By Braden Dupuis
W hat a difference 12 months can make.
As 2021 drew to a close, Whistler and the wider world around it were in the midst of a furious Omicron surge, with COVID-19 restrictions re-emerging and no real end to the pandemic in sight.
Where do we sit a year later?
The virus is still out there, of course, we’re just no longer assigning it the gravity we did in 2020 and 2021. Some are relieved about that. Others are not. Let’s leave it at that, for now.
In fact, the headlines that dominated 2022 in Whistler were almost completely bereft of the COVID factor—a welcome shift after two years in which every word was seemingly penned in part by the pandemic.
It was a year of big-picture discussions, of local drama—of triumph, tragedy and tradition.
Read on to relive the stories that defined Whistler and Pemberton in 2022.
According to Pique readers, there were two stories that dominated Whistler’s attention more than any other in 2022: the brazen, broad-daylight double homicide in Whistler Village on July 24, and the transit strike that kept local buses off the road for more than four months.
But aside from those big, attention-grabbing headlines, the year was once again characterized by big questions around growth management.
Namely, how will Whistler deal with potential “unconstrained growth?”
A report to council in December 2021 detailed the possible growth implications if Whistler does not act, and the topic carried on through much of 2022.
Through its Balance Model Initiative, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) hopes to guide the resort to its preferred future (whatever stakeholders ultimately deem that to be). A final report complete with recommendations for action is expected in 2023.
And it won’t come a minute too soon: populations in Whistler, Pemberton and the Sea to Sky are all on the rise, and user numbers on the popular River of Golden Dreams have doubled since 2015, we learned last year—so the pressure is very real.
Adding to the strain is the perennial lack of housing, more pronounced now than ever before.
A provincially mandated housing needs report completed in the spring found that more than 90 per cent of Whistlerites can’t afford the average market property.
“We need to build a lot of housing, but we need to also understand the community effects of building more housing, and using the housing we have to its maximum efficiency is very important,” said Councillor Jen Ford, at a council meeting in July.
“So I think that whatever creative solutions come, everything is on the table as far as how we can be efficient in using not only the employee housing that we have in town but all of the housing.”
AT MUNICIPAL HALL
It was another busy year for council and RMOW staff, with some big projects advanced and progress made on several fronts—even if plenty of work remains for 2023 and beyond.
On the housing front, work on Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2 again took precedent, with 100 new for-purchase apartments in two buildings delivered (and with more in the early planning stages for the new year).
Council also approved new developments in White Gold, Nordic and at Nita Lake—all of which proved controversial with nearby residents—as well as a new 200-bed staff housing building at the base of Blackcomb Mountain.
More employee housing is also included in proposals for the Northlands rezoning north of Whistler Village—another big item on the workplan in 2022 that will carry over to 2023.
The “enhanced rezoning” process in place for the project will determine what gets built on the last undeveloped piece of land in the village.
Council’s most favourable decision of 2022, according to Pique readers, was throwing its support behind the Indigenous-led bid for the 2030 Olympic Games—which ultimately fizzled out when the province announced it would not support the $4-billion effort.
Other council initiatives undertaken in 2022 included (but were not limited to): an update to the municipal Green Building Policy; a new Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan; cancelling the divisive White Gold utilities undergrounding project; and advancing a cannabis retail policy at long last.
In June, documents obtained under a freedom-of-information request revealed the RMOW spent $28,000 suing Pique Newsmagazine over its 2021 coverage of a ransomware attack that crippled services at municipal hall and jeopardized the personal information of thousands.
“It was an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable decision to make,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton of the decision to sue. “Ultimately the protection of staff’s personal and private information guided the decision at the time. It was an expense we felt we had to incur.”
In late November, Whistler’s newly elected council floated its first budget—featuring an 8.3-per-cent tax hike (the largest in recent memory).
TO THE POLLS
In October, after a largely uneventful election campaign, Whistlerites opted for experience, re-electing all five incumbents to council.
As such, Mayor Jack Crompton is joined by Councillors Cathy Jewett, Arthur De Jong, Jen Ford and Ralph Forsyth, along with newcomers Jessie Morden and Jeff Murl, for the 2022-2026 term.
“I’m so excited to get to work with these people,” Crompton said shortly after the results were announced on election night. “I think the final vote tally really demonstrates the community’s confidence in these six people. They are thoughtful, hardworking and extremely connected to the community.”
Voter turnout on an unseasonably warm Saturday was 34.98 per cent, up from 32 per cent in 2018 and 27 per cent in 2014, but still below Whistler’s record high of 55 per cent in the resort’s landmark 2011 election, still the only time Whistlerites cleaned slate with an entirely new mayor and council.
By Brandon Barrett
A hotbed of crime, Whistler is not.
