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Think on this for a second: it makes the backcountry a marketable aspect of the Whistler experience, but it also responsibly addresses the needs of a growing public turning to adventure beyond the resort ropes.
"It's a natural progression for what our clients are looking for and what we've always wanted to offer," says Smart, who thought up Extremely Canadian during a fateful daydream on a staff-housing couch. "Whistler Blackcomb has world-renowned terrain both in and out of the boundary, and there's no reason our clients shouldn't be able to experience that," he adds.
"We'll start to gain more recognition for (backcountry) skiing around here," says Smart. He points out Chamonix, France, where the number of mountain guides rivals the number of instructors; compare this to Whistler, where the number of guides could fit into a few ratty Hagglund snowcats whereas the instructors would pack out the Conference Centre. "Look at our skiable terrain — it's not that bad," grins Peter. "In comparison [to the Alps], it's pretty damn good in my opinion, and we have a hell of a lot more snow. And a lot more stable snowpack. So why shouldn't we trying to exploit that market as a resort?"
Smart adds that there are thousands of people worldwide who travel yearly for backcountry skiing; by attracting them to Whistler there is the potential for spin-off business, including more interest in ski guiding throughout the region. As Peter says, "Why shouldn't we be recognized as a destination (for backcountry skiing)?"
Dave Brownlie, CEO and president of Whistler Blackcomb, says that backcountry users are "a growing part of the market, an important part of the market, and ultimately Whistler Blackcomb is positioned to be a leader in that market." We're chatting high up on the balcony of 7th Heaven's Horstman Hut, soaking in the sun; Brownlie has already demonstrated his own skills in the steeps by slicing-and-dicing down the soft steep bumps of the Bite in Blackcomb's Jersey Cream zone, my own bouncing body and camera pack in tow.
The numbers speak. Mountain Equipment Co-op reported a 40 per cent increase in backcountry equipment at the start of the 2012/13 season; U.S. online retailer Backcountry.com clocked in with 43 per cent. sales of avalanche safety equipment are on the rise, particularly inflatable airbags designed to keep a skier's head above the deadly rough and tumble of a suffocating slide. With a range of sturdy backcountry gear on the market designed to perform inbounds and out, skiers are turning to the backcountry for solitude, adventure, exercise, and powder — much like the freeheel pioneers of modern skiing back in the first decades of the 20th century.
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