Alta States 

Shifting the paradigm

"The single biggest challenge for Whistlerites," says veteran resort professional Lorne Borgal, "is accepting that the time has come to make fundamental changes." Whistler is at a place in its development, he explains, where it can be proactive and change now – or sit back and let change happen later. "But changing later will bring much higher costs," he adds. And Whistlerites will have much less control over how their community manages those changes if they wait too long.

"I’m not talking about a lipstick change here," he continues. "I’m talking about a total re-examination of the way people do business at Whistler."

Times of change are always the most difficult to deal with. No question. But sitting back and believing your own press is a sure formula for failure.

"Now is the time to take risks," says Borgal. "Don’t be afraid. Don’t be complacent. The question has to be: ‘How do we do this better?’ Forget the media cheerleading. Get down to the task of re-inventing the business!"

What’s most important, according to Borgal, is to realize that tourism is no different than any other industry. It too suffers economic cycles of highs and lows. "The reality here is that the majority of people who live at Whistler today don’t know what it means to live through really tough times. They’ve lived the big highs. They’ve only known the good times. They’ve forgotten about the first hotel entrepreneurs who all went bankrupt here in the early 1980s. They don’t know what it means to fail…"

So kill the sacred cows, he says. Shift the paradigm. "So many people in Whistler are influenced by the talk of being ‘the number one resort in the world’. Whistler is a great place on a good day. But there is some pretty stiff competition out there…"

A Vancouver boy – "I did my undergraduate degree at UBC before going south to Stanford’s School of Business" – Lorne Borgal was hired by Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises in 1980 to wrestle down some of the fledging resort’s business issues. "It was an incredibly exciting time," he says of those early years. "But it was also challenging beyond belief. We were definitely on the edge of the world. Remember – in those years, Whistler hadn’t yet appeared on B.C. roadmaps. As for signage from Vancouver, it was nonexistent…"

He laughs. "The infrastructure at Whistler was pretty basic too. I mean, we worked out of construction trailers until December of 1980!"

Borgal worked at Blackcomb for three years before moving next door to Whistler Mountain to assume the mantle of president and CEO (where he remained from 1983 to 1989). "I succeeded Franz Wilhelmsen," he says. "And that was quite a transition. After all, he was the only boss that mountain had known since its launch back in 1966."

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