Most weeks, the police blotter is full of the kinds of relatively minor offences you might expect in a tourism town: high-end bike thefts, Craigslist housing scams, impaired driving, maybe the odd drunken fistfight.
So when a crime happens here that goes against the grain, it tends to stand out. That’s exactly what happened on a bright and sunny Sunday this past July, when a gangland shooting in the middle of the village left two dead and effectively pierced the Whistler bubble that has for so long protected the resort from this kind of organized violence.
By now, you’ve probably heard the details: on July 24, two Surrey gunmen opened fire outside the Sundial Hotel in what investigators called a targeted hit, killing Meninder Dhaliwal, a prominent member of the Lower Mainland-based Brothers Keepers gang, and a friend, Satindera Gill, who is not linked to the group.
Facing first-degree murder charges are 24-year-old Gursimran Sahota, and 20-year-old Tanvir Khakh.
It was another in a string of gangland shootings that rocked the Lower Mainland in 2022, and was reportedly a retaliation for the May 2021 killing of Karman Grewal, a member of the rival United Nations gang who was shot dead outside of the Vancouver International Airport’s departures terminal that Mother’s Day. Grewal’s murder—which remains unsolved—happened less than a month after Dhaliwal’s older brother Harb was slain outside of a Coal Harbour restaurant in what appeared to be a targeted hit.
Even by the standards of the B.C. gang wars that have escalated since the Brothers Keepers entered the fray some five years ago, the July shooting was incredibly brazen, coming as it did on a busy weekend in a village crammed with visitors, just steps from the gondola. It’s proof of both how fraught B.C.’s gang situation has become in recent years, and just how well insulated Whistler tends to be from the forms of violent crime more common in urban areas.
What is less certain, however, is what lingering residue such wanton violence will have on the eyewitnesses and bystanders who were on the scene of the killing and whose idyllic Whistler Sunday was shattered in an instant.
It is, if nothing else, a stark reminder that as much as we might view Whistler as an escapist’s haven, a place to forget the ills of the outside world, the world will sometimes find a way in, for better or worse.
More than $12K raised for stolen Nordic equipment
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Sea to Sky last year, however.
After the Spud Valley Nordic Association (SVNA) had its equipment trailer stolen containing thousands of dollars of gear, the community of Pemberton banded together to help the club replace the stolen items.
In just a few short weeks since the theft at the Nairn Falls campground parking lot, Pembertonians raised more than $12,000 to go towards new gear. While most of the donations came from an online fundraiser, there were also scores of small, anonymous donations from community members to go along with several big-ticket donations, like $2,000 from the Pemberton Valley Supermarket and another $1,000 from the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce.
Others found different ways to give back, like Marty and Andrea van Loon, who raised $750 by opening their Pemberton Valley Farms property to cross-country skiers for a minimum $5 donation to the club.
“It’s just unbelievable the support we’ve had,” said SVNA chairperson Franz Los at the time. “There’s so many anonymous donations. So I don’t know who they are, but they probably would have some connection to the club some way. So it is just incredibly, incredibly generous.”
Local man files civil suit alleging excessive force after wrist broken in arrest
A local man filed a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court this spring, alleging Whistler RCMP officers used excessive force and were negligent in his arrest the prior summer, which led to a broken wrist and other injuries.
According to the May 9 filing, the individual had an interaction with Whistler RCMP members on or about Aug. 25, 2021 after police responded to a 911 call alleging a man had uttered threats to a woman during a domestic incident.
The man claimed officers’ conduct during the arrest was “excessive” and constituted “assault and battery,” with police “aggressively taking hold” of him; “body checking” him into a vehicle; “forcefully” taking him to the ground and putting their weight on his back and legs; stepping on his wrist(s); striking him; and “aggressively” pulling his arms behind his back.
The suit came five months after the Independent Investigation of B.C., the province’s civilian police watchdog, released the results of its own investigation into the arrest, which ultimately cleared officers of wrongdoing.
In his report, the IIO’s chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald noted that the suspect “became non-compliant when he was told he was being detained because of the [woman’s] complaint to police about him.” One officer then reportedly took the suspect’s arm behind his back and applied a handcuff to his left wrist, before all three officers found themselves unable to “complete the cuffing process because they could not control [the man’s] right arm.”
In his written statement, the man said he was having a panic attack at the time and said that he “began to have a full body tremor” as a result of multiple sclerosis. He described a condition in which his “entire body turned very static or rigid,” unable to move his arms or legs. He noted that his hands were “shaking uncontrollably” and said “it can be quite violent looking.” He goes on to say one of the officers tried to “tackle” him to the ground, and said he was initially unable to get down on the ground because of his disability.
The officers’ statements described the suspect as variously “pulling away,” “twisting” and “spinning,” with the subject officer characterizing him as an “active resister,” and another officer calling his behaviour “assaultive.”
