The Cream of the 97 Crop
Two elections, one major mountain merger, the most development in one season and a new gondola for Whistler Mountain. That was 1996. Here’s a look at some of the faces, places and newsmakers of 1997, or at least the way Velvet Jones sees it.
#1 The Tourists
We know that the snow junkies and sun worshippers will keep coming, but what we don’t really know is how many they will number. Regional skier visits dipped in 1995-96 from the previous banner year of 1994-95. This year the snow has fallen hard and fast, but the numbers on the mountains have not been overwhelming thanks to a brutal cold snap through late December. But once it warms up, look out for those lift lines. The ongoing challenge in the year ahead will be to fill a hotel room base that will have grown by 1,200 units by next winter.
According to Barrett Fisher of the WRA, many of those rooms will be filled in 1997 thanks to the Open Skies agreement that sees more American airlines flying to Vancouver.
"We will see some new Eastern and Southern markets opening up," says Fisher, "and clearly we will see some new business coming from Texas, New York and Miami."
The longer term trend for winter will be to increase awareness in the Atlanta market. Other increases have been seen from the UK market. "We anticipate 1997 will be another strong growth year," she says. "We also see some real potential from Germany, it has not grown as quickly as the UK market and yet their skier numbers are far greater as far as overall numbers."
Whistler’s reputation as a world class golf resort will continue to attract more Japanese and the Germans are eating up the hiking and biking opportunities Whistler offers. "Probably the biggest trends in growth will be from hot summer markets looking for mountain destinations and golf is going to be a big ticket item," says Fisher. Expect to see more Californians, Texans and Arizona visitors putting about.
#2 Whistler Mountain - Intrawest
The merger of Whistler Mountain Holdings Ltd., Intrawest Corporation and Copper Mountain, Inc. of Colorado under one company (named Intrawest) firmly moved the future of Whistler and its mountains into the forefront of discussion last month, and that discussion will continue into 1997 and beyond. What’s going to happen to what was, to some, the family ski hill? Will we have to rename the resort "Intraworld"? Will everybody who works on Whistler Mountain be from Australia? Will there be a loss of identity?
"First of all you have to ask yourself what forms an identity and then what is potentially lost and what is potentially enhanced," says David Perry, director of marketing for Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain’s identity has been shaped, he says, by its natural terrain, level of service and commitment to locals and families. When and where the $35 million in capital improvements announced as part of the merger will be spent has not been determined, says Perry, but the long awaited development of the Creekside will be initiated this summer in the form of infrastructure work. The actual restructuring of the mountain and transition from two separate owners to one corporate structure will be played out through the year, he adds.
"Whistler and Blackcomb have been like two teenage sons growing up in the same family, wrestling with each other and testing each other’s skills as they develop," says Perry. "We’re at a point of maturity in the resort where these teenage boys are in their 20s and it’s time for them to stand back to back and tackle the world with a little more vigor than what we’ve done up to now." Expect a "new, energized focus on the destination market," says Perry, "to keep the Whistler economy strong."
#3 Councillor Ken Melamed
After falling short in his 1993 bid for a seat on Whistler’s municipal council, long-time resident Ken Melamed realized his dream in November when he finished second among the 14 contestants vying for six councillor seats. Melamed obviously has the support of many locals, and many feel he will bring a sense of community and environmental consciousness after a string of councils that have been pro-development from the word go. Topping Melamed’s list of goals for 1997 is the entrenchment of a wetlands policy in the official community plan.
"We’re a world-class resort and we can set an example of how to do it eco-friendly," says Melamed, who favours a council that is willing to listen to new ideas and prepared to act on them. "It was disappointing to be at the town hall meeting and have a list of goals read out from last year and see that none of them had been achieved," he says. "The people have been talking to staff and council but they haven’t been listening on the other end."
#4 Counsellors and Social Workers
Mary Ann Rolfe lasted almost five years in Whistler as a counsellor. She has since moved on. Last year she told Pique: "People up here are really living for ‘the dream.’ Mental health is probably one of the consequences of that dream." All indications are psychotherapy and counselling will be growth industries in this more-stressful-than-you-would-think community.
