Thursday, January 19, 2017

You Are My Sunshine

You can almost hear the carving - Sunshine Village by Reuben Krabbe (Courtesy of SkiBig3)
Celebrity endorsement is a powerful thing for any business. So it doesn’t hurt that Hollywood heroes like Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan love Sunshine Village. They first patronized its pistes during regular annual visits for Celebrity Ski, a fundraiser for Robert Kennedy Jr’s Waterkeeper Alliance (http://waterkeeper.org/) which saw them all skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and taking part in riotous race events.

Worshipping the Sunshine Village views by Dan Evans
(courtesy of Sunshine Village)
Once skied, never forgotten, Sunshine Village holds a lifelong allure for everyone. Maybe it’s the hero snow which is so soft and sifted that it makes everyone ski like a star, or maybe it’s the magical mountainscape untouched by the travesties of modern development. Being situated in Banff National Park gives the added bonus of strict environmental guidelines limiting growth. And staying at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, 7200 feet high, is an inimitable immersion into the resultant remote elements of this eco-resort.

Going on in the area right now is Banff Snow Days (Jan 13-Feb 5), a winter festival featuring action-packed activities as well as entertaining and educational events around Banff National Park. This is a great time to visit with accommodation packages and prices lower than in the peak periods. For example there are 45 percent discounts at the opulent Fairmont Banff Springs with their SnowDays package. The Banff Winter Package at The Juniper comes with a bonus $25 dining voucher for the Bistro and two passes to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. A key component to Snow Days is Banff’s Big Taste, a culinary festival from Jan 18-22 which focuses on sip and savour tastings, a chef’s dinner, a wild small plate competition and spirit seminars. 

Serenity at Sunshine Village by Dan Evans (courtesy of Sunshine Village)
Back to the actual skiing: the word ‘Sunshine’, by the way, is a bit of a misnomer since Sunshine Village is famous for relentless snow rather than balmy beams. I skied there on many occasions over my month-long Alberta and BC trip this Dec/Jan and I got mostly snow days. Not complaining, though, as there is nothing better than light, dry Continental Divide dumps with powder piling up in the glades and proliferating the pistes. And, of course, whenever I started to feel the cold, I would hop on the Teepee Town LX for the cozy coddling of Canada’s first Orange Bubble Chairlift! I did wonder when this first opened if it might ruin the peace and quiet of the daunting double blacks under the less popular old lift, but Sunshine does a great job of grooming the less radical runs which also serve the new lift, spreading the people out. 

Delirium Dive delights
by Richard Hallman (courtesy of Sunshine Village)
Delirium Dive is Sunshine's off-piste paradise with over 600 acres of expert-only terrain, its pitch averaging 40 degrees and in places exceeding 50. I've skied it a couple of times, taking the wimpish entrance via a metal staircase rather than leaping off the cornice. Intimidating but gratifying!

As well as having extensive expert terrain, Sunshine Village is a playground of potential for newbies to both skiing and riding. The Ski & Snowboard School has an international line-up with 95 instructors from Canada, UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, Panama, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, catering for many different ethnicities in terms of linguistic skills. 

When it comes to learning something as demanding and technical as skiing or riding “language can be a huge barrier,” says Kendra Scurfield, daughter of CEO and President Ralph Scurfield. “So we are hiring people in the ski school and the hotel with more languages and also looking specifically for Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese speakers. We’ve reached out to the University of Calgary and different ESL programs to attract people to our ski instructor courses.” Kendra, who is Media Manager for Sunshine, recently graduated with an MBA from the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business where Scurfield Hall is named after her late grandfather who donated $8million to have it built. 

Snowboarding enthusiast Kendra is also host of Shredlines, Sunshine’s popular video series. Weekly episodes include tips, tuition and newsy tidbits, responding to what is trending and in demand on social media. Check it out every Thursday on YouTube and also on Sunshine’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SunshineVillageResort). And you can follow on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/hashtag/shredlines.


