Sunday, May 26, 2013
British Columbia Winter Resorts see rosy future
As published in The Vancouver Sun (May, 2013)
When Howard Katkov first visited Red Mountain on a ski trip, he fell in love with the Rossland, B.C. hill. Four years later, he bought it.
"I had a friend who kept telling me for six years that it was the greatest ski hill in North America", the San Diego-based businessman said. He bought some property there in 2000, then put together a partnership to buy the hill.
At the time of his purchase, in 2004, the economy was still in a phase of what he calls "irrational exuberance".
"We built and sold almost $60 million of condominiums, and I sold almost $20 million worth of land", Katkov said. "We were rockin’ and rollin’. Then 2008 showed up. From then until 2011, we were just in capital preservation".
But in the last couple of years things have started to turn around, Katkov says. And Red Mountain isn’t the only hill seeing some growth.
In Fernie, the Fernie Alpine Resort has seen "a significant increase in skier visits", according to Matt Mosteller, VP, Marketing & Sales for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. The company’s holdings also include Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Kimberley Alpine Resort — resorts that also just had good years, Mosteller says.
"Fernie is famous for snow, but I think word is getting out about the incredible variety of terrain", Mosteller said. The resort was the only one in North America to put in a new ski lift last year, the Polar Peak chairlift. "That added more vertical and more terrain, and that put Fernie in the big leagues", Mosteller said. The hill now has more runs and more vertical than any ski area in the Canadian Rockies, Mosteller says. "And it’s always had the most snow".
For the last four years, Silver Star’s business has been flat, Marke Dickson says. But the director of sales and marketing for Silver Star says things are looking up for the Vernon resort as well.
"I think not seeing any growth forced the industry to look deeply at how we do business and how we could improve", Dickson said. One of Silver Star’s solutions was the "my1pass", which it launched in late summer of 2012. The pass gives the holder access to all the mountain’s activities, from bike trails to tubing to skating.
"At the time, it was quite revolutionary", Dickson said. "It wasn’t so much about discounting, but making the most of a winter holiday. A plain old ski-ticket became an all-inclusive pass for the family-focused winter activity on the resort". The result was a 10-per-cent increase in season passes in the fall.
United Air service direct from L.A. to Kelowna is also helping the resort. Travellers can be skiing within four hours of leaving Los Angeles for $400, Dickson says.
Meanwhile, Whistler’s booming. "2011/12 was our busiest winter season on record for room night", Louise Walker, VP of marketing strategy for Tourism Whistler said. "We saw a significant increase of 18 per cent. For this year, it looks like we’re going to be on par with those numbers".
Resort operators are seeing signs of recovery in the U.S. economy based on increasing numbers of American visitors. Katkov says most visitors to Red Mountain still come from Canada, but more are starting to come from south of the border. The increase may also be due to some great press.
In January, the New York Times named Rossland and Red Mountain number eight in its list "The 46 Places to Go in 2013".
"And that’s a list not just of ski resorts, these are places to visit", Katkov said. "We were ahead of Istanbul".