Marble Mountain worth the cash, says minister

Boxing Day will mark opening of 2013-14 ski season

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on December 21, 2013
Skiers ride to the top of Marble Mountain in the Governor’s Express chair lift in March. — File photo by The Western Star

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.

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