To the ski industry, the next best thing to snow falling on mountain spruce trees are the words La Nina.
With talk of the weather phenomenon that typically brings cool conditions comes anticipation of an early winter. And that anticipation often equals sales at the cash register in the ski industry.
Christopher Nicolson, manager of Tourism Sun Peaks, said long-term forecasts don’t mean anything to the resort’s operational plans, but help drive anticipation of a good skiing year.
“From a marketing standpoint La Nina is very good for the industry,” he said. “It gets people excited. It does have an impact on things like retail operations.”
Jim Steele, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, confirmed a weak La Nina phenomenon is expected this winter. That typically brings colder than normal weather in B.C.’s southern Interior.
The resort is looking at Nov. 19 for its opening day, unchanged by any long-term forecasts.
“It’s not a forecast. It’s more of an outlook,” Steele cautioned.
Ian McLaren, of McSporties at Sun Peaks Resort, said talk last year of a La Nina before the season got started certainly drove retail sales.
“Last year was revved up early…. People bought earlier than normal. It turned out to be a good season.”
Nicolson said that’s the kind of talk he expects to hear in the next two months as he visits ski shows and talks informally with retailers. If predictions of a La Nina persist, the resort will incorporate that into its sales and marketing to encourage visits.
“It will be important in the early season, once you get through November and December, January takes care of itself.”
While Sun Peaks boasts that it has some of the most reliable ski conditions in Canada along with snowmaking machines, marketers will take the prospect of an early season as an added bonus.
Nicolson said indications from Australia and New Zealand tour operators appear positive for winter bookings. Marketing teams will soon hit major U.S. markets for ski shows to promote the resort.
“Our teams are on the road for the next month.”
While the long-term outlook for early winter bodes well and whets the appetite of skiers, Steele cautioned that even if the forecast turns out to be 100-per-cent correct, that won’t necessarily translate into cushy powder in early November.
Steele noted the summer of 2011 turned out to be warmer and drier than normal.
“Drier than normal? That would have been a hard sell in June and July,” he noted.
The Interior summer was marked by a wet and cool June and July, followed by a hot August with no rain.
Translated into the ski season, the long-term outlook could just as easily see a warm October and November, followed by a bitterly cold December. While it wouldn’t make for ideal skiing, it still conforms to the prediction of a cool final three months of the year.