A learning season 

Another challenging winter offers Whistler a host of lessons

The book-early deals were launched; the bookings looked awesome, the mountains and the resort were ready for a banner year. As the first snowflakes fell in November excitement and anticipation flowed through Whistler like a rising river ready to burst its banks.

But as the weeks slipped by and significant snow failed to materialize the only thing that ended up bursting was the collective bubble of anticipation.

And when the rains fell in January many in the resort asked themselves what else could possibly happen. Indeed the period from Jan. 17 to 20 was the heaviest four consecutive days of rain Whistler has ever experienced since weather data was first collected in 1931.

Then the sun came back out and bulbs around the resort could be seen pushing out of the ground. It was February and spring was here.

For Cross Country Connection that meant closing down ski operations after only a four-week season and getting the mountain bikes out.

"We got the bikes out on March 1 st which is quite early, in fact 12 weeks early," said Ian Goldstone, co-owner and operator of the Cross Country Connection.

"In hindsight we probably could have got them out on Feb. 1 but we decided not to give up on winter."

If the coastal weather anomaly had fallen on the heels of consecutively strong years most would just have laughed it off. But it came as Whistler was struggling back from year upon year of challenges. And it came after the resort’s appetite for success had been whet by a stronger December than had been seen in a long time.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 left their own imprint on tourism, as did the war in Iraq. Then there was the softening global economy, SARS, mad cow, Avian Flu, the rising Canadian dollar and the change in booking patterns as travellers decided to stay close to home or book at the last minute.

Each of these challenges has brought its own set of lessons. But as the resort re-groups this spring the lessons that seem to stand out may also be the lessons that take Whistler forward.

At the top of the list of lessons is the quest to continue the drive to offer outstanding value to travellers, especially as the Canadian dollar remains strong. And everyone needs to stay focused on the long-term so that neither business nor local government makes knee-jerk decisions, which could ultimately harm the product.

This must be tied closely to the highest level of service and that means training staff, helping to maintain their positive attitude, and growing a community spirit.

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