Oh, f#@k, not again!
The first time I visited Vail, compliments of a magazine assignment, my overwhelming impression was the cliché, "lipstick on a pig." Admittedly the resort was a much better improvement to the six lanes of high-speed traffic that made up its northern border — that border being I-70 — than the usual Interstate clusters of ampm gas stations, fast food chains and revolting rest areas, but visually, Vail was as unappealing as anything built butt-up against an Interstate.
It seemed to spread — sprawl being a more apt word — along the freeway from its day-skier parking at the east end to some outlying condo development several kilometres hence on its western frontier. In between were several intense commercial areas, none of which could truly be called a town centre for there is, truth be told, no town and no centre. Vail's a high-end strip mall.
Once up the first chairs and over the ridge the next morning, out of both sight and sound of the Interstate, the skiing was lovely and vast though puzzling. I'd been stoked poring over the piste map the evening before — so much terrain and so much of it marked with black diamonds. Thoughts of Vail's unloveliness vanished during the night's dreams of unlimited powder, snow having been falling throughout the day I arrived.
But when I got there, there was no there there. "Where's all the black diamonds?" I asked my guide. Turns out they were the figment of some lawyer's liability-avoidance imagination.
"Vail rates anything that's not groomed a black diamond," was the sheepish answer.
Slopes no more challenging than the newly recontoured Upper Whiskey Jack were black diamonds if untouched by the manicuring magic of groomers.
Later that evening I strolled one of the centres of shops and restaurants, surrounded by happy skiers from all over the world. I dined in a nice restaurant, chatted with a few bartenders and servers and wondered where the locals were.
"Locals?" As one bartender exclaimed with some surprise, the only locals were the ones slinging drinks, serving food and ringing up sales. "There are no locals. There are commuters."
In the 1990s Whistler council roadtripped to Colorado. The goal of their mission was to see how Colorado's most prestigious resorts operated. The purpose was to avoid making the same mistakes. The result was an ambitious goal of housing 75 per cent of resort workers within the RMOW's boundary. We currently house around 80 per cent and, up until this week, have been overtly and un-Canadianly proud of it.
But we have seen the enemy and it's about to buy us, lock, stock and future.
After being wooed a time or two, Vail Resorts has finally made Whistler Blackcomb an offer it can't — or more accurately, won't — refuse. The Borg is about to be swallowed by an ever bigger Borg. Resistance is futile... or is it?
The press release I found in my email inbox Monday morning said it all in the first sentence. "Vail Resorts is committed to the growth, expansion and development of the Whistler Blackcomb experience and the continued investment in the community." (Italics theirs; period mine.)
There you have it, boys and girls. Growth, expansion, development. More, more, more. Whatever illusions we might have nursed all these decades about limits to growth have just been sold down the river.
Greed. This sellout has nothing to do with need and everything to do with greed. OK, it also has to do with the depressed Canadian peso, globalization, and corporate ethos that pays homage to nothing so much as executive glory and compensation.
For shareholders of Whistler Blackcomb, it's an offer you can't refuse... which sounds a lot like, oh, never mind. Receiving $36 per share for a $25 dollar stock is a windfall few will be able to resist, certainly not KSL Capital Partners, WB's largest shareholder, which has already pledged its shares to support this deal.
Problem is — at least if you live here and believe there are tangible limits to growth based on the carrying capacity of this valley — there's no reason to believe KSL gives a rat's ass about the town of Whistler or its liveability. The same can be said for Vail Resorts and I'm beginning to suspect the same can be said for Whistler Blackcomb. Greed is good. More is better. Slavery is freedom. Ignorance is strength.
Perhaps instead of travelling to Colorado, Whistler's councils should have been travelling to Switzerland. Maybe they would have gleaned some insight into how successful resort towns manage to thrive once the days of growth have passed.
Instead, we have a council which fawned all over the announcement of WB's Renaissance project, notwithstanding a couple of council members who have privately expressed concern over the implications of the growth projected. We have a council that seems to believe tinkering with traffic lights and offering a few free Saturdays on busses will make a dent in our ugly traffic problems. And, of course, we have a council that has expressed not a single public reservation about the number of new bed units WB needs to build its amusement park.
So the future lies before us. If you believe our only salvation lies in more growth, more expansion and more development, this is a deal you can support. If you believe that trinity paves the road to ruin... well, really, what can a poor boy do.
For starters, raise holy hell with our current council members. No bed units; no Renaissance. This town booted an entire council out over paid parking, a minor annoyance by comparison.
Write Jordan Sturdy, our MLA, and let him know what you think of this vision of Whistler's future. There's not a lot the provincial government can do about this, particularly with Premier Christy Clark's penchant for selling out for any gain, regardless of how damaging it might be, but apparently the BC Supreme Court has something to say in the approval process.
Write Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, our MP. The feds have to green-light this deal per the Investment Canada Act and Competition Act. Other ski resorts in B.C. already feel the might of WB; imagine how much more muscle they can flex as a puppet, er, subsidiary of Vail.
Finally, bear in mind this is one person's opinion. Make up your own mind. If you like a future of growth, development and gridlock, give'er. If this deal leaves the taste of vomit in your mouth, I feel your pain. Do whatever you can to derail it and remember, no matter what anyone says about how good this deal is for the community, follow the money. This deal is only good for a few people and it appears none of them give a damn about what it does to the town.
After decades of being told we don't want to become Aspen or Vail... surprise!
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