The plaintiff’s injuries were further aggravated, the suit said, due to the officers’ failure to obtain medical attention.
The man is seeking general, special, aggravated and punitive damages.
None of the above allegations have been proven in court.
Bike buy leads to U-Haul full of fraudulent credit cards
Whistler police were led to a literal truck-full of stolen credit cards last May, after two suspects attempted to buy a pricy mountain bike from a village store with one of the cards.
On May 23, Mounties got a call from an employee of a Main Street retail store, who reported that a man and woman had just attempted to buy the bike with fraudulent credit cards. Officers caught up with the couple a short time later at another village store, where they were trying to make another fraudulent purchase.
Further investigation determined the couple had fraudulently booked a hotel room, where they found various stolen and altered bank cards, credit cards, identification, and even a stolen drone. Police also learned the pair had failed to return a rented U-Haul on time several weeks prior, and inside the vehicle they found more credit cards, altered gift cards, and a credit card embosser that was likely used to make the fraudulent cards used in Whistler, police said.
Pemberton’s Roger Molinaro sentenced to 5.5 years in jail over sex assault charges
In August, Pemberton’s Roger Molinaro was sentenced to five and a half years in jail in relation to the sexual assault of two minors over a period of years, closing the chapter on a harrowing case that rocked the small community.
The 52-year-old was found guilty on several charges in November 2021 related to the abuse of the minors, who were close family friends, over a period of three years in the case of one victim, and six years in the case of the other. The victims, whose identities are protected by a publication ban, were between the ages of nine and 12 or 13, and six and 12, respectively, in the periods in which the abuse took place.
Molinaro pled not guilty and denied any wrongdoing throughout the trial, which began in June 2021.
Both survivors took to the stand in the trial to share powerful victim impact statements with the court, detailing the pain and betrayal they felt from a close family friend who had been an integral part of their childhoods growing up.
Search for missing Whistler woman meets tragic end
The story of a Whistler woman who was missing for weeks last summer came to a tragic end in September.
Last seen Aug. 23 when she told friends she was going for a walk, 29-year-old Maple Ridge native Clorrica Riggs was missing for more than a month after her car was found parked at the trailhead to Rainbow Lake.
Then, on Sept. 25, the Whistler Blackcomb employee’s body was discovered in the area by an off-duty police officer out for a morning hike.
Known for her warm demeanour and a smile that “could light up a room,” Riggs was an avid traveller who had just moved to Whistler months prior, forming fast but deep connections with her co-workers.
“She touched a lot of people’s hearts in Whistler,” said her older brother Colin at the time. “Anybody she met, that she worked with ... really looked at her like a big sister, because they could confide in her. She meant a lot to a lot of people, because a lot of people respected her values, her opinions and different ways of looking at [problems].”
Whistler woman has $60K bear-feeding fine reduced
The largest known fine handed out under B.C.’s Wildlife Act was significantly reduced in December, after part-time Whistlerite Zuzana Stevikova’s successful appeal in a landmark bear-feeding case in B.C.’s Supreme Court.
The adventure school teacher was initially fined $60,000 in the fall for her role in feeding a group of black bears from the backyard of her Kadenwood home. The sow and two cubs were eventually killed by the Conservation Officer Service (COS) in September 2018 after displaying “very troubling” behaviour on the scene, the agency said at the time.
In the end, her fine was reduced to $10,500, almost identical to the amount originally recommended in the Crown and defence’s joint submission.
The investigation was launched in July 2018 after the COS received an anonymous complaint claiming that residents of the neighbourhood had been deliberately feeding bears “for a considerable amount of time.”
Ultimately, the appeal court found that the steep fine did not align with penalties handed down for similar offences in the past.
In striking down the earlier sentence, Justice J. Miriam Gropper said the sentencing judge failed to properly apply the necessary principles from the applicable case law, and “made findings of fact which were not supported by the agreed statement of facts, would be difficult for the Crown to prove, or were not based on evidence but rather her own judicial notice. She then fashioned a sentence based on her extrapolation of the facts before her.”
Gropper also pointed out “a lack of direct evidence about whether the bears that were euthanized were fed by Ms. Stevikova,” adding that “witnesses were vague and potentially unavailable.”
Furthermore, while the Crown pointed out that the evidence showed Stevikova’s bear-feeding was likely limited to three or four days, sentencing judge Lindsay Smith considered her actions “deliberate and planned and that she repeated the offending behaviour throughout the summer of 2018,” the court documents read.
The “overwhelming theme” in the reasons for Smith’s initial judgement, Gropper wrote, was “the foreseeability of the bears being euthanized as a result of Ms. Stevikova’s actions,” particularly given the signage and messaging found around Whistler advising that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
The Crown’s submissions, however, made clear that taking judicial notice of this messaging was wrong because the death of the bears “is not necessarily always the outcome of COS intervention.”
