry.
"It's an unfortunate circumstance of life these days, and most people I've talked to are not happy but more understanding when you explain to them why these decisions are made."
While the international tourist market is obviously important, one of the keys for the industry this year, as in the past, is to keep interest high among Canadians themselves.
Colin Chedore, president of the Canadian Ski Council, says the industry is currently studying how to get new Canadians and visible minorities to start skiing and boarding.
"This is a very, very big opportunity for us, but sometimes can take a generation or two," says Chedore.
And growing excitement over the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler in 2010 is expected to bring more young people to the slopes, signing up for lessons and racing teams.
"We live in a winter climate, right across this whole country, and I think the Olympics is going to be an opportunity for the domestic market to grow because of it," says Chedore.
Here's a look at what's new and in the works at some Canadian ski resorts this season:
Cypress Mountain, B.C.: New high-speed quad chairlift called Lions Express, plus nine new runs to expand the ski area by 40 per cent.
Red Mountain, B.C.: New quad chairlift replaces the current Silverlode chair to get to new beginner and intermediate terrain.
Kicking Horse, B.C.: Has invested $3.5 million in new activities, terrain enhancements and programs.
Whistler Blackcomb, B.C: Work well underway on the Peak to Peak Gondola, expected to open in December 2008 and travel 4.4 kilometres in 11 minutes.
Nakiska, Alta.: New 350-foot (107 metres) magic carpet being installed in beginners area.
Ski Bromont Que: New double chair.
Mont Sainte Anne, Que: Opens new run called the Beast, touted to be the steepest in the East.
(Source: Canadian Ski Council)
© The Canadian Press, 2007
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