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Letter to the Editor: What sets Whistler apart from other Vail Resorts properties?

'One conflict of franchising is that what is good for the stock price is not necessarily good for either skiing or Whistler'
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"There must be a way forward that captures and enlarges the soul and spirit of Whistler so we do not become another burger patty on a bun."

I have been a resident of Whistler for 35 years, and for much longer I have enjoyed and been part of the Whistler spirit. Until now, I never felt concerned about the management/ownership of our mountain, as I always trusted each team was working towards something positive for Whistler.

Now I wonder if we are losing some of the very “soul” of Whistler due to a conflicting ownership philosophy. I am wondering if we are becoming—or have already become—a mere franchise, a lookalike of some 25 other Vail Resorts properties. There seems to be no statement to differentiate us as unique, the way there always was. There is little to say, “now you are skiing in Whistler,” or even, “now you are skiing in Canada, and Canada has a different culture than the USA.” Is this too much to ask, or are we now “just Vail?”

Presently there seems to be far less advertising of our unique, world-class resort, of our powder, our terrain, our friendliness, our reputation. Instead, we seem to be just another part of an “Epic” plastic card. One conflict of franchising is that what is good for the stock price is not necessarily good for either skiing or Whistler.

In the future, will we see this as part of the “McDonaldization” of skiing? No matter where you go, it all has the same taste! Could it be that the owners do not want us to be any more successful than any of their other franchises?

The mountain owners have moved the [public] relations department to Colorado, with one result being that there are too few managers to guide others to provide the same level of service we once enjoyed. I doubt I’m the only one to find fault with grooming, or noticing that lifts do not open when they used to, or that lift lines are sometimes not managed in a friendly way. And surely, could there not be a better way to handle sheltering and food at the mountaintop in this COVID time?

When a skier or rider has a question, complaint, comment, or even a legitimate request for a refund, the inquiry now goes to Colorado. When more than 12,000 passholders sign a petition regarding personal safety, Vail Resorts’ answer is that they will not go beyond what the government mandates, even while other resorts in B.C. have stepped up to do what’s best for their visitors.

There must be a way forward that captures and enlarges the soul and spirit of Whistler so we do not become another burger patty on a bun. We need to help empower [Whistler Blackcomb Chief Operating Officer] Geoff Buchheister and his local management team so they can make the  decisions that affect us here in the valley, that they hear the local feedback, and even meet us in the lift lines. We need a local HR department and a local WB booster department, too, because otherwise those who really make the mountain work will begin to see themselves as working for Vail Resorts, rather than working to ensure that Whistler Blackcomb continues to be the place we know it can be.

Al Whitney // Whistler