Following the appeal, the majority of Stevikova’s reduced fine—$9,500—will go to B.C.’s Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. She had also previously donated $5,000 to the Get Bear Smart Society shortly before court proceedings began.
By David Song
Although many are cynical about the Olympic Games for varying political, cultural and economic reasons, there’s no denying the power they have to unite people, elevating relatively unheralded sports and stories into the public eye with moving displays of resilience and camaraderie. In February of this year, Sea to Sky locals joined many others in living out those traits in Beijing.
The Whistler area has churned out Olympians at an impressive per-capita rate, and to do them all justice would require far more space than is available here. We could talk about battle-tested veterans like luger Reid Watts, snowboarder Derek Livingston and freestyle skier Simon d’Artois, who returned to the Games in 2022 after previous kicks at the can. Or we could talk about intriguing newcomers like luger Trinity Ellis, ski racer Brodie Seger and snowboarder Jasmine Baird, who sought to distinguish themselves at their first Olympic Games. We could even talk about those from decorated families like ski racer Broderick Thompson and snowboarder Darcy Sharpe, looking to carve out their own Olympic legacies after their older sisters did it first.
Any of these would be worthwhile stories to tell, but for now, let us focus on three athletes who conquered adversity in true Olympian fashion to bring Whistler onto the podium.
We’ll start with Jack Crawford, the 25-year-old alpine skier who moved from Thornbury, Ont. to compete with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. Crawford and his teammates touched down in Beijing with a daunting challenge ahead of them: to break up perennial European dominance on the mountain. Lining up against Team Canada were the likes of Matthias Mayer, Beat Feuz, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Marco Odermatt—titans of alpine skiing—and they did not make it easy.
Seger finished 22nd in downhill, the first alpine race of the Games, while Thompson failed to make it down the Chinese course known as “Rock.” Crawford, however, reached the line in one minute, 42.92 seconds—fast enough to put himself in contention. He ended up falling just seven one-hundredths of a second short of eventual bronze medallist Mayer.
Three days later, on Dec. 10, Crawford broke through with Team Canada’s first Olympic alpine medal in eight years: bronze in alpine combined.
“It just feels amazing to accomplish what I’ve been trying to do for so long, and to do it at the Olympics is incredible,” he said after the medal ceremony. “Everybody who’s been a part of my ski career has moved me in a direction that has brought me here, and I can’t thank everybody enough.”
Though Crawford raced to a watershed moment for Canadian skiing, he didn’t have to overcome serious injury to do it. Marielle Thompson is a different story.
Thompson, 29, had followed up Ashleigh McIvor’s Olympic ski cross gold with one of her own in 2014. The Whistler native then tore the same ACL twice in four years. She overcame her first injury to race at PyeongChang 2018 but was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Her second tear in March of 2021 gave her just 10 months to recover and make it to Beijing.
It wasn’t easy, but support from her brother, Broderick, and the rest of her family helped “Big Air Mar” power through. She even overcame a poor start to her final race, surging past Switzerland’s Fanny Smith and Germany’s Daniela Maier to win silver at her third Games. Only dominant Swede Sandra Naeslund was faster.
Thanks to Thompson, Canadian women have now medaled at every Olympic ski cross competition since the event’s debut in Vancouver 2010.
“I got to watch Vancouver live, so to have the Olympic atmosphere was inspiring,” she said. “I knew that someday I would like to make it to the Olympics—and to have a gold medal and a silver medal, I am overjoyed.”
Much like Thompson, halfpipe skier Cassie Sharpe dealt with a major injury in the lead-up to Beijing. The Olympic halfpipe queen from PyeongChang had a catastrophic crash at the 2021 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., tearing both her ACL and MCL. As if a blown knee wasn’t enough, an operation room mishap saw Sharpe suffer a fractured femur during the surgery to reattach her ligaments.
Managing to return to competition in December of 2021, Sharpe believed in herself and her team, and her reconstructed knee held up. The Comox, B.C. native attacked the halfpipe in Beijing and threw down a world-class score of 90.75 points. The only woman better that day was generational triple threat Eileen Gu of China, while fellow Canadian Rachael Karker won bronze.
“Being able to flip it around and get on snow just under four months ago and make it to the Games and get a podium, I’m extremely proud and pretty satisfied with my performance,” Sharpe said of her silver medal after the event. “I left it all on the table.”
Whistler mountain bikers make history following Crankworx comeback
By Megan Lalonde
For the first time since before Pique printed the word COVID-19, Crankworx Whistler was back in full force this summer.
“Early on in the week, it felt like we were hosting the world’s largest mountain biking family reunion, as people haven’t gotten together in years like this. People were really looking forward to it and I think that was the part of the drive that kept us going—just how excited the community was for the return of Crankworx, and we just want wanted to deliver for that,” Crankworx managing director Darren Kinnaird told Pique following the festival.
