Lessons from Canmore


In the 11 months before I began inflicting my opinion on Whistler the people of Canmore, Alberta endured my split infinitives and dangling participles. I lived in Canmore from the spring of 1988 to the spring of 1989. I didn’t live there before the 1988 Olympics and I wasn’t there during the Olympics. I only knew the town after the Olympics.

The differences between Canmore after the 1988 Winter Olympics and Whistler following the 2010 Games will be significant. Canmore was always a poor sibling to nearby Banff. Its roots are in coal mining and in 1988 Canmore was just starting to become a weekend retreat for Calgary second-home owners who couldn’t figure out a way around Banff’s “reason to reside” rule. The boom that saw Canmore expand exponentially in the 1990s hadn’t quite begun in 1988-89.

How much of that accelerated growth in the 1990s was due to Canmore being an Olympic venue is hard to say. The only events Canmore hosted during the 1988 Winter Olympics were the cross-country skiing and biathlon. The Canmore Nordic Centre, which was a hub of activity every weekend, winter and summer, following the Games, was the only tangible evidence in 1988-89 that the Olympics had ever been to Canmore.

And maybe that’s exactly how Canmore wanted it. There didn’t seem to be any plans to use the Games to boost arts and culture. There wasn’t a whole lot of new infrastructure built. People didn’t talk much about the Olympics. And in 1988-89 the town was just starting to think about marketing itself as a tourist destination, next to Banff, not far from the new Nakiska ski area in Kananaskis Park and with an Olympic Nordic centre nearby.

The Olympics were perhaps a less powerful brand 20 years ago than they are today, which may explain why, in the spring of 1988, there weren’t more legacies from Canmore hosting the Games. Canmore was the Nordic venue and its legacy was the Nordic centre, a series of trails in the woods. That series of trails has become the centre of mountain biking in Alberta and helped make Canadian cross-country skiers some of the best in the world. But could the 1988 Games have been leveraged to provide even more?

As noted above, the differences between Canmore in 1988 and Whistler today are significant. The 1988 Olympics came to Canmore before the town was discovered by developers and second-home owners; before it really developed its own economy.

Whistler, on the other hand, is pretty well established as a resort. We are probably not as well known internationally as we think we are, and the 2010 Games will help with that, but there’s little doubt about the business we’re in. Where the Games can be a catalyst is in broadening Whistler’s scope as a resort community.

The emphasis on arts and culture, in Whistler and throughout the corridor, is perhaps the most obvious example. The money and support that is being made available to the arts leading up to 2010 is unprecedented. What we have to show for it after 2010, when government and outside corporate interest will wane, will be the test.

Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb, the primary marketers of Whistler, have been working on strategies that will use the 2010 Games as a marketing tool well beyond 2010. First Nations in the corridor also have a plan that includes the 2010 Games, Whistler and the period beyond 2010.

These groups have taken strategic approaches to how the Olympics may be leveraged. What about the rest of us? There will be new housing and new sporting venues which should bring their own benefits, but we haven’t done much analysis of what else the Games may bring, what we would like from them and if there are some additional, less tangible legacies we could secure.

It might start by looking at 2010 not as “the Olympics” or “the world” coming to Whistler but rather, all the Nordic events, sliding events and alpine skiing events coming to Whistler. And, importantly, all the medals presentations for those events will be held in Whistler.

So who will come to see these events? Scandinavians will certainly be paying attention to the Nordic events. The central European powers — Germany, Austria, Switzerland — will be interested in all the events in Whistler. The Japanese and possibly the Koreans will take an interest. And of course the Americans will be here. Brits and Aussies will also be present, although they may be splitting their time between Whistler and Cypress, where the freestyle and snowboarding will be held. And plenty of Canadians.

The point is, it’s not “the world” that will be coming to Whistler in 2010. It’s a smaller group that will actually be here. And so what connections can we make? What will those people bring and what will they take away from Whistler?

If we don’t think about it before 2010 we will have less to show from hosting the Games after 2010.


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