With the official end of ski season, Whistler has doffed its guise as ski resort and enthusiastically embraced its increasingly important alter ego as Mountain Resort. Not certain whether there’ll be people skiing and boarding up on Horstman Glacier this summer, working on jumps, bumps, hits and sporting raccoon tans, but if there is, they’ll be outliers, standouts in a sea of humanity pursuing the dreams of summer and licking ice cream cones.
Summer’s here and the time is right for… for… whatever.
The focus of Whistler summertime activity is—unless you’re one of those unfortunate, single-minded, obsessive addicts who, when asked, “Whaddya do all summer?” says, “Golf!”—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. Summer puzzles with its smorg of possible things to do.
The people who come to Whistler are different in this Other Season, formerly known as the Off-Season. Different still in summer.
Winter tourists, though coming from around the world, tend to be fairly homogenous. Something like 99 per cent of them—convention floaters excepted—come to ski or snowboard, or at least come with someone who plans to spend their time that way. Winter tourists are 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, but we are 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. Okay, 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 we encounter them more frequently 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, you are why we’re here. Okay, 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 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. 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 okay. 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 tourism is informed by 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.
I’ll grab the initiative and offer my own Whistler Rules for Happy Tourists and Even Happier Locals. There aren’t many. 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 debilitating fear of heights, go to the top of the mountains. 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 gondola. 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.
Rule No. 3: You have to do something. Every day. It should involve a Waiver of Liability.
Rule No. 4: You have to buy 2010 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. Yes, we’ll ship.
That’s it. Too many rules and you won’t like us. You do like us, don’t you?