"Everything is connected."
-Zeno, Greek philosopher
It made sense at the time. Back in the 1970s, B.C. was still on the edge of the world. Ski resorts in the province were mostly mom-&-pop enterprises that catered principally to local snow-eaters. The presumption that one could attract foreign visitors to these shores was still considered an exotic idea.
Enter the Commercial Alpine Ski Policy. Developed in large part by Whistler's own Al Raine, B.C.'s groundbreaking CASP was a work of genius. The concept was simple - in return for building lifts up the mountain, prospective ski resort developers would be compensated by the government with "free" Crown land that they could dispose of in any way they wished. In other words, the more people you got up the mountain, the more land you were given in the valley.
It was a deal made in snow-eater heaven. Or it looked that way at first. I mean, how could you not like the lifts-for-land concept if you were a keen skier? All it meant was more access to the mountain in exchange for valley development later.
But who was counting?
Things worked more or less as they should until about 1986. It took Joe Houssian and his Intrawest brethren to pick the pockets of the CASP concept. An astute businessman, the Vancouver-based developer figured it out right away. And his timing was impeccable. Exploiting the alpine policy in those years was like shooting fish in a barrel.
But the government wasn't complaining. After all, the churning stream of tax money coming from Whistler was a new source of revenue that the shekel-counters in Victoria had never even contemplated. So they just closed their eyes and let the flow go.
The result? Suddenly B.C. was the new kid on the destination skiing block. And everyone wanted to be the next Houssian. From Fernie to Golden, from Sun Peaks to Revelstoke, old resorts were refurbished and new ones were built from scratch. Overnight, the B.C. government decided it was in the destination tourism business. Didn't matter whether your "resort" was comprised of a McDonald's on one corner and a White Spot restaurant on the other, it was all good. Logging was dead. Fishing was dying fast. B.C. was going to get rich off tourism.
But all was not golden in ski resort land. Facing stagnant numbers, a horrifyingly low success rate with beginners, an iffy economy and an increasingly nervous international clientele, B.C.'s ambitious resort plans of the 1990s soon hit the proverbial wall.
Consider Whistler. With too many empty beds, too many struggling hotels and a business community desperate to find innovative ways to keep the money flow going, the province's diamond in the crown is struggling mightily to reinvent itself for the new century.
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