The low snowpack in Whistler over the holiday season might have disappointed skiers and snowboarders, but it didn't have much of an impact on local hotels.
While official numbers for occupancy rates haven't yet been released for December, early bookings and anecdotal evidence indicate they dropped only slightly compared to last year.
"We were a little bit softer than last year, but it was nothing we weren't expecting," said Stephen Webb, general manager at the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa. "When I say 'softer' I'm talking two or three rooms a day. We're not talking about anything substantial. I would say we're definitely very happy with the way it turned out."
Early December was actually busier than last year at the Hilton, he added. "We're looking to be on pace with last year, but that's obviously got a long way to go with the conditions."
So far this year, those conditions have been poor with November and December seeing only around 183 centimetres of snow. To compare, in the 2004-05 season — considered the worst one of the worst in memory — there was around 211 cm by the end of December.
Still, Tourism Whistler says it’s seen success with its early booking promotions.
"December numbers won't be available until Jan. 20 and, of course, January numbers won't be available until February," said Patricia Westerholm, communications manager with Tourism Whistler, in an email. "Heading into the holiday period, though, we know that December was pacing ahead of the last two years. Looking ahead, January and February are also pacing ahead of last year."
Bookings from individual travellers and tour operators are growing, she added. On top of that, wholesale bookings for upcoming spring conferences are also helping to give hotels a boost. Martin Luther King Day weekend, WinterPRIDE and Presidents' Week are poised to be even busier than in 2013.
"At this point, March is pacing on par with last year and ahead of two years ago," said Westerholm. "We continue to see strength out of all of our markets."
Ian Lowe, general manager of the Crystal Lodge and a member of the BC Hotel Association’s board of directors, has some ideas about why the lack of snow hasn't affected hotel stays.
"My theory is the last bad year we had was 2004-2005, and that year it definitely affected business significantly," he said. "But '09-10 and '10-11 were the two best snow years ever. Even last year was the sixth-best ever. So, we've had three phenomenal snow years in a row. We had a halo effect. People are booking us because we have such a reputation for having snow.
“The question is how much will this year affect next year."
For now, Lowe remains hopeful that the season could still turn around. "For January, February and April, we're pacing ahead of last year," he said. "I hope that's indicative of the rest of the Village. We dodged this bullet — or the snow will come. I'm completely optimistic it will. We need to get by until it does."