Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canada's Top Ski Area Whistles a Wealthy Tune

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canada's Top Ski Area Whistles a Wealthy Tune

Article excerpt

WHILE real estate prices are slumping in the rest of Canada, there's a boom in Whistler, British Columbia, home of the country's top ski resort.

In this town with a population of 5,000, there were 810 recorded real estate transactions last year worth $184 million (Canadian: US $132.6 million). Whistler is the Vail of Canada, attracting people from around the world.

"I try to come to my condo here at least three times a year," says a Dutch man riding the gondola to the top of the mountain at Whistler. He works for the Asian Development Bank in Manila. Many other skiers come from Hong Kong, Japan, and other Asian nations.

"Americans come here because of the 73 cent dollar, and Seattle is just a five-hour drive from here," says Mayor Ted Nebbeling, a Dutch immigrant who has prospered in Whistler's retail trade. "But the Europeans are the market of the future. They can't find a place where they can ski 12 kilometers without stopping, and then the next day spend four or five hours hiking in the woods without seeing another person."

Whistler is about an hour's drive north of Vancouver and eight to 12 hours from Europe and Tokyo. It has two mountains to ski, each one owned by a different resort: Whistler Mountain, which closed at the end of April; and Blackcomb, which is open until late May. The lifts for each mountain meet in the village.

The reason for the resorts' popularity with skiers is simple: Blackcomb is one mile high and has the highest vertical drop of any ski resort in North America; Whistler is just a couple of hundred feet shorter.

"We'll be back," says Jane Inglis, skiing with her husband, David, from Lancashire in England. "We usually ski in France and Switzerland, but it's crowded, and the lift attendants have forgotten how to smile."

While the permanent resident head count is 5,000, on a good ski day there can be 40,000 people or more in the village.

"The bed count is 35,000, and it will be 52,500 by the time all development is completed three to four years from now," says Michael d'Artois, who owns the local Re-Max real estate franchise. On a tour of the area, he points to one successful land development after another -- new houses being built for $1 million (Canadian: US $737,000) or more. …

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