#5 Garfinkel’s, High Country Brew Pub, The Rogue Wolf and Norbert’s
About 1,000 new bar stools and seats will arrive in the first months of this year, and that should cause a significant wave in the nightlife pool. Last week The Rogue Wolf nightclub, in the old Pete’s Underground location, entered the fray. The High Country Brew Pub is next to appear, in February. The monster of all bars, the new 350-seat Garfinkel’s, will open this year in the Mont Blanc complex. Is this cause for worry?
"People assume that more clubs equals more entertainment," says Dale Schweighardt, general manager of Buffalo Bill’s. "More clubs are actually going to equal less of the big entertainment because it is harder to support big entertainment when you get a smaller piece of the pie to support it with. I think the pie is getting too thin."
Schweighardt says it will take three years before the resort "evens itself out again," and that will only occur if development is controlled by the municipality. He fears that if too many liquor establishments open it may lead to the proliferation of less widely acceptable entertainment, such as table or lap dancing. "If you have a liquor license that’s hungry enough, that’s the kind of thing they will bring in if they think it will sell," he says. "It’s a sad part of over-licensing."
#6 Affordable Housing – tie with Pemberton
For the first two or three months of 1997 affordable housing will take a backseat to Whistler Mountain on the list of top news stories and "big issues." But it will rear its ugly head again, probably about September. One just wonders if the community will have to wait yet another year before anything is ever done about Whistler’s most sensitive issue and ongoing program, and whether the absence of Max Kirkpatrick will make a difference. Former muni bean counter Drew Stotesbury is the new president of the Whistler Valley Housing Society; the society is seeking a meeting with council so it can establish exactly what its role is supposed to be.
#7 Whistler Networks/Whistler Life
Cyberstore Systems Inc.’s purchase of Whistler Networks and Scott and Wendy Wurtele’s foray into the thriving brave new world of the Web with Whistler Life is a definite indication that the resort is technically wired. Travellers can now access weather projections well in advance and easily key in a cancellation or a reservation from their home. Whistler Life has some growing pains to overcome, but what it has over other websites and publications is its market is international, rather than local, and puts a totally different spin on the old "reach out and touch someone" adage.
"Four years ago the average net user was more of the ‘geek’ or college student," says Wurtele, co-owner of Whistler Life (whistlerlife.com) with wife Wendy. "Now the average user is more wealthy and more sophisticated, therefore the average person looking at the site is more likely to be travelling to Whistler." The greatest success Whistler Life has experienced has come through its accommodation listings, accessible by computer from almost every corner of the world.
#8 The Student Body of Whistler Secondary
Can’t forget our youths. Their classrooms may be too small, their textbooks arrived behind schedule, they already have two portables and there are a whole lot of new faces from the Lower Mainland, but that won’t hold back Whistler Secondary’s graduating class of 1997, the first secondary school graduating class in the community’s history. Continued focus on what happens at the school board level in 1997, currently engaged in battle with a province that has adopted the Ralph Klein slash-and-burn approach to education and bureaucratic-like boards.
#9 Sally Carmichael and Damien Skelton, mountain bikers
Twenty-nine year old Sally Carmichael will continue her progression up the competitive mountain biking ranks in 1997 when she competes in the elite category, a big step up from her 1996 expert ranking. This year the winner of the Squamish Test of Metal is shooting for the top five in the B.C. Cup and Canada Cup series. Damien Skelton is another hardcore competitor to watch, as she prepares to set the mountain biking circuit on its ear. Others to watch include Eric Heintzman, Alice McDonald and Sylvie Allen.
#10 Jim Godfrey and the municipal hall cast of many
A new mayor and council (Hugh O’Reilly, etc.), new administrator (Jim Godfrey), relatively new finance director (Ken Derpak), new police chief (TBA), new fire chief (TBA) and a possible restructuring of the bylaw department. That’s an awful lot of change at the top, and should provide for an interesting year to come at Whistler’s most interesting and ongoing soap opera. Administrator Jim Godfrey will have his hands full in the coming year, but he won’t get mired down with muni hall’s disordered past.
