A plan with a long road ahead 

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Of course, when everyone saw that Whistler Blackcomb was on the Resort Municipality of Whistler council meeting agenda, imaginations let loose about what the presentation was about.

And, to be honest, a waterpark was definitely discussed — after all it's been a popular idea in these pages as Whistler suffers through almost annual monsoon weeks. It used to be the idea of weatherproofing was only pertinent for a glimpse of time each winter but that is changing. While we have undoubtedly had an amazing year for snow this year, we know the rain is out there.

But Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) just-announced Renaissance plan for its operations is far more than just a waterpark. It is a multi-faceted plan to attract the next generation of skiers, boarders, mountain bikers and adventurers.

It is about bringing those who already love adventure to Whistler, and then bringing them back with their kids.

Since the late '90s Whistler Blackcomb has seen over two million visits a season (with the 2015/16 season expected to be a record-breaker). Earlier this month WB's president and CEO, Dave Brownlie, told Bloomberg News that he felt the mountains could attract up to 2.8 million visitors. It's likely that could be true in the future if the Renaissance plan gets through all the loopholes it has to with various levels of government and the local First Nations.

The development will also bring back to the table the issue of the bed cap in Whistler. WB has some bed units in store, about 475, but it will need to be granted a few hundred more to make the income-earning, real-estate portion of the plan come together.

Is it time to revisit this portion of the Official Community Plan? Many would argue it is long overdue.

Staying on top in the resort business is no easy task. In the last several months we have seen the four-season Garibaldi at Squamish Resort get its provincial environment assessment certificate in its long drawn out process, and learned that Park City owner Vail Resorts spent $50 million connecting the resort with neighbouring Canyons Resort to create the largest U.S. ski facility in time for the 2015-16 season.

All this while North America has seen participation in skiing and snowboarding change very little since the late '90s, with about 70 and 80 million visits from 1998-99 to last season's North American total of 70.7 million. Skier numbers have remained stable across Canada over the last two decades ranging between 17 and 19 million.

But while Canada's population has grown, the percentage of those regularly engaging in alpine skiing and snowboarding has declined, falling from 8.6 per cent in 2002-03 to 5.9 per cent of Canadians last season.

According to the latest available statistics (2015) Canada's largest participation group is Generation Y — the Millennials — this category of 14 to 32-year-olds has increased over the last decade from 700,000 to 845,500 annual skier visits, and that's good news, but to stay out front resorts need to cater more to the age group.

Generation X (aged 33-48), meanwhile, is second with 637,800 visits and since 2005 the number of 49- to 55-year-olds participating in the sport has declined from 500,000 skier visits to 361,840 in 2014-15, while older baby boomers have been more stable at just under 200,000 visits a year over the last decade.

What drives Millennials to the slopes has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere (see our story on page 30). But what we know for sure is that they are value conscious, they are social and want to share their plans and their experiences and that they would prefer not to try something alone.

Working to entice them to try adventure sports in a resort that has so much else to offer is good business — though we are already plagued by the traffic woes this is causing and this new plan is only likely to make that worse.

But let's as a community think deeply about Whistler Blackcomb's plan. Like all things shiny and new it is very attractive.

However, Whistler is cherished for its incredible natural surroundings — one only has to take a look at the increases year after year in those who are enjoying the local backcountry to realize that what is highly valued is the pristine nature of what is on offer.

And while there is new snow sliding development on mountain the plan does not call for any new terrain — no new slopes to carve.

Too much glitz could spoil a good thing.

WB has asked for input with the first opportunity at an open house April 11 between 5 and 8 p.m. at the Emerald Room in the Westin Resort and Spa.

Let's go and learn about the plan and play a role in keeping Whistler a No.1 resort not just in our lifetimes, but for our kids as well.



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