The secret recipe that is Whistler's success is difficut to define. But there is no escaping the fact that its reputation as a party town, a place to let loose and have fun, has been integral to the resort reaching it's #1 status amongst ski resorts worldwide.
It's that almost unique combination of awe-inspiring nature adventure by day and human adventure by night that fuels the resort.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm in Chamonix, St Anton, Ishgul, Jackson or Alta. Invariably the comment I always get is 'I went to Whistler and it was unbelievable. It was so much fun and rowdy as hell, " says long-time, local business owner, and Whistler council member, Jayson Faulkner. He has travelled to dozens of ski destinations all over the world and has seen how Whistler measures up.
"I would argue that if anyone thinks that Whistler has become a sleepy, corporate, boring place, just walk through the village in high season at 1:30 a.m. in the morning," he says.
Historically skiing always had a link to sex and parties.
In a recent letter to Ski Area Management magazine, John Fry, former editor of Ski and Snow Country magazines and president of the International Skiing History Association wrote, "(Ski) participation numbers in the 1950s and into the 1960s were doubling every five or six years. One might ask if it was cause or mere coincidence that this explosive growth took place when the sport was suffused with rampant sexuality.
"Resorts, for example, directed instructors to be available in the evening to entertain guests, and looked aside if they guided consensual female clients to their rooms.
"Bogner and others fashioned pants that exquisitely displayed the female (and male) buttocks. Boy meets girl was a primary motive of the ski weekend."
While this characterization has all but disappeared with the baggy outfits of today, Fry reminds us that the sport is not growing at 10 per cent a year the way it was in the '50s either.
There is no escaping that while many resorts, including Whistler, are heavily focused on attracting families, the young, fun-seeking adult has money in the bank, and offering a strong party scene with a little sex thrown in still sells.
And there is no doubt that Whistler's reputation on that front is still going strong after all these years.
Online travel magazine Matador Network, when asked to put together a book for Macmillan Publishing on places to party before you die, put Whistler firmly on its list.
Said the Matador editors: "With the right snow conditions, Whistler is all (the) time during the day, and then at night turns into a fucking hot mess of beautiful people with goggle tans and Volcom V-necks."
And who could forget the outrageous and jaw-dropping Masqueraves hosted by the Bearfoot Bistro for Whistler's annual Cornucopia festival — near-naked painted models, sushi served off the leaf-clad bellies of scantily-clad women and a human chocolate fondue.
Of course location has played a significant part in Whistler's popularity too — the proximity to a major city and airport such as Vancouver cannot be overlooked. The sheer scale of Whistler Blackcomb — which dwarfs most ski areas in North America — its consistently strong snowfall return year after year, is also critical in the resort's quest to be best. But if Whistler were only about skiers, bikers, families and tourists on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, its mountain culture would not have the cache it has today. The sometimes forgotten link to Whistler's success, that final piece of the puzzle, is its vice.
Party, party, party. That's why most young visitors are in Whistler come nightfall. Spend the day with your friends hotboxing Gondola cabins and getting face shots. Hit the patio at après hour to celebrate your turns and listen to a guitar/bongo cover band. Then go home and gear up for a night of drinking with a perhaps a splash of recreational drug use.
There are few Whistler residents who haven't dabbled in such vices in their pasts, and the flood of seasonal workers and young weekend warriors brings a fresh crop of partygoers every year.
But has it always been this way? Were the earlier Whistler years the wildest?
"In those days it was a different time and place, but in relative terms to other ski towns I don't know if it was anything more extreme, out-lawish or outlier," says Faulkner.
Many locals openly express their fond memories for Whistler "back in the day," when the fabled Boot Pub was packed to the rafters during punk shows and amateur strip nights. The mantle of Whistler's iconic bar has yet to be taken up by another establishment, though the relaxed atmosphere of Tapley's and Hoz's (now Roland's) are probably as close you'll get.
"It was packed every night, all the locals were trying to catch a glimpse of local talent," says 22-year Whistler local and former Boot Pub manager Paul McNaught, speaking of the infamous amateur stripper nights.
"It was on for everyone, not just for the guys, but the girls (too). We had up to 50 per cent girls in (the crowd) most nights. It was little more lawless back then.
"The Boot was pretty much a local's living room — always had 99-cent beers on a Monday night and dollar shooters on a Friday night. It was a place for young and old to sit down after a day of work and chill out.
"It was one of the last treasures of Whistler from where I stand. Roland's is still there, I can remember the good old days in Hoz's and the Southside Diner. But you move on and you have to go with the flow."
Whistler has indeed had a changing landscape in recent years. The desolate fall and late spring months are now loaded with a full events calendar, designed to bring in visitors on every historically "quiet" weekend. The post-Olympics era has left us with a well overdue new highway, world-class sliding and Nordic centres and enough resident housing to accommodate the latest Whistler baby boom.