Tens of thousands of fans lined Whistler’s dusty trails over the full 10-day festival to take in head-to-head races, the Canadian Open Downhill, and Squamish downhiller Jackson Goldstone and New Zealand’s Vinny Armstrong fly high to win the Official Whip-Off World Championships (in the men’s and women’s divisions, respectively). There were memorable moments like the Air DH, where local rider Paris Boucher not only won the senior women’s category, but posted a time that would have landed her a fifth-place finish in the Pro Women’s race, and of course, when France’s Tomas Lemoine unbelievably sent it over the entirety of the final feature during Saturday, Aug. 13’s Red Bull Joyride, to the delight of the nearly 30,000 fans who showed up to Skier’s Plaza.
But the return of Crankworx was just one of several highlights in a massively action-packed race season for Whistler mountain biking fans.
You can usually count on a few Whistler riders to finish near the top of the pack on the international stage, but local pros took it to the next level in 2022 and managed to make history in the process.
After winning gold in his hometown Enduro World Series (EWS) event during Crankworx, Jesse Melamed kept up the hot streak, finishing inside the top-10 in all eight races this year (including six podium finishes) to become the 2022 EWS overall champion in September.
Although the 30-year-old also finished with the most points in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, this win marks the first-ever official EWS overall win by a Canadian. The ground-breaking world-title win came following a 2021 season which saw Melamed finish third overall in the EWS rankings.
“To get it done is something that I’ll never forget, and that’s pretty special to me, because I’ve worked so hard at it,” he told Pique in September. “It’s insane to see my name next to everyone else that has won the title.”
One month prior, downhiller Finn Iles also made history when he netted his first-ever World Cup win Iles in Mont-Saint-Anne. It made him the first Canadian to win in the Elite category of any downhill World Cup since the late, great Stevie Smith did it in 2013.
“I really can’t believe what just happened,” said the now-23-year-old Iles in his post-race interview with Red Bull TV. “I was halfway down and my chain fell off. I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t pedal,’ so I just pushed the limit. This is the greatest day of my life. To do this nine years after Stevie [Smith] did it, to be able to win here as a Canadian, it means so much to me. I don’t know, I want to cry. This is amazing.”
The year Smith finished first in Mont-Sainte-Anne, he also managed to take the win in the World Cup overall standings. Though he remains the only Canadian downhiller to ever claim that title, Illes is edging closer to his record after ending the 2022 season as the second-ever Canadian to podium in the World Cup standings.
“All the Canadian Juniors, all the young Canadian riders coming into racing right now are inspired by Stevie and what he did nine years ago. And I’m just following in his footsteps and trying to blaze my own path—but look at this. I can’t believe it,” he said.
World Cup sliding sports return to Whistler with a vengeance amid leadership shake-up
By David Song
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions, it had been three years since the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) last hosted World Cup races in bobsleigh, skeleton or luge. All three returned with a thunderous vengeance this winter, bringing the Sea to Sky’s Olympic track to life once more. Yet there was more at stake than just medals and records this time around. There was a chance to lay the foundation for a brighter, more equitable future.
For Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes, November was a chance to release a long-held, pent-up breath of frustration. After all, Team Canada’s pair of sliding bronze medals at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games had been tarnished by allegations of toxicity in the highest echelons of the sport’s national governing body, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS).
As time went on, fewer and fewer people spoke of Christine de Bruin’s milestone bronze in women’s monobob (a brand-new event) or the career-capping four-man race run by Justin Kripps, Cam Stones, Ryan Sommer and Benjamin Coakwell. Instead, the names Sarah Storey and Chris Le Bihan came to dominate Canadian sliding discourse as both were accused of mismanaging BCS from the top down.
Just as dozens of bobsleigh and skeleton athletes were squaring up in defence of their interests, the fight was called off.
On Nov. 5, Storey blindsided many by announcing that she would not run for a third term as BCS president. (As of this writing, Le Bihan’s LinkedIn account still names him as the organization’s high-performance director). Sport physiologist Tara McNeil became the new BCS president and Matt Stapley joined the group of directors at large. The changes didn’t stop there, for Canadian athletes had grown weary of trusting their futures solely to administrators and executives.
Instead, they took matters into their own hands. Skeleton racer Mirela Rahneva and bobsleigh pilot Cynthia Appiah became the athlete representatives for their respective sports—even though both are still active on the World Cup circuit. Kripps chose to stay with BCS as a technical coach, even though at one point he considered leaving the sport entirely.
“I think that when change is needed, it takes time,” said Rahneva in a mid-November interview. “The athletes have been patient, working very hard to make sure that we have a change of leadership. Now it’s moving in a positive direction, it’s showing a lot of promise and we’re all really excited about it.”
