The HeliCat Industry By The Numbers

As we dig into the final preparations for our upcoming Fall Meeting and AGM later this month at Sun Peaks Resort, we thought it might be nice to share some of our industry statistics as a bit of an overview to provide some clarity and context to the workshops and speaker series our guests will be attending.

Strength in Numbers

HeliCat serves a diverse population of adventure tourism providers and we couldn't be more proud of the collective work being done to showcase the very best of British Columbia on the world stage.

  • 42 Operators in BC
  • 32 HeliCat Member Operations
    • 20 Heliskiing Members
    • 12 Catskiing Members
  • 49 Affiliate Members
  • 3 Individual Members

Employment Highlights

It truly takes a village to run a safe, successful heli or catskiing operation. Our industry employs a wide range of seasonal and full-time personnel, and contributes to the economy of the small towns and communities in which operations are based. This, in turn, has a significant and sustained positive impact on the overall provincial economy across BC.

The following are some numbers pulled from our recent Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (2016), and only represent the 22 operations who responded to our survey; however, they provide a reasonable snapshot of the industry as a whole.

  • 1315 Jobs
    • 281 Year-Round Positions
    • 1034 Seasonal Positions
    • 728 Full-Time Positions in Rural BC
  • 44% Employees with Post-Secondary Education
  • 35% Employees with Guiding Certifications

Bigger Is Better

Both the HeliCat industry and the association itself have enjoyed steady growth over the past few years, and 2016-17 was no exception. Skier days increase year to year as word continues to spread about the world-class experience we have to offer in the BC backcountry.

  • Skier days rose 3% in 2017
  • HeliCat membership continued to grow last year
    • Affiliate memberships +7%
    • Individual memberships +50%
  • Meeting engagement increased by 35% and the Spring Meeting was our most attended to date
  • HeliCat revenue was up 35% in the past year
  • Special projects and research spending also increased by 22%

It's a great time to be invested in the adventure tourism industry in BC. While we face a number of challenges with respect to government relations and environmental accountability, we find strength in our growing HeliCat community and our collective voice is only getting louder. We can't wait to see you all at Sun Peaks for our Fall Meeting & AGM to discuss the future of our sector and to make plans together for another year of healthy and sustainable growth.

- HeliCat Canada

 

 

 

Industry collaboration at HeliCat AGM

Collaboration and connections. This is what HeliCat Canada offers member operations at the 2017 Annual General Meeting, scheduled for Sept. 27-28 at Sun Peaks Resort, BC.

For the first time, HeliCat Canada and the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) will collaborate to host their industry meetings over the same week at the same location, allowing members to connect and engage with all stakeholders relevant to their operations.

“There are many common challenges faced by the ski industry in general — frontcountry and backcountry — so we are always looking at ways to improve collaboration and increase conversations,” says Ian Tomm, Executive Director at HeliCat Canada.

The common meetings will allow members to attend both with ease and convenience.

“There are several members who are part of both organizations but they are often forced to choose which meetings to attend based on budget and schedules. Now it’s easier for our industry colleagues to attend both.”

Building Community and Working Together

The HeliCat AGM will include the annual reports from the President and Executive Director, the statement of financial position and the election of directors. In addition to the official meeting, there will be several presentations and workshops focused on learning and development for member operations. Sessions include:

  • a panel discussion on working with First Nations communities

  • an update by the Ministry of Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation

  • a presentation by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources on location tracking as a condition of tenure

  • a safety culture workshop facilitated by WorkSafeBC

  • a crisis communication workshop led by Ascent Public Affairs

The evening of September 27th will include dinner and a keynote presentation by Ascent Public Affairs on the current state of the provincial government and considerations for government relations moving forward.

Click here to register for the HeliCat AGM and workshops. Please note, separate registration is required for the HeliCat and CWSAA meetings. You can find CWSAA meeting information here.

We look forward to seeing everyone in September!

-Ian Tomm, HeliCat Canada

Sharing BC’s backcountry

The backcountry of British Columbia has a unique, one-of-a-kind resource in the winter — vast regions of mountainous, wilderness terrain covered with snow. This pristine environment plays a significant role in the $1.2 billion adventure tourism industry in the province — drawing visitors from around the world to backcountry snowmobile and participate in commercial helicopter and snowcat skiing.

