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Maxed Out: Not all tourists are created equal

Bring on winter
The seasons are shifting in Whistler, which means some brief semi-downtime in the resort.

Hear that? Listen more closely. Now do you hear it? That, my friends, is the sound of summer slammin’ shut. By the merciful intervention of another school year, this town’s about ready to go into sleep-lite mode for the fleeting weeks between now and ski season, with notable exceptions.

It’s time to reclaim the trails and lakes from the ever-expanding hordes of map-clutching, screamin’-kid-toting, boulevard-strollin’, gold-card-flashin’ tourists and enjoy them in their fleeting semi-solitude. The jugglers and clowns have packed up their false noses and flaming torches, and we can once more enjoy an uncrowded patio, a refreshing beverage and peace of mind.

Apologies to all those who make their killing, er, living, off the seasonal invasion, but good riddance.

Now before you start writing outraged letters to the editor about what an ungrateful, short-sighted thing that is for me to write, don’t bother. He already knows I’m ungrateful and short-sighted. It’s part of his own bargain with the Devil, one of an uncountable number of compromises necessary to put out a paper each week. Besides, in your hearts you know I’m right.

I’m not unaware of the debt we all owe—myself included—to the many funseekers who choose to spend time and money in Whistler. Bless each and every one of them. Individually, I’m sure they’re all salt-o-the-earth people, except for the loser hoodlums who come up from the Lower Mainland for a punch-up or drag race down the Killer Highway.

But in the same way a single sliver in your finger or a single pebble in your shoe won’t slow you down, a couple dozen of each can become unbearable. Left alone long enough, they’ll fester and aggravate your tender flesh until infectious gangrene sets in and the next thing you know you’re selling pencils from a kneeboard with a sign around your neck that says, “God bless you for your generosity.” Of course, you’re likely to be shooed away by Bylaw for panhandling, but they can’t be everywhere at once.

With the disappearing shoulder seasons and year-round fun being dreamed up by the marketing wizards of Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler, we just don’t get the respite we used to get from the gawking visitors. And let’s be absolutely clear about one thing: not all tourists are created equal.

I love winter tourists. Winter tourists know what they’ve come to Whistler for. They’re single-minded in their pursuit of fast times, awesome natural features and wild thrills. Most of them also ski or board after having flushed half their brain cells down the stall of one of our many nightlife hotspots.

There’s a camaraderie among winter visitors, a shared passion that bridges the often gaping chasms of language, age, social class, and physical abilities that would, in any other setting, divide them if not cause outright warfare to break out between them. Mind you, there continues to be animosity between skiers and boarders that defies resolution and will, most likely, one day lead to slide-by polings or worse—but where would we be without some perceived slight to hang our “them and us” dichotomous disposition on?

Summer tourists are a whole different animal, though. While winter tourists generally sift themselves through a simple screen of warm holiday/cold holiday, summer tourists are torn every which way by offerings as diverse as a cultural sojourn to Europe or staying in their own backyard and sipping beer while sprawled in the kid’s plastic pool, shooing away flies and mosquitoes. Faced with choices as broad as these, it’s a wonder any of them ever decide to come to Whistler.

But come they do, in sheer numbers far greater than in winter. Some of them come to ride bikes, go sightseeing, raft a river, catch a fish, whack a golf ball, see a sight, hike a trail and clog a beach... all in the same day... at the same time... without any real understanding of exactly where they need to go to do those things.

Which is why they seem to end up all over the place and in a constant state of confusion. Unlike winter visitors who have the overall decency to stay in the village built for their pleasure, summer tourists know no boundaries. They’re in our neighbourhoods, wandering our streets, even knocking on our doors wanting to know where Rainbow Park is or where they can see a bear.

Regardless of what many of our summer visitors thought they came for, though, most of them seem to have come to argue with their children and spouses. In public. The children oblige this unusual pastime by throwing temper tantrums, thus upping the ante. It must be a rite of summer. There is an uncomfortable familiarity to many of the scenes I’ve stumbled upon recently, a timelessness of old, familiar tragedies replayed throughout the ages.

“C’mon now.  You’ve got to learn to ride a bike some day.”

“I don’t want to ride a bike. I hate you.”

“That’s enough out of you, mister. Keep it up and I’ll give you something to really cry about.”

“I hate you. I hate you.”

Did he actually say, “Keep it up and I’ll give you something to really cry about?” Did he hear himself say that and think, in the same moment the words were coming out of his mouth, “Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that exactly what I promised myself I’d never say to my children?” All the while wondering whether that was him speaking or whether his father had temporarily inhabited his body.

I read with question marks in my eyes the appraisal from Tourism Whistler that visitation was down this summer. Really? Based on what metric? Hotel(sic) occupancy? Perhaps. But a stroll through the village any day I made one this summer sure didn’t seem like there were fewer visitors. The place was packed. The bike park, even without the Fitz lift, was packed. The patios were packed. And, not surprisingly, the parking lots were packed.

For too many years our efforts to bring people to Tiny Town have been driven by the heads-in-beds metric. Perhaps we should begin to measure different things. Like the people waiting to take photos at the Olympic™ rings. Like the number of cars circling the day skier lots. Like the lineup at Cows for ice cream. Empty patio seats.

Frankly, all those things have a greater impact on the sense of busyness than how many overnight rooms are occupied.

Bring on winter.

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