"I’m not one who dwells on the past, I’m not one who focuses on problems, per se," says Godfrey. Specifically, he cites the management of Whistler’s growth and sustainability as the key challenges that lie ahead. Godfrey, who will be 47 this month, has 24 years of municipal administrative experience, including stints in North Vancouver, Sparwood, Maple Ridge and Langley. Projection: Happy days are here again…
Boom, boom, boom goes the beat of the Whistler retail industry. Or does it? In the 1980s it was felt that opening any form of business in the village was a license to print money. Of course that was long before the village grew beyond its britches to incorporate such new shopping centres as the Whistler Town Plaza, Marketplace, Market Pavilion and Whistler Village Centre. The question that arises for 1997 is whether there will be enough shoppers to support the new supply of retail inventory, restaurants and coffee shops.
"The pie has only grown marginally as far as visitors and permanent population go, whereas the commercial space has grown exponentially," says David Campbell, owner of Keir Fine Jewellery, one business that has secured a local following. "I think the existing businesses that have a solid local trade will be fine. I think that the people who depend solely on the visitors will feel it."
#12 The Whistler Realtor
The Whistler Realtor will be grittier than ever in 1997. Most major projects are nearing completion, many units have been spoken for and all fingers point to attrition in the real estate field.
Not so, according to one of Whistler’s first realtors and former mayor, Drew Meredith: "There is still a whole whack of new product still to come out of the gate... and then we will be in the resale market. The same 10 per cent of the (realtors) will make 90 per cent of the money. My theory is we will have twice as many (realtors) in 10 years, not necessarily because of income but because of lifestyle." When Meredith first entered the market there were three sellers; today, that figure stands somewhere around 90-plus.
#13 Karen Thirlwall and the Whistler musicians
Whistler Question scribe and one-time crooner Paul Burrows laid the first vocal tracks for hopeful home-grown performers in the 1970s on Whistler Mountain. Now we have the likes of local musicians Karen Thirlwall and Chad Oliver mixing up live tracks everywhere from La Brasserie Des Artistes and Brandy’s to the Boot and Cinnamon Bear Bar. Credit for this local musical renaissance must go to groundbreakers Peter and Stephen Vogler (Route 99, Hounds of Buskerville), Cam Salay (formerly with Route 99, now Paperboys), Guitar Doug Craig, Mike Vollmer, and Rich Hope. The latest wave includes Melanie Dekker, Bruce Coughlan and Raven (Leanne Lamoureux).
#14 The promoters
Right behind the musicians are the promoters, a cast seemingly large enough to fill any room themselves. This multi-faceted and talented ensemble, which includes the likes of Larry Laporte, Rick Flebbe, David Branigan, Kristen Robinson, the WRA’s Dana Samu and Maureen Douglas, and Ann-Shirley Goodell and the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, was largely responsible for organizing Whistler’s 1996 musical kaleidoscope. Some shows were big (Whistler Summit), others were not (old-time rock and roll). Such is the world of event programming. 1997 should be just as exciting as its predecessor, if not more streamlined.
#15 Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden
It has been six years since lawyer, mother and wife Nancy Wilhelm-Morden sat on Whistler’s local council, and apparently she was missed. Wilhelm-Morden scored the most votes of any candidate in November’s election, and had many supporters suggesting that her name should have been on the mayoralty slate. Excited about her return, Wilhelm-Morden says one of her priorities for 1997 will be to address the way decisions are made at muni hall. "We have to be more accountable, we have to be more open," she says. Wilhelm-Morden would also like to review the "internal issues" that have kept muni hall staff on the edge for so many years.
#16 Ken Beatty and Brian Kerr, grocery store gurus
Ten years ago Nesters Market opened at its present location just north of the village on Highway 99. It was the first and only full-service grocery store and has managed to maintain its hometown character and service despite the retail chaining of Whistler hastened by the arrival of IGA in 1993. Not to be outdone by its competitors, Beatty, Kerr and partners added the Alpine Meadows Market to their list of properties — which includes the Pemberton Petro Can — opened a pharmacy in Nesters and, in 1997, they will open a convenience store in Function Junction.
#17 Sue Adams
One of Whistler’s most respected entrepreneurs, Sue Adams was nominated in 1996 for Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, in the lifetime achievement category. Adams is co-owner of the Grocery Store, the Upper Village Market, Market Catering, and the Amorous Oyster in Vancouver, all with her husband Bob. In her spare time (!) she spearheaded the founding of the Whistler chapter of the Western Business Women’s Association.
