Marble Mountain worth the cash, says minister

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Boxing Day will mark opening of 2013-14 ski season

Marble Mountain is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s key tourism destinations and one that has received plenty of knocks over the years for its reliance on public funding.

Skiers ride to the top of Marble Mountain in the Governor’s Express chair lift in March. — File photo by The Western Star

The resort in Steady Brook is scheduled to open for the 2013-14 ski season on Boxing Day, in the midst of — as TC Media reported earlier this week — the usual enthusiasm from run users and the usual critical commentary flowing from the provision of government grants to the resort.

For 2013, the provincial government is putting up an operating grant of $394,000 and a capital grant of $450,000. The latter is meant to assist the resort with any required maintenance and infrastructure upgrades.

In a statement provided through a spokeswoman Thursday, Tourism and Recreation Minister Terry French acknowledged the spending is significant.

“We are confident this funding will ensure that the facility continues to provide a high-quality experience for ski enthusiasts,” he stated.

“Furthermore, the Marble Mountain Development Corporation has a good marketing program, and we provided $150,000 over the past year for marketing initiatives. We have also invested $62,000 in west coast season extension initiatives this year.”

Marketing in the right place

The Marble Mountain Development Corp., a Crown corporation, has actually tightened up spending on marketing this year.

The government marketing grant amounts to about $50,000 less than in 2012.

The resort’s business is not expected to suffer as a result, with continued advertising to target areas, according to general manager Chris Beckett.

“The Avalon (Peninsula) continues to be a focus. No question there,” he said this week. There is also a standing goal of getting residents in western Newfoundland out to the resort more frequently.

According to the Marble Mountain Development Corp.’s annual report for 2011-12, more than 82 per cent of season pass holders, nearly 1,600 pass holders, were designated as originating from within two hours of the

resort.

More significantly, nearly 13,000 day lift passes, or 60.5 per cent of day passes sold, went to people based within two hours of the ski runs. Expanding to include the rest of the province, you can encompass about 89 per cent of day lift pass holders from the last year.  

In 2013-14, the cost of season passes has increased, by 20 per cent after early bird rates, while day lift pass prices have generally stayed steady, Beckett said.

On management

Last year, the resort had fewer weddings and events compared to the previous two years. Similarly, fewer day lift passes were sold than in each of the two years prior and the total skier visits, at 66,069, was lower than the more than 72,000 seen before.

However, year-to-year results come from many inputs, and according to Bob Pike, the chair of the Marble Mountain Development Corp., there are also positives on Marble’s books.

“Some of the highlights of this past year, the resort is proud to share are significant increases in Marble Villa revenue; the beginning of the implementation of brand new IT platforms which will streamline the majority of the resort’s guest services and produce accurate information for decision-making; and increased skier visits on per-day basis, despite a shortened ski and snowboard season,” he stated in the corporation’s last report.

Last year, the resort had an operating surplus of $54,203, after the government’s operating grant was applied. In 2010 and 2011, in comparison, the resort took losses even after the public funding was tacked on.

The number of days the ski runs are open remains an important factor in annual operating revenues, according to the general manager. That can be about wind as much as snow, but this season looks good so far, he said, with 90-100 days of open slopes predicted.

Private successes

Marble Mountain employs 100 to 120 people in peak season, but is also tied into multiple tourism-related businesses in the surrounding area. Those private businesses have been steadily growing in recent years, according to the Marble Mountain Development Corp.’s last written report.

It notes the rapid expansion of Marble Zip Tours, with its addition of snowmobile tours, ATV tours and a high ropes obstacle course.

A guiding collective, R.O.A.M. the Rock, entered a third year of operations this summer, it states, offering rock climbing, caving and kayaking on the nearby Humber River.

The privately owned Marble Inn Resort has a café and pro fishing supply store and is offering guided fishing and sightseeing tours. Existing cabins on the company’s property have been replaced with rental condos and additional real estate growth is in the works, it states.

Memorial University of Newfoundland continues to use Marble Mountain as a selling point for events and programs at its Sir Wilfred Grenfell College campus in Corner Brook.

“The mandate of the Marble Mountain Development Corporation is to serve as a catalyst for tourism development, both locally and in the province as a whole,” according to corporate documents.

Given that mandate, the numbers and the critics, the public can decide for themselves if they agree with government’s continued support.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Marble Mountain Development, TC Media Marble Inn Resort Memorial University of Newfoundland

Geographic location: Marble Mountain, Newfoundland, Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • Cowabunga
    December 23, 2013 - 12:26

    I live on the east coast and don't mind that taxpayer money is keeping Marble Mountain going. At least some good comes of it: people get some exercise and fresh air. Use of the hill is down partly because parents don't encourage their kids to get involved in physical activity like they used to. I'm going to try to get there at least once this winter.

    • david
      December 23, 2013 - 15:46

      Cow: Please pass the hat around and send me $1 million. I will absolutely guarantee you that some public "good" will come of it. If nothing else, I'll spend $50,000 renting some ice time at the arena. Deal?

  • Joey
    December 23, 2013 - 09:36

    So…all of these tax dollars are put into this elitist sport, mostly for those living in the surrounding area and who are able to afford to ski, and then somewhat in the name of tourism. How does management reach out to those less able to afford what Marble Mountain has to offer? If this facility is geared toward the upper economic echelons, as it seems to be, then they should pay for it. Not with my tax dollar.

  • david
    December 23, 2013 - 08:48

    "Worth the cash".....one could read this as a defense of Marble Mountain. In fact, it is simply a reminder of this government's lack of respect for the value of all taxpayer money. Muskrat Falls, here we come.

  • Corporate Psycho
    December 22, 2013 - 15:09

    I'm fed up with subsidizing where people in the town of CB are working and playing. If the town can't stand on its own let it go.

    • david
      December 23, 2013 - 09:59

      And had anyone made that same argument about all of Newfoundland anytime between about 1975 and 1995......

  • david
    December 21, 2013 - 11:09

    The precise definition of whether something is "worth the cash" is that someone would willingly pay their own, hard-earned money to buy it. The government has never even come close to selling Marble Mountain to anyone at any price, despite many documented attempts. The current "value" of Marble Mountain amounts to keeping it alive at any cost, so as not to become a negative campaign issue.....with visionary governance like that, no wonder Newfoundland is what it is. You might not be able to find a job, or see a doctor, or drive on a safe highway, but you can forget all your woes with a day of government-provided skiing!@

  • SayWhat
    December 21, 2013 - 09:38

    You can dress up the story all you want, bottom line is Marble Mountain has become a failure. Since no one wants to buy it, the time to close it down must be seriously considered by the provincial government. Marble Mountain peaked in 2007-08 with 95, 270. Today's story shows there were just 66,069 in 2012-13. Do the math, that represents a decline of over 30 percent. Marble Mountain has seen a steady decline over the past five years. Comparing 2007-08 to the last five years, there are 90,000 users missing from the equation. Reading past annual reports, you get a litany of excuses for the declining numbers. As I understand it, this is the last year of a three year business plan by the Marble Mountain Development Corporation. The first two appear to be an abject failure according to the ski numbers and this story shows failure in attracting weddings and events. Marble Mountain is either dying or has died and no one in government has the political will to do something about it.