As I totter toward my dotage, I am more forgiving of the shortcomings of both myself and others. But some things really get under my skin. Ignorance and selfishness and blinding self-interest rank high on that list. All three were on display last week in Pique’s Letters to the Editor... all in one letter.
The writer stepped up on her soapbox and admonished the municipality for wasting taxpayers’ money, pandering to an elite element of society—as she sees it—and rallied others of a like mind to demand the muni shut down Cross-Country Connection, the concession that, in partnership with the muni, offer locals and tourists the chance to cross-country ski and snowshoe some of the trails around Lost Lake each winter.
Oh, the humanity.
Apparently the letter writer is upset because she and others can’t, “... walk, hike, bike, take our dogs and kids to Lost Lake Park in the winter...” She is of a firm belief the trails open only to, “... a few Nordic skiers...” is, “... selfish, elitist and out of date.”
While I suspect she is a little more than familiar with selfish behaviour when she’s viewing the world through lens of refined self-interest, the rest of her rant is, well, small-minded nonsense.
In the interest of transparency, I will fess up to being a volunteer for Cross-Country Connection and have been for a number of seasons. I volunteer at the PassivHaus on Sunday afternoons. Why? I can assure you it isn’t for the free pass. I believe I used my pass last season, let’s see, yes—embarrassment—zero times. I volunteer because I’d rather not be on the mountains skiing on Sunday afternoons and, more importantly, because I enjoy my interactions with the many people who come out on Sundays. It’s a chance to brag a bit about Whistler to people from around the world.
You see, unlike the vitriol oozing from last week’s letter, the Lost Lake/Nick North cross country trails are, in fact, used by a wide range of locals and tourists each season. Some faces I see every Sunday. But most I never see again. They come from everywhere. Many have never skinny skied before. Quite a few I help get into their bindings, get their poles on the right way and pick up when they fall down.
And I can assure you, they are having the time of their life. They’re trying something they’ve never tried before. They’re renewing an interest that’s lain dormant for decades. They’re enjoying spirited physical exertion. And they’re gushing about how wonderful it is such a facility lies in the heart of Whistler. “How lucky you are!”
But let’s consider a few facts. You remember facts, don’t you? Probably not given all the Trumpian alternative facts contained in your letter.
The trails are closed to hikers and open to skiers and snowshoers for 15 to 20 weeks each winter. Except three seasons ago when they were opened barely five weeks. That’s because opening is dependent on snow in the valley. Contrary to the writer’s statement, staff does not haul in snow at taxpayers’ expense. There is no snowmaking and patchy spots are filled in from nearby snow, shovelled in if you will.
Each season, about 500 passes are sold or issued. Some are coupled with Callaghan passes; most aren’t. Last season was only 70 pre-pandemic days long. Sorry for the inconvenience. But for the 169 people who used the trails each day—11,830 in total—they appreciated the proximity to the village since many were tourists with no means of getting to the Callaghan other than taking taxis.
While most came from B.C. and Canada, around 20 per cent were from the U.S. and another 20 per cent were international. Some had never even seen snow until they got to Whistler, let alone tried sliding on it. Many were school kids and many more were Whistler Blackcomb staff enjoying discounted evening skiing as a Club Shred program. Very elite; very selfish, eh?
The letter writer, using COVID as a battering ram, implores the muni to end this unwarranted intrusion on her absolute right to walk the Lost Lake trails year-round for the sake of safe recreation. The Whistler I live in is blessed with an embarrassment of trails, hundreds of kilometres of them fanning out from every residential neighbourhood. All but a small handful are open all year for people and dogs. Heck, there are even track-set cross-country trails open to skiers, walkers and dogs.
Other than answering questions, helping people into their bindings, directing them to the trails and boosting my town, the other thing I do most often on Sunday afternoons is stop people from walking on the trails. In all the years I’ve been doing that, the only times I’ve gotten any crap from people have been from—surprise—a few self-righteous locals who believe they’re entitled to go where they want, when they want. Sound familiar?
Everyone else, mostly tourists, simply want a nice hike. There are at least five I recommend, all of which start from where I politely turn them around. They invariably understand and are happy to walk elsewhere.
The trails are a partnership between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and the operator. It has been thus since the 1970s. I am not privy to the financial performance but suspect it wouldn’t have lasted this long if it was a perennial money loser. And if it costs the muni something every year, so what? The list of amenities paid for by property owners is lengthy. There are many I’m not fond of. But I’m not selfish enough to insist they be closed down in the name of fiscal responsibility.
And the plea to open the trails to walkers and keep it plowed—presumably at taxpayers’ expense—overlooks the fact not even the talented operators at the RMOW can plow gravel paths. Duh.
I invite the letter writer to come see for herself. I’m pretty sure I’ll be volunteering there again on Sunday afternoons. Come stand around with me and get your feet cold and mind opened some Sunday. Note the empty racks of rental skis and snowshoes. Better yet, come out on Monday or Thursday evenings when locals ski cheap. Wow, took a page right out of Whistler 2020 with that one.
But don’t think of trying to volunteer yourself. You see, in stark opposition to your uninformed assertion, it’s hard to find volunteers. There is, and has been for quite some time, a waitlist of people who’d like to volunteer. Sorry for the reality check but you understand. Or maybe not.
The world gets smaller when we consider our interests the only important interests.