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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: For the sake of winter, we must stay vigilant

Photo by Tourism Whistler/Guy Fattal

(Editor’s note: The following is an open letter from Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz to communities, guests and employees.)

What will the 2020-21 ski and snowboard season look like? We are still in the heat of July—still celebrating the successful opening of our resorts for summer—and that is the No. 1 question we are getting across our 34 North American resorts. What lies ahead for winter? We remain optimistic that we’ll have a great ski season. And we are actively preparing our resorts to ensure our employees and guests have a safe and enjoyable experience this winter amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But we also know that without strong, healthy communities, none of that matters. 

We often talk about how our mountain resorts and communities are joined at the hip. We operate in the same ecosystem, we need each other to succeed and survive. The importance of this partnership was evident in the collective effort it took to safely reopen for summer. But that was not the end of the race—it was the beginning. For the sake of winter, we must stay vigilant with safety as our No. 1 priority—now and through the entire winter season. There are two things we collectively must keep top of mind: 

1. We cannot get complacent. With the recent COVID-19 resurgence in the United States and around the world, we need to assume that we will still be dealing with the impacts of the virus throughout the winter season. Even if new COVID-19 cases decline—nationally or locally—we must assume the virus will reemerge. We cannot relax restrictions or protocols. We cannot get caught trying to play catch-up to the virus during the ski season. We have to remain out front in our approach. Exacerbating that reality is the fact that each one of our communities is a destination for visitors from countless other cities. This is our greatest strength, but it can also be a weakness. We cannot only look at the COVID-19 data in our local communities. By welcoming people to our resorts from other locations, we need to realize that we will be taking on their COVID-19 experience as well. Therefore, for us to be successful we need to enforce protocols and procedures now that can work all season.

2. Safety is not optional. At Vail Resorts, we are strong advocates for face coverings and believe that in public gathering spaces—indoors and outdoors—everyone needs to wear a face covering at all times. There should be limited exceptions in areas designated for eating and drinking, but just as other tourist destinations have required, we must ensure that face coverings are not optional if you are walking around with a drink or snack in your hand. We also believe that physical distancing between unrelated parties is a must—which means events or other public gatherings that don’t allow for 2 metres of distancing should be restricted or limited. This goes for gatherings in town and on the mountain. We need to accept that this will likely be the reality for the full season. We are certainly not experts on infectious disease and cannot dictate the local regulations of our communities, but these are simple measures that will contribute to our collective success. And they need to be executed now, so they become ingrained well before the ski season begins.

To our guests, visitors, employees and residents: We need your support, compassion and understanding that staying vigilant in our communities now, and in the months ahead, will help us all have a successful winter. While we cannot completely control the behaviours of visitors, we are committed to enhancing our communications to our guests to ensure they at least understand our expectations of them when they come. We all know enforcement can be a challenge, but with repetition and local alignment, we can ensure people comply and respect this approach to safety. 

COVID-19 has significantly impacted every one of our mountain resort communities. The closure of our resorts in March came with a heavy financial and human cost to our company, as well as to so many businesses and people throughout the towns, cities, counties, provinces and states where we operate. In the midst of these challenges, it has been inspiring to see how everyone has come together to support one another and help chart a course forward. We cannot lose that momentum. 

All of us want to protect our local economies and our communities. All of us want a great ski and snowboard season. To make that a reality—all of us must remain vigilant. Together, let’s set a tone and demonstrate that we are leaders in offering the safest and most enjoyable experience, anywhere in the world.

Rob Katz // CEO, Vail Resorts

Concern over proposed rezoning and townhouse development

As we move through these strange and challenging times, it has provided a chance for many of us to reflect about what is important to us and our community. Some people have called for a “reset.” Take a step back and challenge what we are doing and why.

For Whistler, this means many things but importantly, it means how we balance sustainability and environmental standards with managing growth and development.

I am very concerned that the proposed rezoning and 43-townhome development at 5298 Alta Lake Rd., on the west side of Nita Lake, has got this balance wrong. I have read the environmental report (not easy to read and not easy to get hold of!) which describes these lands as having many mature trees (some 250 to 300 years old), being potentially the habitat for some endangered species and likely to have many rare plants. It also outlines that there are severe constraints to development and suggests some key recommendations and mitigation strategies. One of these is to ensure a detailed study of rare and endangered plants and wildlife before development proceeds. 