Canada boasts the largest and most successful helicopter and snowcat industry found anywhere in the world. According to the 2016 HeliCat Canada socio-economic impact assessment, the HeliCat industry hosts more than 110,000 skier days each year, with a three per cent average annual growth between 2013 and 2015.

At the same time, advances in snowmobiling technology have helped introduce more and more people into the BC backcountry. Backcountry snowmobiling is one of the fastest growing winter outdoor recreation sectors in the province today. Canadians bought more than one-third of the 151,000 snowmobiles sold worldwide in 2015, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

Sharing the backcountry

While both sports are huge draws for international and regional visitors looking for a true Canadian experience, there are significant challenges with respect to land use and other conflicts that can impact the experience and safety, for not only guests but for the outdoor adventure tourism industry as a whole.

Recognizing the importance of cooperation and collaboration in addressing these issues, HeliCat Canada entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 with the BC Snowmobile Federation and the Association of BC Snowmobile Clubs. The relationship was established — and continues today — as a partnership to promote a common approach to resolving issues as well as improving how everyone works together on issues of mutual interest.

Promoting best practices

Three-quarters of BC is mountainous, providing vast areas around the province for organized snowmobiling and commercial helicopter and snowcat skiing.  

Continued conversation and communication goes a long way to ensure everyone can enjoy the backcountry of BC in a safe and collaborative way. The more often local stakeholders get together to define a problem and work through it, agreements are made.

These agreements and MOUs enhance the relationship between the organizations. Some HeliCat operators have embraced snowmobiling groups. Operations have been known to welcome snowmobiles to their tenure and ski areas after they have closed for the season, renting out their lodges or offering food and gas for purchase.

Local snowmobiling clubs and organizations continue to stride forward in leaps and bounds to promote best practices in their industry and encourage individuals to be educated and engage at the club level.

HeliCat remains committed to continually improving and promoting high operating standards and best practices in the adventure tourism industry, promoting growth that is economically, environmentally and socially responsible for all parties.

While there are significant challenges and discussions to be had, safety for all remains the top priority as we all look to enjoy the pristine wilderness environment in the BC backcountry.

-Ian Tomm, Executive Director, HeliCat Canada

This article originally appeared in the BC Snowmobile Federation monthly newsletter.

Leveraging Canada 150 for tourism

As most everyone knows, Canada turns 150 on July 1. Such a milestone calls for a big celebration and Canada will be hosting events across the country this summer, the two largest being in Ottawa and Charlottetown, PEI the home of Confederation.

Destination Canada predicts 2017 will be one of the most successful tourism years on record, as the New York Times, Lonely Planet, the Guardian and the Telegraph all listed Canada as the top place to visit this year. With Banff National Park and its area campgrounds already sold out for the summer, this provides opportunities for other destinations to step up and take a large part of the tourism market.

As a tourism operator, it is the perfect time to take advantage of the increased interest in tourism to your area, as well as the funds available through your DMO’s (Destination Marketing Organization) co-op marketing programs. Proper strategy and planning leading into the 2017 ski season could make for a very successful year for your operation and the industry as a whole.

In addition to paid marketing campaigns, here are just a few ways your business can connect with Canada’s 150 celebrations:

  • Use the #Canada150 hashtag on your social accounts, where relevant

  • Find Canadian-themed stories about your organization to share on your website and social platforms

  • Share Destination Canada content that is relevant to your organization on your social platforms

  • Celebrate and share your company history in alignment with key dates in Canadian history

Increased spending

The federal government has made a permanent investment of $37.5 million per year to Destination Canada, with an additional $8.6 million over four years to support the development of Canada's unique and authentic Indigenous tourism industry as well as the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada's five-year Indigenous Tourism Strategy.

Both the BC and Alberta governments have increased investment in tourism spending for 2017. Destination British Columbia’s $50 million annual budget will be increased by up to 2% per year with the Alberta government investing $60.8 million for tourism development and marketing, including $49.2 million to support tourism marketing through Travel Alberta and $10.8 million to Alberta Culture and Tourism in support of industry development.

