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The price of progress, the value of a plan

This weekend marks the 22 nd annual mad celebration of life in Whistler. Perhaps, more accurately, it marks the anniversary of what life in Whistler used to be when the town was a simpler place and life’s focus was, well, more focused.

This weekend marks the 22 nd annual mad celebration of life in Whistler. Perhaps, more accurately, it marks the anniversary of what life in Whistler used to be when the town was a simpler place and life’s focus was, well, more focused.

The Appleton Rum (legitimate plug) Peak to Valley Race is arguably the iconic event that captures the true spirit of this whacky place. Truth be told, had I not calculated — incorrectly as it turns out — that a cheap and easy flash of full frontal nudity could carry the day, I’d have argued for the Peak to Valley at Icon Gone instead of the Toad Hall poster. I still can’t figure out how gravity beat out sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Somehow I fear we’ve lost our moral compass. But I digress.

Whistler was a simpler place and life was more focused those many years ago when Dave Murray peered down through the tips of his skis, sighted downhill from Whistler peak to Creekside, gazed down 5,000 vertical feet and thought, “Wouldn’t a race from here to there be a gas?”

There was no question about what this town’s goal was then. We were on our way to becoming one kickass ski resort. And while some with further vision saw a four-season resort, those other three seasons lay mostly in the land of wishful thinking.

For most, it was all about the skiing. Finding a way to make a living was a necessary evil, a distraction.

Life was easier in 1985 than it had been in 1975. There was a village. There was a grocery store, a liquor store, a neighbourhood pub, a drugstore, a few shops, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. More of the necessities of life could be found in town.

Getting those things built hadn’t been easy and, for some, hadn’t been popular. Other plans, other developments in other parts of town had been put on hold by a mayor and council who understood the urgency of the present and the effect of present-day decisions on the rapidly approaching future. Building the village core was the key piece of the puzzle and a delicate balancing act: meet the needs of the residents and the needs of the hoped-for tourists. There was a sense of sacrifice coupled with an ironic sense of enrichment. Life in the best place most residents could imagine was getting visibly better. But progress came at a price.

The price was sticking to a plan, a plan for the future, a shared vision of what the town was going to be and what needed to be built to get there. Sticking to the plan meant some things that might be desirable, might be expedient, might mean a personal gain were either put on hold or simply not allowed because they didn’t “fit”. C’est la vie. You can’t be all things to all people. The best places grow to a plan, not to a whim.

Despite the price, progress was made. Whistler became what it is today: a world-class — more or less — 3.5 season mountain resort. Good snow and buoyed spirits this season might cause some to reflect on the extent to which we’ve truly become a “mountain” resort as opposed to a ski resort with a change of clothes for the other seasons, but that’s a different philosophical discussion.

The price of that progress though has been a hard-to-define atomization of spirit, what some grousingly refer to as the mojo we’ve misplaced. Life, not to be confused with a living, has become easier in Tiny Town. Maybe too easy. Spirit, on the other hand, has become more difficult to capture.

A couple of seasons ago, Shawn Hughes, musing about the Peak to Valley, said, “Back then, it wasn’t so much about competition; it was more of a fun, locals’ thing. The spirit of the race was really Dave Murray. Then a couple of Euros came over and it started to get pretty competitive. Then these World Cup guys got in there and it started to change a lot. Now, it just costs too much. You have to sign up in the summer. It’s a lot of Vancouver people. The spirit of the thing kind of got deleted a bit. I’m pretty sad that I’m not really involved any more.”

Shawn used to be involved. The Peak to Valley was a touchstone in his life. He was a fixture on one of the dynastic teams that dominated the race for over a decade, Frankie Goes to the Valley.

While not taking anything away from the race and the people who sweat blood to make it happen every year, and the people — myself included — who come out to enjoy the energy, the buzz and the fine Appleton Rum drinks on Dusty’s patio (okay, this is coming dangerously close to pandering) Shawn’s got a point.

The Peak to Valley race was Dave Murray’s personal vision, a fire burning in his belly, a fire shared by the people who eagerly waited for it to come around the beginning of every February. It has now become an “event”, one of many in an increasingly crowded event calendar that tries to satisfy all manner of tastes, whims and passions.

In striving so hard to become all things to all people, we risk becoming prosaic. We risk dulling the few things that are very special, that are attractive and unique, that stand as a testament to who we are and what we’re about.

And that’s what was so sad and maddening about watching the parade of blinking and flashing narrow self-interest trot up to the microphone Monday evening to argue in favour of setting aside the plan and vision put in place so long ago just so they could buy cheap razors and Huggies at London Drugs. To the people chorusing about how they actually do go down to Vancouver just to go to London Drugs, get a life. It’s about more than just shopping, people.

It brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s quip about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

To those who believe the Muni’s trying to gin the free enterprise system by stymieing the sweetheart deal between Larco and London Drugs, there ain’t no free market. But there is zoning, planning and licensing, all legitimate municipal powers. Larco made a deal when they got approval to turn the Keg parking lot into a money maker. If they’d rather suck air on the underground space than rent it out at a rate where a recreation facility works, let ’em suck air. No compelling reason exists to enrich them. They’ve contributed nothing to this town.

And for those of you who think big box shopping is the only kind… drive safely.