Bianca Ribi’s late-November breakthrough headlined a notable weekend for Team Canada as she became the first woman ever to win an IBSF World Cup medal in monobob. Fellow pilot Cynthia Appiah grabbed silver right behind her, while Taylor Austin and company won bronze in the four-man event the next day. No Canadian skeleton racers medaled in Whistler that week, but Blake Enzie’s career-best sixth-place finish highlighted the team’s potential.
Luge, too, is trending upward. Women’s doubles has been added to the international program at last and the Whistler-based duo of Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless continue to forge ahead. Three years ago, Nash and Corless took part in a World Cup doubles race against Olympic-calibre men because they hoped to lay groundwork for future progress. This December, they came full circle on home soil by placing sixth in the second women’s doubles race in FIL World Cup history.
It wasn’t quite the result they wanted, but it’s a landmark moment for luge nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Trinity Ellis of Pemberton followed up her 14th-place result at Beijing 2022 with 13th in her first race of the new season. Ellis has a chance to fill two-time Olympic medallist Alex Gough’s shoes as Canada’s lead female luger over the next four years, and she is gunning to become a perennial top-10 finisher on the World Cup circuit.
The future is indeed now for Luge Canada given the denouement of veterans like Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith. December’s World Cup event featured a symbolic passing of the torch as Walker and Snith took their retirement run minutes before Devin Wardrope and Cole Zajanski finished fourth against elite opposition. Although originally from Calgary, Alta., both Wardrope and Zajanski train at WSC and know the track as well as anyone.
Whistler has truly become Canada’s base for sliding sports, and 12 years after Jon Montgomery’s famous beer chug, this legendary track is still going strong.
Arts & Culture
By Alyssa Noel
The last year was something a comeback for the local arts community.
After two years in and out of lockdowns, restrictions slowly eased and then all but disappeared for venues, gatherings, and events.
Several of Whistler’s long-running beloved festivals returned at full capacity—some in identical formats and others slightly altered.
While everyone still seemed to be finding their footing, one thing was certain: In 2022, Whistler—and the rest of the Sea to Sky—was more than ready to party.
Every festival and event in Whistler and Pemberton has a tale to tell about surviving the pandemic and the effort behind their 2022 return.
The Whistler Children’s Festival, for example, moved its festivities from July to May—in part to avoid inclement weather and also to take advantage of a less jam-packed weekend in the resort. It was back to in-person events, including, for the first time, onstage performances in the Maury Young Arts Centre. In all, the festival spanned two weekends with 14 performances and 12 workshops.
Of course, that wasn’t the only event Arts Whistler hosted. Their wildly successful Art on the Lake (born during the pandemic for its outdoor and physical distancing elements) returned, this time for two days with 10 live painters and 12 musical acts. It also launched the emhám series, celebrating Indigenous arts and knowledge, hosted the Anonymous Art Show—which sold a record-breaking 156 pieces—along with several other exhibits, and kicked off the Arts Whistler Live! Performance series.
Laugh out LIVE!, a uniquely Whistler comedy variety show, sold out a 15-week theatre run, returning for equally successful holiday shows in December.
Festivals like the Whistler Writers Festival—which ran from Oct. 13 - 16—and the Whistler Film Festival—which kicked off Nov. 30 and ran in-person until Dec. 4—both welcomed back audiences at full-capacity but also kept the online options that proved a success in the pandemic era.
“The idea is all the authors come in person, but we’re also livestreaming, adding the technical side onto the in-person side. It definitely adds another half a festival—maybe more than half,” Rebecca Wood Barrett, executive director of the Whistler Writers Festival, told Pique in October.
Crankworx, Whistler’s popular celebration of mountain bike culture, meanwhile, was greeted by an enthusiastic community when it returned to the resort in August.
“One of the things that really struck me this year was how much the local community embraced and embraces Crankworx,” says Darren Kinnaird, managing director of the mountain bike festival. “I think that’s one of the things that stood out was how much the local community wanted to be part of it and wanted to support it in all the different ways. I can’t thank the local community enough.”
The festival’s key arts events—the Deep Summer Photo Challenge and Dirt Diaries—saw huge crowds return to the lawn at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
“I was quite shocked by how many people did turn out,” he says. “I got there a little late and I was pulling up a piece of grass. People were so into it. We were lucky the weather was nice. It’s a part of mountain biking away from the racing that showcases what people love about this sport.”
Spud Valley also celebrated a return of events in 2022.
The Pemberton Arts Council welcomed new leadership, with former Arts Whistler staffer Anna Lynch taking the helm. She helped lower the price of membership in hopes of making it as accessible as possible, ushered in the new Outside Voices Mural Project, and pointed towards a future of growing membership.
And, of course, there was the return to hosting arts events in the community.