Ross Hastings, Director for the SkiBig3 3 Mountain Guided Experience
in the Sunshine Village daylodge with my hubby, Simon Hudson - By Louise Hudson
A fun way to get to know the secrets of Sunshine is to take the 3 Mountain Guided Experience with SkiBig3. This includes sister resorts Lake Louise and Mt Norquay, with a choice of a three-day group program or a private set-up. The same local Snow-Pro takes skiers and riders to each of the three resorts, giving insider insight to the slopes, best snow, vantage-point views and restaurants. Check out my own experiences with this progressive program at: https://www.skibig3.com/blog/camaraderie-and-coaching-with-club-ski/.

Mt Norquay, Banff by Reuben Krabbe (Courtesy of SkiBig3)

And for more tips on skiing Sunshine, please check out my latest Tripedia article at: http://tripedia.info/sunshine-village-banff-by-louise-hudson/


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter Sports: Pivotal part of the ‘China Dream’

Changbaishan (CBS) ski resort 8
Over the past 20 years, the Chinese have become increasing fascinated by skiing which is quickly ousting golf as the favored sport of top earners. During - and after - its successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing hoped to establish China among the world’s top winter sport countries.

As part of the bidding procedure, the International Olympic Committee carried out a five-day inspection of Beijing which was slated for the skating sports. They also checked out the Nordic skiing potential in the county of Chongli – located in the mountains near the Great Wall - as well as Genting Resort, China’s largest ski resort, which would host the snowboarding and freestyle events. Also on the itinerary was the ski resort at Yanqing where bobsled, skeleton, luge and other Alpine events were planned. Just before the IOC arrived, billboards were erected along the route, depicting skiers and snowboarders “Sharing the China Dream”.

Wanlong Ski Resort, China
With such a huge population spread over a massive variety of terrain, relatively few Chinese had ever been to the ski resorts let alone put on skis or a snowboard. The 2012 China Ski Study, Desk Research Report produced by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) - now re-named Destination Canada - claimed that there were 70 ski resorts in China by 2012, a leap from just three in 1980. “Older resorts are upgrading their facilities while new resorts appear on the scene every year,” the report stated. “In China, skiing is a luxury trend driven by beginners with money to spend.” Because of the predominant number of newbies to winter sports, equipment rental statistics that year were high, estimated at around 90 per cent of visitors, it said. And, along with shopping, dining and sightseeing, skiing was gaining popularity as a family activity. 

Changbaishan ski resort, China
Already business conferences are being located at ski resorts in China. The China Entrepreneurs' Conference, for example, is held at Yabuli in northeastern Heilongjiang province, bringing together over 700 businessmen in 2012. Ski & Style – dubbed China’s Ultimate Winter Lifestyle Show - is an industry trade show, run by China Rendez Vous and sponsored by the Beijing Park Hyatt. It has been held annually since 2014 in Beijing in November and also at the Park Hyatt in Changbaishan ski area in January. Booths are run by companies such as the luxury skiwear brand, Bogner as well as national tourism authorities from Switzerland, Iceland and around the world. The Changbaishan event includes skiing, dogsledding, moto skis, sledging, horse-carriage rides, themed nights and an ice sculpture exhibition.

Changbaishan 
Winter 2014-2015 was the best season on record for Chinese ski resorts. “Attendance at Wanda Changbaishan Resort in northern Jilin province jumped to 240,000 this year from 150,000 last year for the season. During the peak Lunar New Year holiday week, demand was so high that ski rentals were limited to only half a day so others could have a chance to rent the gear,” said journalist, Wei Gu in an article for the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese Ski Tourism
Ski School at Whistler Blackcomb: Photo by Toshi Kawano 
Niseko in Hokkaido region, Japan 
Around the world, countries such as Japan, the USA and Canada, in particular, are benefitting from the new Chinese obsession with winter sports. Both Hokkaido in Japan and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada have seen an increase in Chinese visitors enjoying their beginner trails, private lessons and rental and retail outlets. “We are noticing many beginner Chinese skiers coming to Whistler Blackcomb and are looking at new lessons and programs to better address this market,” said Ian Jenkins, General Manager of Sales for Whistler Blackcomb. “We do currently have several Chinese-speaking instructors but are actively recruiting more. We are also building ski packages with select tour companies in China and in conjunction with Canadian Tourism Commission (now Destination Canada), Destination BC and Tourism Whistler.” The resort sent instructors over to Chinese resorts during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons with the intention of promoting Whistler Blackcomb as well as improving their instruction techniques. “This has been well received and we will continue to do so,” said Jenkins. “This year we had four instructors and visited nine resorts throughout the Northeast of China.”

