RECREATION

Boom times on the slopes

JOHN BARBER March 9 1987
RECREATION

Boom times on the slopes

JOHN BARBER March 9 1987

Boom times on the slopes

RECREATION

A contemporary newspaper report noted that Lord Frederic Hamilton encountered “universal derision” when he introduced the sport of skiing to Ottawa society. That was 100 years ago this winter. In 1932 another Canadian pioneer, Alex Foster, a resident of Shawbridge, Que., used a four-cylinder Dodge engine to power the world’s first rope tow. Within a few years Canadians were taking to the slopes in large numbers. Now, skiing industry studies show that five million Canadians regularly use alpine or cross-country skis to glide across snow-covered hills and meadows each winter. The ski boom is particularly noticeable at downhill courses across the country that are experiencing a resurgence after lean years during the early 1980s.

To lure recreational skiers, commercial centres across Canada have installed snowmaking equipment to extend the skiing season and have introduced ofF-slope services and attractions ranging from day care centres to gourmet restaurants. At the same time, many operations have launched aggressive marketing campaigns to convince potential customers that skiing does not have to be

expensive. Alberta’s Skiing Louise Ltd., for one, is offering bargain hunters a five-day, $99 package of April skiing and accommodationfour to a room—at the Lake Louise Inn. (Double-occupancy rooms are usually $50 a night and daily lift tickets cost $26.) Said Lake Louise marketing director Glenn Miles: “We want people to see that conditions continue into May with our snowmaking facilities. They come to ski, but they love to eat well and soak their tired muscles in Jacuzzis and hot tubs. They want bars and dancing, and it’s all here with easy access to the slopes.”

Clearly, given the growth in their numbers, most skiing enthusiasts believe that they are getting good value for their money. Said Clive Hobson, editor of the Toronto-based consumer magazine Ski Canada: “A $25 lift ticket is good for a whole day, whereas a concert ticket, say, for $30 is good for a couple of hours.” Still, some Western ski areas, particularly in Alberta and the British Columbia Interior, are feeling the effects of depressed local economies. But ski centres in central Ontario can hardly keep pace with the demand. By in-

vesting heavily in snowmaking and hillgrooming equipment, many Ontario operators have reduced their dependence on nature, at the same time providing safe, manageable trails for less experienced skiers. The Ontario Ski Resort Association reports that 49 Ontario alpine operators, offering much less challenging hills than their Western counterparts, are doing 37 per cent more business this season than they did last year. Said Association director Donald Mcllveen: “We don’t have the mountains. We just have the mountains of profits.” One Ontario success story is Mount St. Louis Moonstone Ski Resorts Ltd., a ski centre that Austrian immigrant Josl Huter opened in 1964 near Coldwater, 120 km north of Toronto. At first Huter offered only two ski tows and four runs with a vertical drop of only 325 feet. Since then, the business has grown into one of the largest privately owned ski areas in North America, with 15 lifts and tows serving as many as 5,000 skiers a day. Huter’s crowning achievement is Mount Josl, a $1.5-million 175-foot peak that he erected with bulldozers on a ridge top, increasing the vertical drop to 500 feet. “Everybody thought I was crazy to do that,” he said. “But it has been the key to our success.”

A favorable rate of exchange with the U.S. dollar has also helped fuel the ski boom. U.S. visitors are particularly noticeable at Quebec resorts offering lower rates than nearby U.S. ski areas. Indeed, Mont Sutton, a medium-sized ski area in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, which is only 30 km from good ski hills in Vermont, manages to attract skiers regularly from as far away as Virginia—1,000 km to the south. Company spokesman Denis Boulanger said that Mont Sutton has enjoyed two consecutive record-breaking years, with this season’s business alone showing an increase of about eight per cent so far. As a result, the resort is planning an $ll-million expansion program. Such optimism at Mont Sutton and other booming resorts suggests that skiing in Canada has truly come of age.

-JOHN BARBER with DIANE LUCKOW in Vancouver, REED SCOWEN in Quebec City and CHEVONNE MILLER in Sutton

DIANE LUCKOW

REED SCOWEN

CHEVONNE MILLER