Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Getting ready for summer...Whistler style

On the cusp of summer's solstice, Whistler has doffed its guise as Ski Resort and enthusiastically embraced its alter ego as Mountain Resort.
photo by Howard Sandler / <a href=""></a>

On the cusp of summer's solstice, Whistler has doffed its guise as Ski Resort and enthusiastically embraced its alter ego as Mountain Resort. Oh, there'll still be people up on Horstman Glacier skiing and boarding, sporting raccoon tans and schlepping gear through town with their pants 'round their knees, but they'll be outliers, standouts in a sea of humanity pursuing the dreams of summer.

Summer's here and the time is right for... for... whatever.

The focus of summertime activity — unless you're one of those unfortunate, single-minded, obsessive addicts who, when asked, "Whaddya do all summer?" says, "Golf!" — is blurred, dulled, lost in the miasma of all the possibilities warm weather and long days bring. Summer's not just like winter with more sunlight. Summer's different.

And so are the people who come to Whistler in the Other Season, formerly know as the Off-Season.

Winter tourists, though coming from around the world, tend to be fairly homogenous. Something upwards of 99 per cent of them — convention floaters excepted — come to ski or snowboard. They're passionate, perhaps even single-minded, obsessive addicts. They speak the language of skiing regardless of whatever other language they may speak. The hardest decision they have to make each day is Whistler or Blackcomb. After that, it's all downhill.

The No. 1 thing to do here in winter is slide downhill. There is no No. 2. There are other things to do, sleds to ride, treks to zip, shoes to snow, rants to rest, but they're either sideshows or ancillary activities that need to get done to get on with the main event.

Because we all slide downhill, we live the illusion of one big happy family. There are cultural differences. Europeans do tend to ignore lift lines, Brits tip lightly if at all, Mexicans cluster in large groups, but we are all cultural soulmates.

It takes summertime to remind us just how different, yes, even strange, the customs of the outside world may be. Summertime in tourist land is, if nothing else, a cultural gruel of people very different from you and me. OK, me. But at least I'm honest about it and get out of town lest I cause some disturbance.

Summer is when we, the collective, service industry "we," need to be at our sharpest, our most obsequious, our most servile. There are two reasons for that. Lack of focus on the one hand, and heightened expectations on the other. This one-two punch is amplified by the two additional factors. The first is volume: more tourists come to do whatever they've come to do here in summer than in winter. The second is that we encounter them more frequently in summer because they tend to wander away from the compound, er, village more than winter tourists; they bleed into every corner of town and there is no escaping them.

Perhaps this is a good place to remind tourists of one overriding fact: We love you. Each and every one of you. Regardless of where you're from, how culturally uncomfortable you might be with the concept of tipping, how many questions you have, whatever — you are why we're here. OK, that's not exactly true. We're here to have fun and avoid the troubling reality you've come here to escape. But we couldn't do that without you and for that we are truly grateful.

But we live the Canadian Paradox and sometimes it's more than we can manage. The Canadian Paradox is rooted in our universal desire to be modest, unassuming, apologetic and, yes, even liked. You like us, don't you? Say you do. It's important to us. Because of this national obsession, Canada is a net exporter of comedians and comedy. We want to make people laugh. If they laugh, they like us, right?

When we travel to your country, we will abide by the time-honoured cliché of doing in Rome as Romans do. We will cover our heads, uncover our heads, bow, stand erect, say please and thank you, not demand comfort foods and smile as we try your national dish of deep-fried ants in saliva reduction, and generally try to be modest and unassuming. If we do, you'll like us, right?

But when you come to our country, we wouldn't dream of asking you to do as we do, whatever that is. We want you to be exactly who you are. We want you to be comfortable, feel at home, follow your traditions and expect, or at least hope, we follow your traditions along with you. If you feel good, we feel good. And hopefully, you'll like us.

Of course, that attitude kind of defeats the purpose of travel — assuming at least part of the reason we travel is to immerse ourselves in foreign cultures — but that's OK. Lord knows things can get way too foreign sometimes. And we do still have this national debate about what, really, our culture is anyway.

But one of the latest twists in the world of tourism is the idea of local rules, rules of the road so to speak. As the whole concept of remote corners of the world becomes, well, remote, and more people from more places in the world travel to other places in the world, some places have found adopting basic rules of engagement a useful way to avoid ugly cultural clashes.

Since I'm pretty sure rules aren't something Tourism Whistler is going to embrace any time soon, I'll grab the initiative and offer my own Whistler Rules for Happy Tourists and Even Happier Locals. There aren't many; bear with me. And, since we are Canadian, you can ignore them if it makes you happy. As long as you like us.

Rule No. 1. Unless you have a mean fear of heights take a ride to the top of the mountain. You should do this on Whistler but, in a pinch, Blackcomb will do. You should do this for two reasons. To get a magnificent view and, more importantly, to have whatever heated, family squabble you're going to have in a semi-private setting. The ride up or down is the time to fight about what you're going to do next. The middle of the village isn't. It offends our everybody-please-have-a-good-time ethos to see you fight in the village.

Rule No 2. The only dress code in Whistler is gold... or platinum or any colour your credit card comes in. We don't care what you wear, where you wear it or if you wear it at all. Ask any of us and we'll tell you where the local nekkid sunbathing spot is. But only if you want to.

Rule No. 3. You have to do something. Like we say around here, "A day without a waiver of liability is like a day without sunsh... never mind.

Rule No. 4. You have to buy Olympic souvenirs. At least one of them has to be an Inukshuk. And yes, if you'd like to, you can buy the one at the Roundhouse. We'll ship.

That's it. Too many rules and you won't like us.