Whistler Blackcomb by Blake Jorgenson - http://blakejorgenson.com/
Although all surveys are agreed that Chinese ski participation is on the rise, there is considerable confusion as to the exact numbers involved. According to statistics from the China Ski Association around 10 million Chinese, one per cent of the population, skied by 2015. The luxury-retail website Jing Daily claimed 20 million. Rapid growth in the Chinese ski industry was documented in the 2012 CTC Study, which reported an increase from 10,000 skiers in 1996 to “around a reported five million” in 2010. Whichever figure is correct, what is certain is that numbers are increasing. And officials hoped that the media spotlight from the Winter Olympics bid could encourage many more to get out on to the slopes.


Snowmaking at Wanlong Ski Resort, China
The CTC report also points out that “China is the third largest outbound tourist market in the world, and it is still growing.” The CTC thinks that Canada is well-positioned to take advantage of the growth in Chinese ski tourism due to high awareness created by the Vancouver Olympics as well as targeted marketing efforts emanating from Canadian resorts. “It is also essential for those marketing Canada’s ski destinations to recognize that Chinese tourists see skiing/snowboarding as a potential vacation activity, but are unlikely to plan an entire vacation around skiing/snowboarding. At this point in time the best way to bring these travellers to Canadian slopes is to include skiing/snowboarding outings in vacation packages with other activities,” it recommends.
Changbaishan (CBS)
Aspen Snowmass Ski Simulator
The growing trend in sport tourism from China has been noted in Aspen Snowmass, too, where Chinese skier numbers have doubled. The Aspen Skiing Company went to Hong Kong recently, bringing a skiing simulator which mimics downhill delights in an attempt to encourage participation. 

Aspen Skiing Company in China
 Sonia Bekhaazi, Sales & Marketing Manager for Aspen Skiing Company, has been engaged in relationship building both in China and during home resort FAM trips with ski-focused tour operators. "All of the business that takes place in China is a result of relationship building," says Bekhaazi. "Our core relationships are what fuel opportunities, contacts etc. Relationships also lend you credibility as a brand. We have established partnerships with very select businesses that help us to access a specific target market of skiers who travel internationally." 

Aspen Snowmass's strategies focus on high touch events including VIP on hill and dry slope clinics with top instructors. And brand awareness is at the forefront of all these activities. "We actively seek promotional opportunities in traditional and social media channels," she explains. "Our current following on Weibo boasts 56,000 and is growing at a rapid pace. At the same time, we also have a heavy focus on building booking channels and connections in country that enable guests to make reservations." 
Promo billboards during Aspen Snowmass China sales mission
One of Aspen Skiing Company's aims is to engage more Chinese speaking instructors. "Currently we are looking at a small number but aim to grow this in the next few years," says Bekhaazi. "A natural product of our sales missions in country help to establish relationships between our hiring staff and Chinese nationals.  In short, our sales missions to China encourage the opportunity to work with talented bilingual instructors."


FAM trip to Aspen Snowmass in December
Bekhaazi, who is in the process of learning Chinese herself, says the resort is planning a Chinese language resort guide. Several restaurants and hotels already offer authentic Chinese menu items, and some provide a Chinese welcome letter for guests upon check-in, as well as kettles and tea packages. "Of course, I would always encourage more community participation which I anticipate will evolve over time," she adds.

For more on the origins of skiing in China and an overview of China's contemporary ski-sphere, check out Jordan Manley's evocative film: https://vimeo.com/175629655.

