PNE ditches report card passes for easier access

Free admission for 13-and-unders

For years, elementary school children in British Columbia received a free pass for the fair at the PNE in their summer report cards.

Not this year.

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The PNE has replaced the report card ticket system with free admission for anyone aged 13 and under. "I remember getting it when I went through school," said Laura Ballance, PNE spokeswoman. "What we've done this year is that if you want to come every day with your family, you can. You don't need that one ticket."

Visitors 13 and under, however, must be accompanied by a guardian. The limit is set at five free visitors to one paying guardian. Admission to Playland still requires an additional fee.

The report-card ticket system, established in the 1940s, has been replaced to reduce production costs and the work of schools planting tickets into each report, Ballance said. "It's going to definitely take the free programming element in this city to the next level."

Literally taking visitors to the next level is Playland's latest attraction "Atmosfear." The 225-foot-tall new ride combines a faster version of the spiralling swings ride with the height of the Hellevator. The new ride, now the tallest in Playland, holds riders in their seats with a single visitor-controlled metal bar and carlike seat belts.

"We try to add a new attraction every few years," Ballance said, noting that Atmosfear is this year's "hot ride, globally."

Rides similar to Atmosfear are found at Canada's Wonderland in Ontario, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Knott's Berry Farm in California.

The PNE, however, is the only fair in North America that does not receive any government subsidies, according to Ballance.

In order to maintain growing revenue, the PNE rearranged its business model in the '90s. It increased the number of international performers and pre-packaged shows. Exhibits at this year's PNE include the Safeway Farm Country, the International Sand Sculpture Competition, Container Art and Art Cars. Some of this year's performers in the concert series include Kenny Rogers, Donny Osmond, Hall and Oates, Stereos and local act Hey Ocean.

The 2011 fair is adding new cooking competitions- Rib Festival and 4-H Around the World-to its traditional line-up of pig races and Superdogs. When the PNE first launched in Vancouver in 1910, it was meant to showcase Vancouver as noteworthy North American city, Ballance said. "We're a bit different than other fairs in the sense that the city has grown up around us."

The PNE, she said, tries to showcase Vancouver with local acts and performances, while also adding new exhibits that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. "It might not be something they do every week. It might not be the CD in their car. But it's a neat experience that [many] associate with a family day at the fair," she said.

The best part of the PNE, Ballance said, is the nostalgia of fair traditions. "We want people to come with their grandchildren, who used to come with their grandparents," Ballance said. "We want to grow that tradition."

The PNE opens this Saturday, Aug. 20 and runs to Sept. 5.

Twitter: @kimiyasho

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