With so much investment happening around the country, 2017 really is the year to visit Canada — so let’s make sure we spread the word!

-HeliCat Canada

Spring Meeting: additional value for members

The HeliCat Spring Meeting is literally just around to the corner — we are excited to see everyone in Penticton on Monday!

Beyond some incredible sessions — aviation safety, species at risk, etc. — we are also pleased to welcome a collection of vendors and sponsors who will be available on May 1 to provide valuable program information for members. Make sure you stop by their booths to say hi and learn more about how they can support your HeliCat operation. Below are just a few of the vendors who will be on hand.

Arc’teryx

Arc’teryx is proud to support HeliCat Canada in their mission to promote best practices, safety and growth of the mechanized ski industry in Canada. Their Professional Program is dedicated to creating apparel and gear that best serve the needs of mountain professionals. Field testing in real world conditions fosters insight into building the highest performing products. HeliCat members are invited to provide feedback and insights on products for continuous improvement.

go2HR

go2HR is responsible for coordinating the BC Tourism Labour Market Strategy and providing tourism employers with programs and resources for recruitment, retention and training. Working in partnership with WorkSafeBC, go2HR is also the health and safety resource for the tourism and hospitality industry and certifying partner for the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program. HeliCat members are encouraged to stop by and ask questions about recruiting and retaining staff, occupational health and safety, and general information on how go2HR can support your business.

Sun Peaks Resort

A brand new HeliCat member, Sun Peaks has recently started a HeliCat warm-up camp – a two-day camp to prepare guests for their upcoming heli or snowcat skiing trip. Instructed by a certified CSIA instructor/Canadian Ski Guide, guests will work on fine-tuning their powder skiing technique, while being introduced to important backcountry skills such as avalanche awareness, companion rescue and tree wells.

Uniglobe Specialty Travel

Uniglobe is a huge supporter of HeliCat and its member operations. The contributions of HeliCat reach far and wide, creating sound economic, environmental, and socially responsible practices throughout local communities in BC. The local connection is why Uniglobe became a member and they continue to offer support and services to HeliCat operations. 

WorkSafeBC

WorkSafeBC became a member of HeliCat Canada to collaborate on a shared interest in the health and safety of workers in the helicopter and snowcat skiing industry. Both WorkSafe BC and HeliCat remain committed to working together to develop and implement programs and activities to help improve workplace safety for their members.

A huge thank you to the official sponsors of the HeliCat Spring Meeting: WorkSafeBC, JLT Canada, Uniglobe Speciality Travel, and Blackcomb Helicopters.

See you next week!

-HeliCat Canada

Getting the most from your HeliCat Spring Meeting experience

Industry conferences and meetings are important elements to career advancement by providing learning opportunities and skill development, along with networking and social events.  HeliCat’s Spring Meeting is the ideal place to meet new people, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and take away some key learnings and industry trends.

While these events can be invigorating; all the sessions and conversations can be overwhelming. It is a significant commitment to attend industry meetings, so it is best to be prepared before you head out on the road to Penticton. Below are some tips to help you get the most from your experience.

Before the Spring Meeting

  • Read the Spring Meeting agenda to familiarize yourself with the sessions and presenters.
  • Reach out to key clients or colleagues and set up a time to connect over coffee during the event.
  • Replenish your supply of business cards. Ensure you have a stack with you at all times during the event.

During the Spring Meeting

  • Don’t forget all the great information you learned once you get back to the office. Write down three key takeaways from each session and how they are relevant to your career or organization.
  • Engage by asking questions and making comments during sessions and networking breaks.
  • Connect with speakers after their presentation or during a networking break. They are valuable resources of knowledge and experience. Ask for their business card and follow on social media.
  • Attend the social events, as conversations in a more casual environment often provide greater value than the sessions.

Post Spring Meeting

  • Within a week of the Spring Meeting, send a friendly email follow up to those you met. Writing a note on the back of their business card will jog your memory on a topic you discussed or something you had in common that you can use in the email messages.
  • Share your experience and key learnings with your colleagues and management at your organization.

