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Maxed Out: Taking stock of Stockholm Syndrome in Whistler

'Just as a courtesy, how about simply telling us the truth?'

“That leaves only me to blame ‘cause Mama tried.”

-Merle Haggard

Mama always said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I would be surprised if your mama or someone in your life hadn’t once said the same thing to you.

I was racking my brain to come up with something nice to say about Vail Resorts’ management of Whistler Blackcomb for this week’s piffle. I wasn’t having much success.

I thought about thanking them for closing Whistler earlier than ever this year, covid years excepted. It made the choice of which mountain to ski easier. Saved the gas I might have burned driving to Creekside, since it became impossible to ski down to the village from the upper lots.

Then I remembered what I often told visitors when they’d ask me which I thought was the best mountain to ski. “If the hardest decision you have to make today is skiing Whistler or Blackcomb, you are leading a wonderful life.”

So that would be false praise.

I thought about thanking them for keeping at least half the washrooms open at Glacier Creek Lodge, but that seemed a stretch given the number of convenient trees on the mountain.

And then, then, I was happily shocked to read management had graciously decided to turn the bullwheel on the Blackcomb gondy for a few hours Monday. I had a warm, fuzzy feeling about that. Thought maybe they were finally taking the quality of guests’ experience to heart. I was grateful. Giddy, even. Happy to think there would be relief from the lineups at the Ex gondy.

I was momentarily mindful of the letter in Pique in late February admonishing everyone for “whining” about the “lack of this and lack of that” and reminding us to feel empathy for the locals who worked hard on the mountains and might mistake our whining about Vail’s management decisions as complaints about them.

Just to be clear, no offence, fellow travellers. I know many of you and hope you know we know it isn’t your fault. We appreciate your continued efforts and, as I used to say to guests who complained about something I had no control over during the years I worked for WB, “You understand you’re speaking to the bottom of the food chain, don’t you?”

But then, thinking about something nice to say, the penny dropped.

My warm fuzzy, my gratitude, was a classic symptom of Stockholm Syndrome.

For those of you unfamiliar with or who’ve forgotten about Stockholm Syndrome—or for those of you who mistakenly believe the only contributions Sweden has made to popular culture are meatballs, Ikea and ABBA—let us return, briefly, to 1973.

In August of that year, a bank in Stockholm was held up by a machine gun-wielding robber. What was supposed to go down as a quick capitulation of his demands turned into a six-day-long siege, during which the four hostages came to empathize more with their captor—who extended them multiple kindnesses—than their would-be rescuers.

Okay, let’s be clear here—I’m not suggesting we’re hostages. That said, we are captives, those of us who have chosen to live here, to become part of the town, to put down roots and stay. We’re captive to a lifestyle we’ve embraced and are loathe to leave behind. We’re captive to our addiction for sliding down two of the best snowy mountains in North America.

And if we’ve been here very long, we know how much better it can be... because we’ve lived it. We know what’s been slowly taken away from the experience. It leaves me hesitant to say anything nice about putting something, however brief, back.

I don’t expect the Broomfieldians calling the shots to develop the kind of customer-first attitude that defined WB in the past. But just as a courtesy, how about simply telling us the truth?

The decision to shut down the Blackcomb gondy has nothing to do with maintenance. You’ve already listed on the website May 23 to June 16, 25 days, as the time everything will be closed for maintenance. How long does it take? And why hasn’t anyone seen work being done on the lift during its closure last week?

The timing of the maintenance has nothing to do with Technical Safety BC. They just inspect your work and green-light the lift to run.

So, let’s see… that pretty much leaves saving the cost of running the lift as the prime motivation. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to just say so? Or is it too harsh to say, “Hey, we’ve already made all the money we’re going to make off you skiers this season, so we’re going to give you just enough to keep feeding the addiction and turn our focus on the summer sightseers.”

Of course, those of us who live here or nearby will be back next season. But what about the folks who came here from afar for a week or two of spring skiing? What about the ones I see lined up for a bus to take them to the Village because what they thought was accommodation convenient to the base of Blackcomb—Four Seasons, Chateau, Benchland condos—isn’t so convenient when the main lift up the mountain isn’t running? Or, as reported, the other-abled skiers who rely on the B gondy to get them and their equipment up. Did the website mention it wouldn’t run Monday to Friday earlier this season when they booked their accommodation?

One of the many career-limiting moves I made when I worked for a large, Canadian financial institution occurred during one of their regular belt-tightening periods. Cutting costs, especially salaries, became the focus. It was the early days of personal computers, and I made a complex spreadsheet modelling the impact of cutting costs on revenue. In fact, I cut them to zero. The impact was less than desired, but without the salaries, the doors would close. Reductio ad absurdum.

Then, as now, the lesson is you can’t save your way to profitability. The surer route is to grow revenues. That ain’t going to happen by pissing off the people you depend on for that revenue. Especially when they have choices and you have competition.

Funny thing, though, they didn’t believe me. And I’m sure Vail’s management won’t either.