#18 Ed Pitoniak
As Staff Vice President of Idea and Product Acceleration, reporting to Hugh Smythe in Intrawest’s Resort Operations Group, Ed Pitoniak has the longest title of anyone in town. What that title means, in part, is that he’s in charge of ensuring the energy and culture that brought many people to Whistler and to skiing in the first place is maintained — within the Intrawest corporate culture.
At last spring’s World Ski and Snowboard Festival he spoke about the passion that is the heart of skiing, saying "The ’90s can be a revival for mountain sports." This past fall he suggested Whistler was "now entering a critical point in its evolution. We’ve got to make sure younger people always have a role in the community. We have to make sure that creative passion stays here... Emotion is the fundamental fuel of this business."
Couldn’t this guy have been elected on a write-in ballot?
#19 Greys on trays
Several years ago a group of Tapley’s Farm moms decided to get together for a day of snowboarding lessons. The corresponding Tapley’s Farm dads did the same a couple of weeks later. Some have never gone back to skis.
It may not be a movement just yet, but just as surely as men wearing pony tails and young people piercing various parts of their anatomy have become commonplace, snowboarding is becoming mainstream. That means growing numbers of people over 30 on mono planks.
This winter’s WRA vacation planning guide had four photos with snowboarders, up from one last winter. Boarders may not yet be the destination market the resort association is targetting, but the assumption that all families or groups coming to Whistler for a winter vacation will be skiers is outdated.
#20 Sonja McCarthy
Tireless, selfless and benevolent Sonja McCarthy can be seen scurrying around at just about every community fund-raising event imaginable, and occasionally mixing it up with politicians for the betterment of her town.
"One of my biggest issues for 1997 is that the municipal council recognize community facilities as the number one priority, especially for youth," says McCarthy, the new secretary of AWARE.
#21 Dick Gibbons
He’s the chair of the W5 Foundation, which organizes the World Cup ski races, he started the Podium Club which supports the national junior alpine ski team, he owns two of the most popular bars in town (Longhorn Saloon and Buffalo Bill’s), he’s chairman of the Whistler Parent Advisory Council and he is one of the most visible movers and shakers in town. 1996 was a big year for Dick Gibbons, and ’97 could be just as eventful for the man who has everything. Just go easy on praying for snow, Mr. Gibbons.
#22 Ted Nebbeling
The former grand poohbah of Whistler moved on to the big house in Victoria in 1996 to stake his claim among the top guns. In 1997 watch Nebbeling do his best to raise his profile as forestry critic in the legislature, while waiting patiently for the opportunity to linch the forever flip-flopping NDP monarchy, which has made significant and controversial changes to what is still B.C.’s number one industry. 1997 may not be his biggest year to date but it will be one step closer to the day he makes a vie for the Liberal leadership and eventually the B.C. premiership. Of course, this is just a long-term projection.
#23 Artists Hugh Kearney and Vincent "Binty" Massey
Picture this: It’s 1999 and all eyes are on Whistler for the opening of the Insert-Corporate-Sponsor’s-Name-Here Whistler Resort Amphitheatre and Cultural Centre. Investor Garth Drabinsky will cut the ribbon and Canadian baritone Ben Hepner will perform for 1,500 guests at the black-tie affair. In the adjacent art gallery, the work of local artists Hugh Kearney, Vincent Massey and Christina Nick is featured. Sound like a dream? Call it a vision. Culture is knocking on our door and we had better answer it in 1997.
#24 John Grills and Roland Pfaff, restaurateurs (tie)
In 1996 restaurateur John Grills was hailed as Whistler’s Business Person of the Year. Not bad for a former dishwasher turned three-time restaurant owner. Meanwhile Roland Pfaff of Val d’Isere took a three-week sabbatical to travel to China where he treated Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s Team Canada trade delegation to his culinary craft. Grills and Pfaff, along with La Rúa/Caramba! Restaurante emperor Mario Enero, have taken Whistler cuisine to new heights.
The foundation of a growing community comes from its spiritualism, and often that spiritualism evolves from the religious denominations, i.e. Catholicism, Christianity, etc. Whistler is long overdue for its own religious and spiritual re-awakening, and the arrival of Minister Tim Unruh to the Whistler Community Church is a sign that the heavens are about to transcend the valley.