Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A successful holiday season

By on Tue, Dec 27, 2011 at 2:19 PM

Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.
— attributed to Mark Twain


Whistler has enjoyed a good holiday season, by most accounts. Visitor numbers have been strong, the village has been alive with people, the ski school has been busy and anecdotal reports from high-end restaurants suggest some people are ready to spend money again.

And, of course, we deserve it. Whistler has worked hard in a tough economy over the last few years, improving service, dropping prices, offering innovative packages and increasing value.

But that’s the formula that any serious operator in the tourism business has adopted since 2008. What has helped set Whistler apart from other ski areas this holiday season has been something even more basic — snow.

Even for those who don’t ski or snowboard, snow helps make the holidays special. For those who view the Christmas-New Year’s period as the time for a vacation sliding on snow, ours is the only corner of North America with a relative surfeit of the stuff.

Most California ski areas reported temperatures above 40 F Tuesday. Utah ski areas were only slightly cooler. Ski areas in Colorado had about two feet of snow, on average, this week. Vail had a 19-inch base on Christmas day. Many Colorado ski areas were only operating about 70 per cent of their lifts.

In the east, temperatures remained above freezing, with ski areas in Vermont reporting between three and 18 inches of snow.

By contrast, Whistler Blackcomb has been advertising 100 per cent of terrain open, although avalanche and severe weather conditions have meant the alpine hasn’t always been accessible. But with a 158 cm base Tuesday and more snow in the forecast, Whistler Blackcomb — and by extension, all of Whistler — has been blessed.

That has been the case for almost all of the 46 winters lifts have been turning on Whistler Mountain. But it doesn’t mean it always will be so.

The planet is getting warmer and moister. Climates are changing, becoming less predictable. A tiny slice of local evidence includes the years of weather and snow statistics put forward to support Vancouver and Whistler’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

It turned out that the first two months of 2010 were the warmest January and February in Vancouver’s recorded history.

What can we do about it?

Public demand for action on climate change seemed to be reaching consensus about four years ago, but evaporated shortly after the global recession took hold. That’s not to say everyone forgot about climate change, but the economy diverted a lot of attention. The results have included climate-change deniers regaining their voice and federal governments avoiding having to take serious action. You only have to look at Canada’s shameful performance in Durban at last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference to see where our priorities lie.

South of us, climate change has become, like everything else, a political battle. As the New York Times reported Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this year tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments. However, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it — even though the idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. “But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a ‘propaganda’ arm on climate.”

Whistler faces many issues and political battles in its quest to attain economic, social and environmental sustainability. Doing whatever we can to ensure snow continues to fall in winter and the planet doesn’t get any warmer will help move us toward those goals.

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