Now that you are prepared; relax and enjoy yourself!

 

The Spring Meeting is in the air…

It’s prime season for goggle tans, bluebird days and epic powder. Spring is here!

And while there is still plenty of time for powder turns — whew! — at HeliCat we are always reviewing and planning to keep our industry leading the way with best practices.

Learning from shared experiences and exploring new trends is the key purpose of HeliCat’s annual Spring Meeting, scheduled for May 1, 2017 in Penticton, BC.

Safety and wildlife

The day is jam-packed with informative sessions to help the industry discover and improve for the future. With a primary focus on safety and species-at-risk, a variety of speakers will be on hand to offer insight.

Sessions include:

  • An update on the SFU Incident Database research project

  • Reviewing the 2016-17 winter season

  • Discussion around safety management in the HeliCat industry, with a focus on aviation

  • Impact of snowcats and helicopters on species-at-risk

The social side

While the day is full of meetings, the evening is the chance to reconnect with industry members. Join us for a wine tasting and Accreditation presentation as we recognize some of our colleagues for their hard work.

Register today for the Spring Meeting, and check out the accommodation rates for HeliCat operators.

See you May 1st!

-HeliCat Canada

Special project: tracking the industry safety record

Safety in the HeliCat sector is a cornerstone of the association and the industry it serves. One of the most significant concerns expressed by industry in HeliCat’s 2016 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment stated, “…without reporting, we have no way to monitor and track the safety record of the industry.”

Taking a huge step forward to address this issue, HeliCat has partnered with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Mitacs Canada for an Incident Database and Sector Risk Project. The $15,000 research project will not only develop a secure online database for storing detailed incident information, but will also incorporate historical data to provide an accurate risk assessment.

“While we have a decent understanding of the risks associated with avalanche involvements in helicopter and snowcat skiing, there is little quantitative information available about the risks associated with other hazards,” explains Ian Tomm, Executive Director of HeliCat Canada. “This study will start to address the knowledge gap.”

The research project aims to collect as much information as possible about historic incidents associated with all types of hazard (e.g., avalanches, tree wells, cravasses, vehicles, etc.) in an effort to clearly assess the risk factors at play.

“After compiling information from all sources that are publicly available, such as avalanche accident books and Transport Canada reports, we are now working with individual HeliCat operators  to collect more detailed incident data,” explains Pascal Haegeli, University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management at SFU. “We’ve had lots of interest from operators and we are looking forward to working together with them on the data collection process as the season starts to wind down.”

The initial research project concludes in June 2017 and full findings will be presented at the HeliCat AGM in September.

HeliCat Canada invests more than $100,000 annually on research and special projects for the industry.

-HeliCat Canada

A commitment to mountain caribou recovery

Sustainable wildlife management is a top priority for HeliCat Canada. The organization has been working with stakeholders and the British Columbia government for more than a decade to establish wildlife best practices and procedures for wilderness skiing operators in the province.

Those conversations resulted in a significant success story in early February as the BC government announced a significant investment into the comprehensive mountain caribou recovery plan — $27 million over three years.

“We are celebrating this new announcement as it’s an important step in the province’s recovery strategy for mountain caribou,” says Ian Tomm, Executive Director with HeliCat Canada.

“We work closely with the Ministries of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Environment to ensure all operators in our organization are aware of mapped caribou habitat in their areas,” explains Tomm. “If caribou are spotted on a run, the operation closes that run and the area around it for at least 48 hours. Only after confirming the animals have moved out of the area will operations return to the region.”

According to the province, there are approximately 19,000 caribou in BC today, compared to between 30,000 and 40,000 at the turn of the last century.

The new funding will support five key components:

  • Critical caribou habitat protection and restoration

  • Maternal penning

  • Predator management

  • Research and monitoring

  • Increased compliance and enforcement

“We’ve already invested millions of dollars and set aside critical habitat, but stronger action is required to reverse population declines, and ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to experience these animals in the wild,” said Premier Christy Clark during the funding announcement.

HeliCat Canada will continue to work with the government and other sectors to support mountain caribou recovery in BC.