But regardless of how many local ski bums shack up and begin reproducing, Whistler's wild side remains.
"If anything it's more liberal now than it's ever been," says Faulkner.
"If you were (caught) smoking a joint in 1975 you were arrested. If you walked through town with a beer in hand in 1977 when the Village was first built, you were arrested."
Consuming alcohol in public can still get you in cuffs, but with the volume of people that flow through the village Stroll on any given Saturday night, it's often easier for the RCMP to pour out the alcohol and issue fines. However, challenging an officer either verbally or physically can result in an express trip to the overnight lockup.
"Typically we take a zero tolerance to open alcohol, particularly in the village and in the parks," says Whistler RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair.
"For the most part we write a municipal fine, which is $100. Some officers elect to write the provincial fine, which is $230, I think that a lot of the time it depends on the person's attitude, behaviour and reaction."
Officers will usually try to make alternate arrangements for people who are intoxicated in public, such as calling the offender's friends to come pick them up. But if the offender repeats their intoxication, or refuses to go home, it will likely result in their arrest.
"We're trying to keep the number of prisoners low, but sometimes we just have no choice but to take someone (to jail) for their own safety," says LeClair.
The zero tolerance policy, however, is not entirely black and white.
"There's always going to be (a number) of simple pour-outs. For instance, if we have a tourist visiting from another country (like some places in Europe) where they're permitted to walk around with open liquor, if they're walking down the stroll with a glass of wine, that's different than seeing the person who has a can of beer and tries to conceal it in his jacket as soon he sees the police."
Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., on a weekend, in high season the village can resemble a zombie horde of alcoholic excess, but providing everyone is getting along it's considered safe.
Smoking a joint in plain view on the Village Stroll is not the smartest move, but most tokers will find a quiet corner more out of respect of other citizens than a fear of getting busted.
"If we don't see it, and we don't know about it, it's difficult to enforce, but it's not OK," says LeClair.
Party drugs move through the town as they do everywhere — While Whistler embraces its party reputation long-standing issues with mayhem on the May long weekend remains an issue.
"It coincides with high-school graduation and over the last few May long weekends we have attracted crowds outside of our usual visitor profile," says Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
"As a result of the last May long weekend in particular there's been recommendations made to change the focus of that weekend, spending Festivals, Events and Animation money on organizing different events that would attract the usual guests we see, and not that aberration."
The aberrations Wilhelm-Morden speaks of are large groups of young visitors — including school grads from the Lower Mainland who tend to only visit Whistler for the Victoria Day long weekend parties. Every year the RCMP answers between 100 and 150 calls over the three days, related to anything from assisting with hotel evictions, ticketing offenders for public indecency and responding to assaults. Violence inevitably happens outside the clubs — sometimes with weapons such as knives, though rarely, and bear spray.
Last year's Victoria Day long weekend had 17 calls to the police for mischievous behaviour on the Friday night alone, including four broken windows on storefronts and car windows being smashed in the day lots. The resulting uproar from the community lead to a task force being formed to combat the issue of rambunctious youth during Whistler's most notorious 72 hours every May.
For the most part the trouble lies with the youth says Joey Gibbons, owner of the five Gibbons Hospitality Group bar and club venues in Whistler.
"There were zero problems in the bars amongst the adults that were in town (that weekend).
"The problem was a (group) of grad kids. They go around and cause trouble and there's no way the police can keep up with them. Up in Whistler, in our little bubble, a couple of windows break and it's like World War III has started. (Many of the people) complaining were the ones who took off for the weekend, so they weren't even here to understand it.
"There's a lot of good adults that come up for the weekend and I don't think their experience should be hindered. We should be focusing on the problem and not trying to make it bigger than it really is."
Brainstorming has produced a new event, Go Fest — Whistler's Great Outdoors Festival, May 16 to 19.
The event will be family friendly, but with an emphasis on outdoor sport, and it will resurrect the Great Snow Earth Water Race, a team relay race, that hasn't been held in Whistler for 20 years. That race was designed to mark the end of the ski season and welcome summer.
Whistler Council has dedicated $280,000 in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds to create the long-weekend festival, which also features free concerts, The Great Green River Challenge, a disc golf tournament, an ultimate Frisbee tournament and the every popular Slush Cup.
It is hoped this type of event will attract fun-loving adults instead of out-of-control youths.
The festival is just the latest way that Whistler continues to reinvent itself to stay top of mind for those looking to enjoy a mountain escape.
And there can be little doubt that the resort's reputation for fun, parties and even excess will remain an important part of the successful equation.
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