By Marty Hastings
Kamloops This Week
Records may be broken this winter at Sun Peaks Resort.
After what most locals considered a poor 2014-2015 for skiing atop Tod Mountain Road, Tourism Sun Peaks president Christopher Nicolson could not have asked for a better bounce-back season.
“I would say the year, right now, has very good potential to be a record year,” Nicolson said.
“There are a whole variety of factors that are helping us.”
Leading the list of reasons for the rebound is snowfall, with an alpine snow depth of 143 centimetres — 20 per cent more than this time last year — and often great weather conditions attracting visitors from near and far.
The main statistic used to measure how well the mountain is doing is room nights, the number of hotel and condominium units booked at the resort.
“This year to date we’re at an all-time high of over 18,000, which represents about an 11 per cent increase over last year,” Nicolson said, noting December 2015 numbers were up about six per cent from 2014.
“What all the snow has done is stimulate the marketplace. Most resorts within Western Canada have had a very good Christmas. It’s fantastic to see the North Shore mountains doing so well, as well as the Seattle mountains. It has a stimulating impact. It piques interest in going further away, perhaps for a week, at resorts such as Sun Peaks. There’s a direct correlation.”
Nicolson pointed to 2007-2008 as a benchmark season, with a final total of about 70,000 room nights being the high-water mark at Sun Peaks.
The start of the 2005 season was also among the best in resort history.
“In both cases, we’re pacing ahead,” Nicolson said. “If all things go equal and given average snow conditions, I would say we would exceed that.”
Registering about 50,000 room nights to break the record might seem like a tall task to reach between now and the end of the season, but it’s set to get busier in the next few months.
Aussies flock to Sun Peaks during their January summer break, along with a few Kiwis; in February, President’s Day in the U.S. means visitors galore from down south, many of whom turn the holiday into a week away at Sun Peaks; Family Day (Feb. 15) long weekend in B.C. is still to come; and young skiers and their families commandeer the slopes during the Hub International Nancy Greene Festival, which runs on March 19 and March 20.
The abysmal state of the Canadian dollar is a boon for Sun Peaks.
“The U.S. market has been rebuilding over the last two to three years and, not only does our low dollar attract U.S. skiers north, it keeps Canadians at home,” Nicolson said. “We saw record numbers of people from Ontario staying in Canada and coming to Sun Peaks for both ski-team visits, as well as leisure. And, instead of going south for sun holidays, some decisions are made to stay in Canada.”
Nicolson said last winter’s down season on the Coast and in Washington state is contributing to the success the resort has had since opening on Nov. 22.
“With the difficult conditions on the Coast and in Seattle last year, we attracted more first-time skiers,” Nicolson said. “And, while local skiers may have found the conditions less than average, for a lot of people coming in from around the world, they had a marvellous experience. Once people come once, generally speaking, they will return because the experience is very strong.”
Brandi Schier, an avid snowboarder and publisher of Sun Peaks Independent News, said Nicolson is not just blowing smoke.
Conditions have been great, she said, and they seem even better coming off a 2014-2015 to forget.
“It’s above average and people are more enthusiastic because of how last season went,” Schier said.
No. 1 on Nicolson’s wish-list in the months to come is more of the white stuff.
“We are like farmers,” he said. “We are very dependent on the conditions. It’s not the only thing, though. Momentum in the marketplace has been very good, interest in skiing in general.”
He knows mountain bikers might not feel the same, but Nicolson would like to see a cold, wet, cloudy spring in Kamloops.
“That perpetuates winter in the mind of the market,” he said. “If spring in the valley comes early and it gets warm and people are mountain biking, that ends winter, regardless of what’s happening on the mountain.”
It is an El Nino year and some forecasters, including Environment Canada, said that might mean a milder, shorter winter. That could dash hopes for a record-setting year, but the weather system hasn’t seemed to hinder conditions at Sun Peaks so far.
“The snow has been fantastic,” Nicolson said. “January, February and March are big months for destination guests and we ski into April.”