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Waiting for The Plan

By G.D. Maxwell I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. It’s an uncomfortable, sand in your underpants, honey on your fingers, sunburned thighs on vinyl seats kind of feeling.

By G.D. Maxwell

I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. It’s an uncomfortable, sand in your underpants, honey on your fingers, sunburned thighs on vinyl seats kind of feeling. I know it’s coming, I know it’ll get here, I know I can wait it out, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be disappointed. My glass ain’t half empty; it’s got a hole in the bottom.

I know the toy I’ve been waiting for will be shiny and new when it arrives and I’ll open it with the highest of expectations. I’m sure its play value will give me an instant buzz before its half-life of familiarity begins to numb my senses. I’m sure it’ll break before I know it, slam up against its inherent limitations and my insatiable expectations. Before all the shine is gone, I’m certain I’ll be casting about for something to replace it, woefully aware of its failings.

Of course, what I’m really waiting for is the long-delayed, stunningly over-budget, hyped beyond all reality Officious Sustainability Plan – Whistler’s 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 Whistler’s 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.

Whistler’s 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. We’ve 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 OSP’s delay. Between the two, it’s 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 Time’s cookie cutter pieces on ski resorts, a What’s 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.

Here’s 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, doesn’t it? A town with soul. A hospitable, earnest town with friendly people, unique shops, funky restaurants and cozy inns.

It doesn’t have the two biggest ski mountains in North America, doesn’t have a fistful of number one ratings, doesn’t draw two million skier day-visits per year, isn’t 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 isn’t Stowe. Whistler shouldn’t 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? Uli’s and Umberto’s 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 season’s hopes on value. It’s 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 wasn’t so much the result of great management as it was the windfall of a cheap dollar.

Value shouldn’t replace experience though. It’s 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 don’t know how much of what was discussed and agreed on will survive into The Plan. I don’t 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 don’t know what if any effect The Plan will have on the completely unsustainable infrastructure the Olympics is forcing on this town. I don’t 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. We’re all just bozos on this bus. Kids waiting for Christmas to come, hoping we’ve been more nice than naughty.

Hoping we won’t be too disappointed when that present we’ve been wanting for so long doesn’t quite live up to its own hype and our overblown expectations.