And to read about the Canadian perspective on this subject, please check out my article in the Calgary Herald: http://calgaryherald.com/health/diet-fitness/winter-sports-fast-becoming-part-of-chinese-travel-dream 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and Canada's 150th Birthday

Aspen Snowmass (Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company)
Learning something new is on many people's list of New Year Resolutions. The 9th Annual "Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month" (LSSM) is, therefore, very timely with ski resorts across North America offering dazzling discounts on lessons. During the past eight winter seasons, 750,000 first-timers have participated in the persuasive program, hopefully leading to a lifelong love of wintersports. 


Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month
On Jan 6 over 80 resorts and ski areas are combining in a second attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest multi-venue ski lesson and also multi-venue snowboard lesson ever held. "We are partnering this year with the Canadian Ski Council on the attempt to set a Guinness Record for the largest ski and the largest snowboard lessons ever," says LSSM/BAF Director, Mary Jo Tarallo. "We are very excited about our partnership and feel that we have a very good chance to set the record." Last year's US-only attempt generated an incredible amount of media publicity for snow sports. About 6,000 people took lessons during the events. "Lack of required documentation was the only reason we did not set the official Guinness record but we did set an industry record," Tarallo explains.

BAF Program - courtesy of Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month
You can be an Ambassador for the LLSM Bring a Friend (BAF) program by signing up just one newbie for a lesson, a gift that they will always remember you for - and you could win a prize! The 2016 Ambassador of the Year, high school teacher Cindy Rust from Idaho, won a Burton apparel ensemble. You can find the list of packages and potential prizes at: learntoskiandsnowboard.orgOne of the main motivations for newcomers to start skiing and snowboarding is to join family or friends in a sociable sport - so keep on snapchatting, tweeting and instagraming all your ski pics to encourage them! Another incentive is winter exercise: 155-pound adult can burn 422 calories an hour skiing at a moderate speed, and a 70-pound youth can burn 181 calories.

Help woo wintersport wannabees by telling them about all the latest equipment. "Beyond these financial- and health-focused motivating factors, it is now commonly accepted that today it is easier to learn to ski and snowboard due to improved equipment," Tarallo points out. "It is also more affordable due to the discount programs noted above and new websites offering discounted equipment and lift tickets." And today's warm, windproof and waterproof clothing - along with all the heated boots, rechargeable battery-heated socks, vests, gloves, scarves and goggles - will also allay their fears of being too cold. 

Courtesy of Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month
Many Vermont resorts, including Bromley, Pico and Killington, are giving away lift tickets to those who introduce a “friend” to the association’s Take 3 lessons package. "The snow sports industry has developed so many creative, economical ways for children and adults to get outside in the winter to ski or snowboard. These sports are a terrific way to stay active all year long,” says Tarallo. "People often hear about the high priced, single-day, walk up to the ticket counter cost of buying a lift ticket, but the reality is that there are many ways to save if you know where to look." 


Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month
LSSM/BAF Chair Raelene Davis, Ski Utah's Director of Marketing, notes "As the chair of the Learn to Ski and Snowboard/Bring a Friend initiative, I have seen, first hand, the success of our industry programs to engage newcomers and especially on how to enable children to experience and enjoy being active in the winter outside." In Utah during January, many resorts are offering a $49 Learn to Ski or Snowboard package for Utah adults and children. Participating resorts include Alta, Beaver Mountain, Brian Head, Brighton, Deer Valley, Nordic Valley, Park City, Powder Mountain, Snowbird, Solitude and Sundance. The package includes a beginner lesson, equipment rental and a beginner lift ticket - see https://www.skiutah.com/deals/learn-to-ski-and-snowboard. For example at Powder Mountain, just outside Ogden, UT (one of the resorts I will be skiing in late Feb!) the LSSM offer is $49 for ages 13 and up and includes lift ticket, group lesson and equipment rental. Remember to mention "Learn to Ski Month" at the time of reservation and note that the offer is not valid January 1-6 & January 14-16. 

In Colorado, Steamboat’s Learn to Ski/Ride Package includes two days of lessons, rentals and lift tickets for just $199 from January 9-31. Learn to Ski/Ride is available for adults and children ages 1st Grade and older. For more information, visit https://www.steamboat.com/plan-your-trip/lessons/snowsports-school/2-day-learn-to-ski-or-ride.

