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Letter: You don’t know what you got till it’s gone

"It’s shameful how Vail Resorts has hollowed out our great resort."
Whistler Blackcomb peak to peak gondola at sunset
Whistler Blackcomb's Peak to Peak gondola at sunset.

First, to let you know, I don’t like writing letters to the editor, but this has been building and festering in me for awhile and I need to get it out.

I first started skiing here in the ’60s. My favourite place to ski in the beginning was the T-bar on Glacier Bowl. I spent a lot of time there while my dad and older brother would ski the whole mountain. One thing that made me happy is that even back then, in the springtime there was a hot dog stand at the bottom of the T-bar where you could get a good hot dog, drinks, chocolate bars and the like. Life was great, and I was hooked on skiing, Whistler Mountain and Alta Lake, Whistler.

Since the early days of a few lifts and runs, Whistler, now Whistler Blackcomb (WB), has become one of the largest ski resorts in the world. I have taken much pride in this, as from an early age I knew the potential of Whistler. Whistler started with the best terrain in North America, and just the sheer vastness of it all and its natural beauty, along with our most precious lakes, make it a Canadian jewel.

But just having all this natural wonder would not make it into the No. 1 ski resort in North America. It takes people to do that, and in my opinion we had the best ski people in the industry.

There are too many names to mention, but here’s some: Wilhelmsen, Raine, McConkey, Smythe, Vogler, Boyd, DuFour, Forseth, Brownlie. Al Raine and Dave Brownlie are both from my hometown of Burnaby. Two good B.C. boys, and the others mostly Canadians, but all who put skiers first and took pride in providing the best ski experience to all.

For those ski industry leaders and visionaries to make WB into the No. 1 resort in North America indicated by U.S. ski magazines was an even bigger accomplishment considering WB is a Canadian resort beating out top U.S. resorts.

Fast-forward to the takeover of WB by Vail Resorts. From the first I heard of it, I had concerns, and was saddened that a great Canadian icon was being taken over by a U.S. company. I wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid that Americans can run things better. In fact, I knew it would be quite the opposite, and it has been.

The downfall started almost immediately by slowly but steadily increasing the cost of food. I rarely go into mountain restaurants now. The quality and selection and pricing are, quite frankly, disgraceful. There used to be a great selection of freshly baked goods, great soups and pasta and gourmet sandwiches. I recently saw someone with a hamburger they bought on-mountain, and it looked like hospital food at best—and I understand a hamburger and fries is $30! That’s outrageous.

Then there’s the grooming, which has suffered greatly under Vail Resorts’ ownership. So many good runs are not being groomed regularly or at all, like Peak to Creek (which was previously groomed twice per week), Bear Paw, Tokum, Lower Franz and now even upper Dave Murray. There are long lift lines, lifts stopping constantly, late opening of alpine lifts, rarely opening T-Bars, poor communication, no communication, useless apps (especially for weather), no soap in the bathrooms ... The list goes on and on and keeps growing. Basically, it feels as if Vail is trying to wring every last nickel out of the resort while providing the very minimum in return. I don’t believe Vail Resorts is run by ski people—or at least not B.C. ski people. It is an investment company, taking our money up front and investing that for its return. And just to be clear, none of this is directed at staff, as I think they are doing a remarkable job under the circumstances.

It’s shameful how Vail Resorts has hollowed out our great resort. I used to have so much pride and connection to our hometown hill, and now I’m losing it and feel Whistler is becoming just another corporate town. I don’t even know who any of the local Vail Resorts executives are, let alone know what they look like. I used to see Smythe, Brownlie, Forseth, Dufour and others all the time working the lines or helping out with whatever needed to be done.

Change is inevitable, and good change is always welcome, but Vail Resorts is destroying the soul of WB. It’s so sad to see all the things we used to have now gone, such as the hot dog stand, outdoor barbecues, bands playing up top, amateur competitions, special events, etc.

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone. I wish we could go back to Canadian ownership and management, but that’s a pipe dream. At least the mountain is still the mountain, and we are still surrounded by natural beauty.

Thanks to all who made WB what it was. It was a great ride and I’m grateful I was there from the beginning to experience it. I hope this doesn’t happen to our other great B.C. ski resorts. My word of advice to these resorts? If you see something shiny being dangled in front of you, don’t believe what they’re selling.

Ken Mason // Whistler