-HeliCat Canada

Avalanche Awareness Days: safety in the backcountry

This weekend is Avalanche Awareness Days and HeliCat Canada is reminding everyone about the importance of safety in the backcountry.

While it’s tempting to head into the backcountry on your own to find an epic line, with limited training it might be a better choice to head out with an experienced operation.

Helicopter and snowcat skiing operations around Western Canada are staffed with guides who have extensive avalanche training and decades of backcountry experience. Not only are guides highly trained, but guests are required to go through avalanche training before stepping foot in a helicopter or cat.

Nancy Geismar, Education and Outreach Coordinator at Avalanche Canada, says training saves lives.

“There is minimal time to react if someone does get buried and it’s imperative that the group know self-rescue skills,” she says. “Also with training, people can avoid suspect avalanche terrain to begin with, as they have learned to recognize terrain and how to use the Avalanche Forecast and ATES ratings.”

Confidence in your guides

Geismar explains the importance of having confidence in the group you’re heading out with, that everyone has training, gear and enough knowledge to understand the avalanche forecast.

Having experienced helicopter and snowcat guides choosing your terrain significantly increases confidence in safety. In A day in the life of a Canadian ski guide, we learned the run list for the day isn’t determined until there’s a full review of snow conditions, weather reports and avalanche risk.

As Geismar puts it, “the goal is to continue to have fun in the backcountry, but have the knowledge to do it safely.”

HeliCat Canada represents 30 operations who are committed to ensuring guests have a safe and enjoyable experience in the backcountry.

For the latest Avalanche conditions report and more information on Avalanche Awareness Days, visit the Avalanche Canada website.


-HeliCat Canada

A day in the life of a Canadian ski guide

As the end of December draws near, there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. And it’s not just the impending arrival of Santa and his reindeer.

In the middle of the Christmas festivities, helicopter blades start rotating and snowcats are revving their engines to take guests from around the world to some of the most pristine powder on the planet. And helping those guests create iconic memories and keeping them safe are some of the luckiest folks around — ski guides.

Today we peek out from our cubicles to check out a typical day in the life of a Canadian ski guide. One hint: there are no photocopiers.

Really early

Wake up. Drink coffee.

Also early

The morning meeting may be the official start to the day, but there is an expectation of advance preparation. Guides are required to come prepared with a full review of weather and avalanche conditions to discuss with the team.

More coffee.

Morning operational meeting

Safety is the number one priority for HeliCat operations, from snow conditions to weather reports and equipment maintenance. All of this is covered at the morning meeting. Every day is different. Did the weather change overnight? What will the forecast mean for the day ahead? Avalanche conditions are reviewed and discussed. All of this goes into determining the run list for that particular day.

But it’s not just about the skiing — there are so many other elements to discuss and finesse for the day! Over another cup of coffee, the team works through logistics such as van transportation, road conditions, incoming/outgoing guests, new guest training, staff skiing…the list goes on.

Breakfast

Bacon and eggs anyone? Or oatmeal…we won’t judge.

First flight/cat leaves

All guests are required to receive training, which takes approximately one hour. Those already trained up and ready to go, hop on their chopper or cat and head out to the field. The rest remain for mandatory Mountain Safety Training before loading up and heading out.

Ski…over and over again

It’s all about the powder for the next several hours until approximately one hour before sunset. This buffer allows for any unanticipated events, such as an injury, to allow enough daylight to adequately respond with a helicopter. As the days get longer in the spring, operators work closely with guides and pilots to ensure adequate rest time to avoid fatigue.

Après ski

The incredible powder days and mountain vistas are only part of what makes ski guiding an incredible experience. The guests make up the rest. Having a chance to meet people from around the world and showcase a true Canadian experience is like no other. That’s where après ski comes to play! Guides and guests mingle and chat about the day.

Evening tech meeting

A debrief of the day is just as critical as the morning operational meeting. The team shares specific observations regarding conditions, rates the hazard and submits relevant data to the CAA InfoEx information exchange program. This program is designed specifically for operations to work together, sharing conditions information with the priority of a safe experience for all.

If you’re interested in guiding, check out some of the latest job postings on our website!

-HeliCat Canada