Sunlight By DeAnna TreVizo
Sunlight's Learn to Shine 3-pack offers three days of lessons with a professional instructor including rentals and lift tickets, plus an additional 5 days of skiing and riding for just $395. On Jan 6, Sunlight will once again become America's most affordable ski area for a day as part of its 30th Annual Skier Appreciation Day, offering skiers and riders $20 lift tickets. All lift ticket proceeds are donated to the United Way of Garfield County. The event has raised more than $200,000 for local charities. Sunlight also hosts its annual Student/Teacher Appreciation Day on Sunday, January 10, with free lift tickets for teachers and $20 lift tickets for students. For more information, visit www.sunlightmtn.com.

Winter Park by Carl Frey
Colorado’s oldest Ski and Ride School has a pair of specials to celebrate Learn to Ski and Ride month. During January, first-timers receive 25 percent off of a Fast Track 5 lesson, a convenient half-day semi-private lesson that is limited to five students per instructor. The special is valid Mon-Thurs in Jan - book online in advance. Also on Jan 6, the resort is taking part in the World's Largest Lesson attempt and offering 25 percent off a Fast Track 5 Lesson for that day. Winter Park Resort is excited to be a part of the World’s Largest Ski Lesson because it highlights how easy it is for beginners of any age to pick up the sport," says Steve Hurlbert, Director of PR & Communications. "The lifeblood of any activity is a constant influx of new participants, and Winter Park is dedicated to instilling a love for skiing and snowboarding that so many of us share. The World’s Largest Ski Lesson is not only a great way to instill that love but it also showcases the great lesson programs Winter Park has to offer.” The record attempt will take place in seven different time zones: 9 am Alaska time, 10 am Pacific, 11 am Mountain, 12 noon Central, 1 pm Eastern, 2 pm Atlantic and 2:30 Newfoundland time. Participating USA resorts can be found HERE and the Canadian Ski Council has Canadian details at: http://www.nevereverdays.com/. They also list 70 resorts in Canada that are offering $25 first-time ski and ride lesson packages during January. The event is a collaboration between Learn to Ski and Snowboard Initiative, the National Ski Areas Association, Professional Ski Instructors of America, SnowSports Industries America and SNOW Operating.
Aspen Snowmass (Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company) 
At Aspen Snowmass the LSSM offer is the Beginner's Magic Group Lesson for participants 18 and older and includes a full-day lesson, beginner rental equipment, and beginner area lift ticket. "Taking a lesson with other like-minded new students can help the entire group succeed," says Kevin Jordan from Snowmass. "What we do extremely well and are constantly improving at Aspen Snowmass is creating a learning environment that is comfortable, supportive, and instills confidence in the individual." Jordan, who is the Children's Coordinator for Ski and Snowboard Schools at Aspen Snowmass, says that it is a question of teaching people how to become skiers and snowboarders versus teaching people how to ski or snowboard. In order to do this, the ski area has partnered with SNOW Operating to include Terrain Based Learning (TM) features to help facilitate fun and accelerate the learning process. "We also believe in experiential learning or learning by doing. In other words, we help guide the learning process so that the individual owns or anchors their learning," Jordan explains. Expectations may be different for participants on their first time out, he points out. Thus instructors have to be talented multi-taskers, including guiding, coaching, managing fear, presenting challenges and removing physical and mental obstacles. He tries to put his most experienced instructors with never-ever participants in order for the beginners to benefit from the vast wealth of experience when challenges and frustrations arise. "New participants don't know what they don't know," he says. "Encourage them to ask many questions." Aspen Snowmass is also taking part in the Jan 6 World's Largest Lesson Attempt.

    Aspen Snowmass (Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company) 
    Happy Anniversary Canada!


    As part of the the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Parks Canada is giving everyone free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas for the entire year. Typically visitors to Sunshine Village, Mt Norquay, Lake Louise in Banff National Park and Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park have to pay a daily or annual fee for park access so this will be another saving for skiers and snowboarders. I say 'another' because if you are coming to Canada from the USA the exchange rate is supreme! You can take 25 percent off all the prices, making it the best year to Ski Canada!
    Sunshine Village, near Banff - Photo by Dan Evans, courtesy of SkiBig3