The Pemberton and District Museum and Archives Society also saw a new face in its executive director role this year. Former Arts Whistler staffer Charmaine Carpenter moved into that position after the departure of long-time director Niki Madigan.
“Pemberton is clearly growing and it’s not just people with a long history here, but there are a lot of new people moving into the community, so we want to get them to actually engage with the neighbourhood and the spaces around them and find ways to bring them out,” Carpenter told Pique back in May.
The Audain Art Museum hosted two new exhibits in 2022 (in addition to Riopelle: The Call of the Norther Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, which kicked off in October 2021 and ran until February 2022).
The first was Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob, which featured a selection of that artist’s masks, panels, wall sculptures, vessels, regalia, bronze casting, goldsmithing and printmaking (phew!) borrowed from public and private collections across the country.
That show ran from April 2 until Aug. 14.
Then, on Sept. 17, the museum celebrated the opening of Out of Control: The Concrete Art of Skateboarding (which you can see until Jan. 8), exploring the intersection of skateboarding and contemporary art.
The Point Artist-Run Centre marked a busy summer season, which kicked off with a re-opening after winter renovations. The 60-year-old Alta Lake building saw its floors refinished, got a fresh coat of paint, new lighting and electrical upgrades.
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre also had a busy year. You might have seen its ambassadors participating in myriad events around town, but also the venue hosted several exhibits as well.
They ranged from the travelling interactive exhibit Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in BC to the Ancient Medicine Exhibit, which explored the way medicinal plants are used by Indigenous people to manage health.
The SLCC also wrapped up the year with a brand-new exhibit that opened on Dec. 21 called Unceded: A Photographic Journey Into Belonging. It runs until May 21, 2023.
Following what has been a trend the last couple of years, Whistler saw a few long-time, established locals bid farewell to the resort.
Among them were potter Vincent “Binty” and weaver Cheryl Massey, who moved to the Sunshine Coast after calling Whistler home for 37 years. Vincent also played a role in the early years of the Whistler Arts Council (now Arts Whistler) and was a long-time volunteer with Whistler Search and Rescue.
“There’s a few of us that have been leaving over the years that have been here that long that are taking those stories with them, and there’s a few that have passed in the meantime,” he said. “Regrettably, I feel like we may be leaving a giant hole here, and that’s what a lot of people are saying to us.”
On a happier note, a Whistler mainstay hit a fun milestone in June. Armchair Books marked its 1 millionth customer, a U.K. bookseller who was visiting Whistler and won herself a gift certificate.
One Pique’s most popular arts stories from 2022 was about designer Sarah Richardson’s new HGTV show, Sarah’s Mountain Escape. The reality show chronicled the celebrity’s challenges purchasing, renovating, and renting out a Whistler luxury home.
By Robert Wisla
The most prominent theme of the year for Spud Valley was Pemberton’s rapid population growth and the ripple effects on the community’s culture, infrastructure and housing situation.
At the beginning of the year, Statistics Canada released data that proved what most locals in the valley already know: Pemberton’s population is booming.
Between 2016 and 2021, the Village’s population rose 32.4 per cent, from 2,574 people to 3,407 people, giving Pemberton the third fastest growth rate of any municipality in the province and the highest growth rate of any village in B.C.
The statistics also showed Pemberton’s population is the youngest in the Sea to Sky, and one of the youngest communities in the country, with an average age of 35.4 years old, compared to provincial and national averages of 43.1 and 41.9, respectively.
That pace doesn’t appear to be slowing down either, with hundreds of new homes currently proposed in the community over the next five years.
The conversation around how to handle that growth dominated the local election, which saw incumbent Mayor Mike Richman face off against former councillor and Pemberton Valley Lodge owner David Mackenzie and business owner Chadi Abouhalka. Richman won his third term with 61 per cent of the vote on a platform of sustainable growth and investing in critical infrastructure.
Pemberton council also saw the addition of two new faces, Katrina Nightingale and Laura Ramsden, joining incumbents Ted Craddock and Jennie Helmer.
In the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), Russell Mack was re-elected by acclaimation as Area C representative, which includes the area surrounding Pemberton, including the Pemberton Meadows.
Staffing-wise, both the SLRD and the Village of Pemberton gained new CAOs, as former Whistler Public Library director Elizabeth Tracy took the reins in Pemberton and former City of Lethbridge manager Craig Dalton took over as the SLRD’s chief administrative officer in 2022.
On the housing front, the Village of Pemberton (VOP) saw a handful of significant projects make their way through the council.
The year opened with two other major housing development proposals that came before officials in January.
The first project, by Skénkenam Developments General Partnership, is a joint partnership between the Lil’wat Nation and Pemberton Benchlands Development Corporation housing.
The proposed development would, if approved, add 270 new single-detached and multi-family units as an extension of Eagle Ridge Drive just west of the Village’s commercial core, overlooking the town.
