Skiers head for Canada as Alps get cold shoulder

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The Independent Online
Canada has overtaken the United States as the preferred North American destination of British skiers, and both countries are closing in on Alpine resorts, a guide published today claims.

And although skiing may be a sport associated with the rich and famous, cold economic decisions provide the principal reason for selecting a piste.

The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide, 1998 reveals that about 35,000 Britons skied in Canada last year, while only an estimated 20,000 visited US slopes.

Peter Hardy, the guide's editor, explained this was thanks to the strength of sterling against the Canadian dollar. He said: "Skiing holidays in Canada can cost the same, if not less, than going to the Alps."

The guide claims that a week-long holiday to Canada's top two resorts, Banff Lake Louise and Whistler can be obtained for pounds 299 and pounds 399 respectively.

Nim Singh of the Canadian Tourism Commission said: "We extend a warm, friendly welcome and service is good. Canada also offers a long ski season with almost guaranteed snow."

John King, managing director of the tour operator Ski Activity, said that the swing from America to Canada started around 1995. But he feels America may be on the verge of a resurgence. "The US has more marketing muscle than Canada with its more extensive resorts."

"America is definitely not pricing itself out of the market," he continued, arguing that American prices compared favourably with Canadian resorts.

Tour operators are increasing the number of charter flights to North America to cope with the expected demand, and have introduced flights to Vancouver and Denver this season. Mr King has found his business to North America has increased by between 20 and 30 per cent.

The British national ski team plumped for the Colorado resort Vail in which to train in November 1996. However, a British Ski Federation spokeswoman stressed that the decision was made on purely economic grounds: "We are likely to go back to Colorado, but it depends on who offers the best deals."

The spokeswoman stressed that Vail's low temperatures in November provided good conditions for a solid base of man-made snow. But she added: "The American national ski team have trained in Canada."

According to Mr Hardy, North America has a number of advantages over Alpine resorts, despite long-haul flights of about 10 hours. He claims that the standard of accommodation is better, snowfall is more reliable. What's more there is no language barrier. "It makes for a better all-round holiday," he said. However, despite the appeal of North America, France and Austria still dominate the British skiing market. Peter Hardy estimates France has cornered roughly 30 per cent of the market, with Austria holding 20 per cent, and North America's 15 per cent securing fourth place behind Italy.

With the French domestic market dwindling, a trend among the 800,000 British skiers can provide a significant boost to regions. But among the world's 20 million downhill skiers, this may amount to little more than a snowflake in a blizzard.