Winter tourism 'totally crazy' in Yukon this year says operator

Werner Walcher says there are more tourists, but the territory doesn't have the necessary infrastructure to take care of their needs.

Tour operator says territory needs more infrastructure to accommodate winter visitors

Two visitors from Mexico at Lewes Lake in the Yukon are an example of expanding interest in the territory from around the world. (Werner Walcher/A Taste of Yukon Adventures)

Some tourism operators are seeing a big spike in visitors for this time of year.   

"It's totally crazy, that's what I think, it's really hard to find accommodation for people, everything is busy, if you go to do a sled dog trip, it's booked," said Werner Walcher, operator of A Taste of Yukon Adventures.

"Nobody in the Yukon has an idea what's going on," he said.

Walcher said last week a group of six Americans visiting Vancouver decided to take a side trip to Yukon. He said it took awhile, but he was able to book them into Southern Lakes Resort on Tagish Lake.

Some Americans visiting Vancouver decided to take a side trip to the territory on their Learjet. (Werner Walcher)
"And they came in on their own Learjet, they had a great time, being out there playing hockey on the ice, going dog sledding at minus 40 almost.

"[I] picked them up [on Sunday] and drove back to Whitehorse and here was the jet ready to go, and off my truck into their jet and off they went," said Walcher.

The northern lights and the wilderness are big attractions, he said, and as the winter progresses events like the Yukon Quest sled dog race and the Yukon Arctic Ultra will bring in more visitors.

He says there may be a combination of reasons why this winter appears to be busier.

"Canada itself is just generating more attraction and the Yukon is definitely attracting a lot of people," said Walcher.

Werner Walcher says Yukon needs more infrastructure for a growing winter tourism industry. (CBC)
He said the pool of potential visitors is also expanding rapidly. Along with Americans and Europeans, more visitors are coming  from Asian countries including Japan, China and South Korea and from Latin America as well.

A Whitehorse business that rents outdoor winter clothing to tourism operators says this winter is "substantially" busier than last year.

Helene Burgermeister at Men's World said normally there's a rush around the Christmas holidays then a lull until later in the winter.  She said this year she expects almost all of their jackets, boots and other clothing to be rented out within a week or two.

Helene Burgermeister at Men's World in Whitehorse says almost all of the winter clothing the store rents to tourism operators will soon be out. (Dave Croft/CBC)
"Mid-January, the 15th, nothing will be left in the store, nothing, everything will be out for sure," said Burgermeister.

She said it also looks like the busy season should last an additional two weeks or more into the end of March or early April.

Walcher said the only downside is the potential of there being too many tourists.

"There's a fine line where it's great, you welcome every tourist, but suddenly it gets on your nerves. So it has to be a balance, and there has to be infrastructure. We have good infrastructure in the summer, but we basically have no infrastructure for winter tourists," he said.

The government should consider a few changes like opening the Carcross Visitor Centre for a couple of hours each day to provide something for tourists to do when they pass through the area, said Walcher.

That and installing outdoor toilets at some of the more popular spots.

Taking a "pee in the woods" is not as natural for visitors from some countries as it is for Canadians, said Walcher.