The other proposed development, called Redwood, could see 176 multi-family townhouses, stacked townhouses and 2,751 square metres of commercial space on 3.3 hectares of land on Pemberton Farm Road East.
The ancillary effects of the housing crisis on Spud Valley have become increasingly contentious as finding affordable accommodation becomes more difficult.
In June, the VOP announced it was cracking down on illegal suites in the Tiyata Village neighbourhood—although it’s unclear what was to happen to tenants who unknowingly rented non-conforming suites.
One of the most controversial housing stories surrounded the affordable Sea to Sky Community Services housing development slated for Harrow Road, which council approved in mid-October, paving the way for 63 affordable housing units.
The development will erect the tallest residential building in Pemberton’s history, drawing opposition from neighbouring properties. The project will start construction sometime in 2023.
In the SLRD, housing remained an important theme over the year as the housing crisis continues to significantly affect rural areas surrounding Pemberton.
At the end of this year, the SLRD adopted new amendments to its Official Community Plan bylaws to guide future affordable housing construction in Electoral Areas B, C and D. In line with changes made earlier in the year to the Whistler Housing Authority’s eligibility criteria, the amendments update the definition of affordable housing as rental or ownership housing priced so that monthly payments are less than 30 per cent of gross household income.
The amendments also require new multi-family developments to either designate a minimum of 15 per cent of units for affordable housing or provide land for affordable housing.
Rising property prices in the valley have resulted in a chain reaction for enterprises, as young people hoping to get into farming are finding it difficult to enter the market.
At the same time, many acreages are being purchased and left unfarmed. As of 2021, 125 farming operations are operating in the valley, producing gross farm receipts of $6,526,365.
The need for workers
Intertwined with the housing crisis, the other news story that simmered over the year is the continued labour shortage in the valley, resulting in the loss of services and stores cutting back hours.
The lack of staff has had wide-ranging implications on all sectors in the valley, be it the need for more emergency responders, childcare, and staff for local restaurants.
Due in part to the labour shortage, Pemberton lost its only taxi service, Mountain View Taxi, in October, while numerous businesses within the valley had to cut their hours.
Due to Whistler’s current housing situation, more people choose to live in Spud Valley and commute between the two communities. To address the increasing number of commuters, in April, the VOP secured funding to build a new park and ride that will enable commuters a secure spot to park and take the bus to Whistler.
The SLRD has made clear the top priorities for the coming year are to address housing, good governance, healthy organizations and regional transit.
Lil’wat Nation: A Year of Returns
The Lil’wat Nation’s 2022 can be best summarised as a year of returns, as pandemic restrictions ended and cultural events came back in full force in Mount Currie.
After a two-year absence, the Nation’s powwow finally returned in person to Ulusus Hall, bringing with it a sense of normalcy as the cultural ceremonies returned.
Another significant return for the Nation was when the Lil’wat regained some of its traditional territory at the northern end of the Pemberton Valley, the 98-hectare site of the former Coast Mountain Outdoor School. Returned at no cost to the Nation by School District 48, the property represents the Nation’s largest land acquisition since the 2020 Olympics. But it’s true significance goes beyond a mere patch of land.
“It’s very important to acknowledge the land and the ancestors, because we always had a connection with them, so [with this agreement], we’ve kind of reconnected back with them, the way it should be,” said Lil’wat Nation Skalulmecw Chief Dean Nelson at an October ceremony commemorating the agreement.
The long-term plan for the land is to use part of it for a mental health and rehabilitation centre, providing a refuge for Nation members, as well as a venue that can be used for retreats and traditional purposes.
Another significant Lil’wat development was the approval of the Olympic legacy mixed-use project at the corner of Highway 99 and Alpha Lake Road at the entrance to Function Junction in Whistler.
Whistler council approved the mixed-use development, first proposed in 2017, in February. The project, once completed, will include Whistler’s fourth gas station, a brewery, and 48 units of dedicated employee housing. The Nation has not announced when construction will begin.
Meanwhile, the Lil’wat Main Street Development will change the look of Mount Currie’s commercial core once complete.
The multi-family residential building, which will be located at the intersection of Highway 99 and Pemberton Portage Road across from St. Christopher’s Parish, passed third reading in October at the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
The housing development will provide 53 affordable housing units and half a dozen spaces for new businesses.
Last but certainly not least, one of the most important efforts of the year for the Lil’wat was co-leading the 2030 Olympic bid alongside the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, Whistler, Sun Peaks and the City of Vancouver.
Positioned as an opportunity to share the Nations’—and Canada’s—story of Truth and Reconciliation with the world, the bid promised to take advantage of existing facilities from the 2010 Games. Ultimately, the province squashed the bid, citing its exorbitant price tag. The early estimates put the cost to host the Games at $4 billion, $1.2 billion of which would be covered by taxpayers.