According to the report, there are 40 animal species at risk potentially occurring onsite, in addition to 13 at-risk plant species and 11 at-risk ecosystems. Another recommendation is the preservation of as many of the mature trees as possible with guidance from an arborist. The current report clearly states that it is an “initial” report; have any of these further reports and studies been completed, and if so, what are the results? What if we find out that there are many rare plants and wildlife on these lands? 

Surely, this is a material piece of information that the council needs to know. And yet this project has already been in front of council three times and is soon to have a public hearing. Discussion of the environmental issues for this development have been far from detailed and have lacked transparency and rigour.

To be clear, the environmental report does not provide an opinion on the project’s viability and some progress has been made to provide for green spaces and to provide for a riparian area next to the lake. However, key and demanding questions are still not being debated and the recommended additional reports do not appear forthcoming. 

Clearly, these are special and sensitive lands on the shores of one of our precious lakes. How many times will Whistler have this opportunity to develop or protect such unique lands? In an age when environmental issues are so important, surely the council and the community should demand a comprehensive discussion of the environmental impact. 

This does not mean no development, but it means developments which are held to the highest environmental standards and one where the environmental impact is transparent and keenly debated. I am asking council to commit to the Whistler community that these additional environmental reports are completed, made available to the public and that there is a full and transparent debate about the environmental impact of this development. 

In five years’ time, when we ride our bikes and walk around Nita Lake, we will all be very thankful that a rigourous process has been followed.

I urge you to make your voices heard about the environmental impact of this rezoning by writing a letter to mayor and council at

Sandra Durrans // Whistler 

Not all vehicles with U.S. plates ‘headed to Alaska’ 

This letter is in response to Natalie Rock and Jim Brown’s letter to the editor, (Pique, July 16), “How pathetic are we as Canadians.” 

Before you report a U.S. plate vehicle to the RCMP, please recognize that there are several possibilities that might justify the presence of a U.S. vehicle in Canada and locally here in Whistler. 

Per Canadian government policy, immediate family members of Canadian citizens from the U.S. are legally permitted to cross to border and remain in Canada. 

That U.S. plate vehicle might also—importantly—belong to a essential worker, in the medical field or otherwise, or might also possibly belong to a Canadian who had been working in the U.S. who has returned home for their own safety during the pandemic, or who might have lost their U.S.-based job. 

As Dr. Bonnie Henry has urged, the plate of a vehicle does not tell the whole story of the circumstances of the individual driving it. 

Please curtail your xenophobia, not all us vehicles are “headed to Alaska!”

Nick Morrissey // Whistler

Don’t judge American plates 

This letter is in response to the letter from Natalie Rock and Jim Brown entitled, “How pathetic are we Canadians” (Pique, July 16).

Yes, you are pathetic. 

I am a Canadian citizen living in Pinecrest, B.C. and I’m driving a car with an American plate. For the last 10 years, I have been living in Athens, GA. I am not an American citizen and don’t have many rights there. We drove back to B.C. in May because we have also been majorly impacted by the pandemic. We obeyed the two-week quarantine. So if you are criticizing and judging Americans right now for their xenophobic, racist and bigoted administration while also taking pictures of American license plates and reporting them to the cops, then you are a hypocrite. 

I’m saddened and full of shame that my fellow Canadians are acting in such a petty and small-minded way. Is it “Canada first now?” Are you hoarding your supplies and building a wall? Why don’t you wait by the cars, put your mask on and have a conversation with the driver? 

Have the decency to talk to me and my kids and see what our story is before you judge and condemn us. I thought Canadians were better than this. I’m disappointed. 

Mimi Morrissey // Whistler 

Losing faith in the feds

It’s with great sadness that I tell you that I’ve lost complete faith 100 per cent in our government, financially, and from a role of any type of leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Their excuses are absolutely disgusting. Our government should be held to a higher standard. We become the laughingstock of the world not to be compared to the United States, but it’s almost like the headlines read as a joke as a Canadian. I call for the immediate dismissal of the finance minister and the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister who has tarnished and shamed the office that he is supposed to be upholding. His lack of judgment is repugnant. 

Furthermore, if a Canadian business owner had done the exact same thing that our finance minister and our leader has done, which, by the way numerous senators and how many other politicians are doing the same thing, the Canadian Revenue Agency would freeze assets, charge them, fine them and in this particular instance, they would be in jail. So why is it that a simple apology falls on so many deaf ears?  

Being a part of the Liberal Party unfortunately paints [our MP] with the same brush. I certainly hope this is not true. Please restore faith in the corrupt political system. I know it’s not possible to end corruption but this is beyond ridiculous.

Robert Szachury // Pemberton