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Opinion: Why is it so hard to weatherproof Whistler?

'It would be wise to finally diversify our activity offerings in the years ahead'
This could be all of us here in Whistler. But no.

Since Whistler’s Village 8 Cinemas officially closed its doors for good in the first week of January, Pique has heard from three different people wanting to reopen it.

In each instance, we passed the appropriate contact info along, and waited, hoping against hope that something might come of it—that the Village 8 might live to screen another day.

But the proposals to revive it never made it past table read, apparently—none of those who sought to reopen Whistler’s theatre responded to a request for updates this week.

Many Whistler locals are missing their little cinema more than ever this October, as the mountains are closed in preparation for another winter and the dead-season doldrums begin to settle in.

After several days of rain—and with more rain expected in the valley in general in the years to come—the discussion of weatherproofing Whistler is timely (but then, is it ever really not?).

Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher touched on it briefly during a presentation to Whistler’s committee of the whole on Oct. 10.

“We know that in high season, summer and winter, we have our best foot forward. But how do we continue to support with weather-independent activities?” she asked.

TW has gotten a lot of feedback about the theatre closing, she added.

“We manage and operate the Rainbow Theatre [at the Whistler Conference Centre]. It’s a little premature to think that we can open that as a theatre, because it is utilized for conference groups and because it has been renovated recently—it’s not really set up for popcorn and cokes spilling on the floor,” Fisher said. “But that aside, we recognize that activities like that are important when we do have rainy days or inclement weather.”

While it’s too early to talk specifics, Fisher said in a follow-up email the matter was discussed at TW’s annual board planning meeting, and the organization plans to “investigate and/or facilitate weather-independent activities for our visitors” in the future.

There are already some weather-independent activities on offer in the resort, “from the Audain Art Museum and Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, to axe throwing and the Escape Room, to Wintersphere family activities at the Whistler Conference Centre over the holiday period,” Fisher noted.

“But as you know, with the closing of the Village 8 theatre, an important indoor entertainment activity has been lost—both for residents and for visitors.

“Tourism Whistler will therefore be investigating other potential weather-independent opportunities in 2024.”

It seems easy enough, but for some reason “weatherproof” proposals in Whistler have a history of dying on the vine, so to speak.

Who could forget Whistler Blackcomb Renaissance, the mountain operator’s splashy, $345-million investment plan announced in the spring of 2016?

In that project, officials envisioned spending up to $100 million on new attractions at the base of Blackcomb, including Watershed, a year-round, indoor activity centre located adjacent to the current tube park.

A significant chunk of the facility would be dedicated to a water play area complete with slides, a surf zone, a kids’ splash area and hot and cold pools. There were also plans for a family entertainment centre, food and beverage options, and an eight-lane bowling alley.

Just four months after that announcement, Whistler Blackcomb sold to Vail Resorts for $1.4 billion, and the Renaissance project was effectively shelved, with the new owners choosing to focus investments on-mountain instead.

Then there was the 2018 proposal from National Beerhall Inc., a division of Concorde Entertainment Group, which operates 18 venues in the Calgary area, to develop a new restaurant/pub/bowling alley in the long-vacant property at 4295 Blackcomb Way.

In that case, proponents sought to add a restaurant, patio and lounge on the main level, and eight bowling lanes, billiards, and other classic arcade games on the lower level, located next to Village 8 Cinemas. If approved, the venue would have included 616 seats divided between the two levels, and would require a staff of around 100, according to the proponent.

In the end, the sheer size of the proposal was likely its downfall, as Whistler’s existing bar and restaurant sector—already struggling with housing and labour—came out en masse against the project.

Concorde eventually walked away from the proposal, declining to provide any reasoning to Pique (a representative last responded to a request for updates in December 2018—all subsequent emails went unanswered).

These proposals may have died unceremonious deaths, but judging from the weather this week—and the long-term outlook for conditions in Whistler—it would be wise to finally diversify our activity offerings in the years ahead.

We can’t control the weather, after all—but there’s no reason we can’t ride out the storms in style with some mini golf or bowling.