What a difference a decade makes! 

As the writer who was fortunate enough to be assigned by editor Bob Barnett to do the very first story in Pique magazine 10 years ago, it was interesting to have another journalist revisit that article in the context of where Whistler is today. (After the gold rush, Pique Nov. 25).

The sense that I come away with after reading Cindy Filipenko’s article is that between now and 2010, Whistler’s in a bit of a tough spot. Back when I wrote that story in 1994, Whistler was coming off this remarkable "three-peat" victory in reader’s polls in Snow Country magazine, as well as a two-year consecutive ranking in SKI magazine. The ’90s were a different time for travel – Americans were more adventurous (where the hell is this Whistler place, anyway?), the exchange rate was stratospheric (one friend told me "they gave me all of this extra money at the bank, so of course I’m going to spend it!"), the kind of people made rich by the whole dot-com boom were exactly the demographic that Whistler was looking for, (how many of us have ridden the chair with Microsofties or others who "cashed out" at a pre-retirement age to buy a place at Whistler?). These events are not likely to repeat themselves again in our lifetime.

Remember, too, that Whistler had a unique story to tell back in the ’90s, when new lifts were being added on an almost yearly basis and the international press was giddy at "discovering" this new Canadian gem. Now, most skiers and snowboarders have heard that story and written their own by visiting here. Not that anyone should take it personally, but most of the skiers and snowboarders whom I know are pretty adventurous – one unforeseen problem with the higher Canadian dollar is that I’m sure it won’t take long for tour operators in, say, Toronto, to start offering attractively-priced packages to places like Vail, Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Utah. I’d bet that there’s a pent-up demand by a lot of skiers to try destination resorts in the United States simply for a different experience – in the same way the hard-core Whistler skiers might decamp to the Austrian Alps, Chamonix, or Verbier for a holiday. (Last year at Monashee Powder cat skiing, I met a Vancouver lawyer who once owned a place in Whistler but who now spends two weeks each winter skiing in St. Anton – how bizarre is that?)

Having skied at resorts in Colorado in the last three years (Telluride, Vail, and Crested Butte), I can honestly say that the value for the dedicated skier is still there in Whistler, but the key word here is "dedicated." Whistler has never sold itself on being "all things to all people" and has flourished on selling an ever-youthful vibe and image that maybe some aging baby boomers are feeling somewhat disconnected from. Skat Petersen at Red Mountain once told me that "it’s what’s under your skis that counts," and as a hard-core skier, I wanted to believe him. Now, I’m not so sure.


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