Whistler Blackcomb, BC Reports Record Skier Visits Thanks to Snowfall and Epic Pass | Locals Not Too Happy About It

Steven Agar | | Industry NewsIndustry News
whistler, epic pass
Whistler Blackcomb

2017/18 is the first season that Whistler Blackcomb was included in Vail’s Epic Pass and to the chagrin of locals, the impact has been immediate.

Whistler has had almost 500″ of snow this season and boasts a 107″ base. Compare that to other destinations on the Epic pass, such as Beaver Creek and Vail in Colorado and Park City in Utah, where snowfall is at some of the lowest levels recorded in 30 years.

That fact alone helped persuade a huge portion of Vail’s estimated 750,000 Epic Pass holders to look farther north than the United States this past season, and head where the snow is: Whistler. More than 8 percent of holders visited Whistler Blackcomb, helping make it the most-visited mountain resort in North America, according to a March 13 Vail investor presentation, reports Bloomberg.

Visitor numbers at Whistler set a record for the third straight year, thanks to visitors from the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and the U.K., Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Robert Katz said in a March 8 investor call.

whistler, epic pass
Credit: Mitch Winton

Locals aren’t as impressed. Whistler Blackcomb’s tickets are now priced with a base rate in US dollars, unfortunate for Canadians who hold the second-worst-performing major currency this year. Meanwhile, Vail canceled Whistler’s popular prepaid lift tickets, which were discounted exclusively for Canadians and Washington state residents. The move highlights a move away from local, casual skiers to focus on destination visitors, a category that spends three times more than its regional counterparts at Whistler annually.

“It irks you,” says Roger Schmidt, an engineer based in Ottawa who’s been skiing at Whistler since the 1970s. “I’m the victim of the exchange rate in my own country. Not everybody has the time or the resources to go away for a 10-day ski vacation every season. It’s like the message is, if you’re local, you can ski at the smaller hills.”

 

Vail is investing lots of money into Whistler Blackcomb to help increase capacity, announcing a C$66 million investment (the largest single-year amount in the resort’s history) to build a new gondola and upgrade old lifts. And in its investor presentation last month, it cited efforts to target high-net-worth customers with personalized “luxury-focused content based on income.”

whistler, epic pass
Whistler Blackcomb. Credit: Coast Mountain Photography

More upscale visitors will come who are “probably not coming to experience the terrain challenges of the mountains,” says G.D. Maxwell, a semi-retired columnist for local Pique NewsMagazine who’s lived there since 1992. “They like easy cruising, good food, and expensive shops.” In other words, the Canadian resort will increasingly come to resemble its Colorado parent.

“Vail bought the No. 1 resort in North America and is now going to teach it how to be the No. 3,” Maxwell says.


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3 thoughts on “Whistler Blackcomb, BC Reports Record Skier Visits Thanks to Snowfall and Epic Pass | Locals Not Too Happy About It

  1. Oddly, the mountain felt less busy this year than previous seasons. Fridays were a bit busier, but not brutal, and Monday through Thursday were always pretty dead. Weekends could sometimes be brutal, but some others were shockingly quiet. April, as usual feels like there’s more staff on the mountain than riders, despite having some of the years best conditions. Tourists still don’t know where all the unmarked trails are so i can still wander into my favorite places at 2pm on a powder day and ski fresh lines. I skied 40+ times this season so i’m paying less than $30 a day to ride. I’ve never had trouble parking.

    Granted, my sister and friends won’t go to the mountain anymore because they can’t afford it. They don’t have enough free days to justify the seasons pass. I also haven’t visited the village once all year and i don’t really care to. I always pack a lunch because eating on the mountain costs a life savings. There are significant, and tragic problems with the shareholder system that pushes out the locals in favor of stupendously rich bigwigs. I’m just one of the fortunate few locals who can enjoy the place for the most part while ignoring the tragedy. If they ever reprimand me for skiing off trail, that’ll be the day i walk away for good. I mean, the resort still has as much terrain not on the map as is on the map, and i’m pretty sure the stupendously rich won’t be invading it any time soon. Maybe a few things if they build new lifts, but if they do that, it simply opens up new unmarked areas to claim.

  2. Sad and Sad!!! Vail is a POC, which is why after 15 yrs, I didn’t renew my (not so) Epic Pass and opted to go back to Sierra Ski Ranch (Sierra at Tahoe). Still a brass-driven corp, buy more of my local buds ski there and they still seem to welcome the locals.
    I hope Vail tanks and all the “resorts” go back to being ski areas

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