By G.D. Maxwell
I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. Its an uncomfortable, sand in your underpants, honey on your fingers, sunburned thighs on vinyl seats kind of feeling. I know its coming, I know itll get here, I know I can wait it out, but Im pretty sure Im going to be disappointed. My glass aint half empty; its got a hole in the bottom.
I know the toy Ive been waiting for will be shiny and new when it arrives and Ill open it with the highest of expectations. Im sure its play value will give me an instant buzz before its half-life of familiarity begins to numb my senses. Im sure itll break before I know it, slam up against its inherent limitations and my insatiable expectations. Before all the shine is gone, Im certain Ill be casting about for something to replace it, woefully aware of its failings.
Of course, what Im really waiting for is the long-delayed, stunningly over-budget, hyped beyond all reality Officious Sustainability Plan Whistlers new community blueprint for managing the future of our happy mountain home.
Saddled with overblown expectations, doomed to mediocrity if not outright failure, quite possibly stillborn to begin with, the OSP has morphed into Whistlers very own Legal Proceeding. I used to have a prof who was fond of likening the rule of law to both a sword and a shield. It had the power and truth to cut and thrust and get to the bottom of matters while, at the same time, providing a protective buffer between the individual and the state.
Too often though, particularly in the dark world where the light of public curiosity shines into the void of official decision making, the law, or at least the commencement of legal proceedings, becomes a Cone of Silence. It descends and provides refuge for public officials. It gives them an easy out to avoid the hard questions. It lets them stand mute lest they taint ongoing legal proceedings.
Whistlers OSP has provided much the same comfort and opaque obfuscation in its enduring absence. Hard decisions have been delayed. Actions have been postponed. Opportunities have come and gone. Weve waited for The Plan to show us the way, reveal the correct path like an all-knowing magic 8-ball.
Except, of course, for any decisions or actions involving the Olympics which is the yin of action to the yang of the OSPs delay. Between the two, its like hitting the Daily Double for avoiding any concrete responsibility for action or inaction. Bonus.
But whether The Plan is in place or not, the future is unfolding all around us. What kind of future shall it be?
A year ago, in the New York Times travel section, Marialisa Calta wrote one of the Times cookie cutter pieces on ski resorts, a Whats Doing In: Wherever. In this case, wherever was Stowe, Vermont, a nice, family-style, eastern ski hill known more for its association with the Trapp family and hills alive with the sound of music than for anything accomplished on skis or snowboard.
Heres the opening paragraph from her story.
"Stowe, Vt., is a resort town with a soul. Nearly every business is locally owned; there is not a chain-affiliated store, restaurant or motel to be found. For the visitor, this tends to lead to frequent encounters with informed, earnest townspeople who have a stake in their community. And the hospitality feels genuine."
Has a nice sound to it, doesnt it? A town with soul. A hospitable, earnest town with friendly people, unique shops, funky restaurants and cozy inns.
It doesnt have the two biggest ski mountains in North America, doesnt have a fistful of number one ratings, doesnt draw two million skier day-visits per year, isnt eyed longingly by the World Economic Forum and will probably never host the Olympics.
It is, on the other hand, sustainable, at least insofar as having matured as a resort and a people-livable town. Its stubborn, populist, deeply-rooted New England residents seem to have a fairly clear vision of who they are and what they want to be when they grow up. And it knows its all-important sense of place is linked inexorably with that funky, soulful image of comfort and hospitality, not icy, aloof, bigger-is-better, five ring circus world-classiness.
But Whistler isnt Stowe. Whistler shouldnt even try to be Stowe any more than Stowe should try to be Whistler. Whistler ought to be Whistler.
But what the hell is that?
Is it the funk of Whistler Resort and Club? The future coziness of Nita Lake Lodge? The overwhelming sprawl of the Four Seasons that, on first glance, reminds me of the Mirabel of hotels? Is it Keir Fine Jewellery or Birks? Ulis and Umbertos or The Spaghetti Factory? Where does the apocryphal arrival of London Drugs fit into the picture? Can you really be a local if you drink Starbucks?
Tourism Whistler has fine-tuned the focus du jour and hung this seasons hopes on value. Its about time. Our competitive advantage of a US sixty-two cent dollar has vanished and, like so many Canadian enterprises, maybe our hard-charging growth wasnt so much the result of great management as it was the windfall of a cheap dollar.
Value shouldnt replace experience though. Its been a long time since much has been said about the Whistler Experience. The last time it was spoken about at any length was when we hammered out the framework for The Plan.
I dont know how much of what was discussed and agreed on will survive into The Plan. I dont know how The Plan will address something as fundamental as whether Whistler should embrace a London Drugs in the village or politely say, "Thanks but no thanks." I dont know what if any effect The Plan will have on the completely unsustainable infrastructure the Olympics is forcing on this town. I dont know how or whether The Plan will deter those pesky WEF people from returning to stick their foot in the door.
Neither does anyone else.
And so we wait. We idle. We coast. More decisions are deferred, the others are decided ad hoc. Were all just bozos on this bus. Kids waiting for Christmas to come, hoping weve been more nice than naughty.
Hoping we wont be too disappointed when that present weve been wanting for so long doesnt quite live up to its own hype and our overblown expectations.