The waitlist for a sought-after Whistler Blackcomb Foundation (WBF) Founders Pass is 50 people shorter this winter.
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, the non-profit organization announced the release of 50 additional Founders Passes from Whistler Blackcomb, donated through parent company Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise initiative. The move permanently doubles the number of passes available through the annual program, bringing it to a total of 100. More importantly, the expansion means the $500,000 sum the VIP passes have historically generated each year will instead yield $1 million in annual funding for Sea to Sky communities.
The Founders Pass has been around since 1998, offering its holders fully-transferable, full-season access to Whistler Blackcomb alongside exclusive perks like lift-line priority, Fresh Tracks vouchers, mountain biking and sightseeing access and tickets to one of the WBF’s Winter Classic events. Half of each pass’ $10,000 price tag is tax deductible. The program has sold out since its inception, with more than a few individuals remaining patiently on the waitlist for decades.
“We always thought one day it would be really nice to expand it, because our waitlist has always been huge,” explained WBF executive director Mei Madden. WBF approached Vail Resorts shortly after the company assumed ownership of Whistler Blackcomb in 2016, she said, “and they were super open and willing to talk about it.” Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and priorities shifted to deal with the challenges at hand.
“This year, they came back to us,” said Madden. “I think I was expecting maybe 10 passes, so the whole doubling of the program was just unbelievable.”
With its expansion, the Founders Pass program surpasses the WBF’s two major annual fundraising events, the TELUS-sponsored Winter Classic and Golf Classic, to become the foundation’s principal fundraising vehicle. “It's always challenging for any non-profit to raise funds, especially during COVID … but with this, we'll probably be able to give out about $1.8 million net every year to the community,” Madden explained.
The WBF, Vail Resorts, EpicPromise and Whistler Blackcomb “operate very much in parallel and together” to identify how best to support the Sea to Sky community, said Whistler Blackcomb chief operating officer Geoff Buchheister, who doubles as WBF co-president.
“It’s not so much a situation where it’s like, ‘Hey, let's go to them and pitch this,’” he explained. “We talk about these things continuously, and I think one of the big things is finding ways to do cash giving in the Sea to Sky that are meaningful. Mei is probably the strongest leader that you can have in a situation like this, where you deliver support and funding to the organizations that need it most. It's just an honour to take her lead in really impacting the community, versus just coming up with ideas and thinking they're great.”
To that end, the decision to direct the $500,000 generated by the 50 new passes this year to the Whistler 360 Health Collaborative Society was an easy one, said Madden. The non-profit grew out of a Primary Care Task Force established in 2019 to help address Whistler’s family physician shortage, and was incorporated under the Societies Act last year.
Whistler 360 aims to create a team-based, non-profit Primary Care Centre in the resort where health-care professionals like doctors and nurse practitioners can provide longitudinal care, without shouldering the type of financial and administrative burdens often credited with deterring B.C. physicians from venturing into family practice.
“It was just heartbreaking to know that people who have been here for 20, 30 years do not have a family doctor,” said Madden. “That longitudinal care is extremely important in Whistler, and health-care is also one of our big pillars that we support, so it was just a very natural fit.”
Especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the timing was right,” Buchheister added.
The timing is just as “amazing,” for Whistler 360, said society chair Carol Leacy. The organization is currently working to “stabilize [Whistler’s] current basic providers—which is the Whistler Medical Clinic, our last family practice—and then build on it from there,” she explained.
Specifically, the WBF funds will help cover the costs of transitioning Whistler Medical Clinic staff into Whistler 360’s not-for-profit model and recruiting more health-care professionals to the team, she added. The half-a-million-dollar grant also enables Whistler 360 to invest “in the additional space, equipment, technology and support services that are required to really support those additional doctors and nurse practitioners,” said Leacy, who also serves as chair of the Whistler Health Care Foundation and a WBF board member.
Plus, “having these funds will allow us to trial or pilot new, innovative ways of operating to increase the capacity even of our current providers.”
The WBF is still deciding where to direct the remaining $500,000 from this year’s Founders Pass sales. Funds from the program have previously benefited community groups like the Whistler Health Care Foundation, Squamish Helping Hands Society, Sea to Sky Hospice Society and spaces like Pemberton’s soccer field, the Dave Murray National Training Centre and the Whistler Skate Park.
Buchheister and Madden joined Leacy and Whistler 360 vice-chair Dr. Karin Kausky at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday afternoon to present the good news to Whistler’s mayor and council, alongside an update from Buchheister regarding the resort’s opening.
Stay tuned to Pique in the coming weeks for more details about Whistler 360’s progress.