I've had one foot out of this town since the moment I arrived.
I've stayed as long as I have because I need a job. But After two years, I've never really connected with the town. The nature is nice — most certainly but I'm from B.C. — this shit is everywhere. And sure, I've met wonderful people but the cultural experience of the town, it's heart and spirit, I've always found a little, well...bland.
I immediately felt that Whistler was missing something — a spark or something. I never could pinpoint what it is.
And then, last week, I was flipping through the pages of the old alternative rag, the Whistler Answer. The paper was published throughout the late '70s and again, for a short time, in the early '90s. I was writing a story about the Whistler Museum's plan to digitize the entire catalogue and, naturally, wanted to see for myself what the paper was all about.
To be sure, it was a laugh. Steeped in whimsy and irreverence, it was a regular celebration of the ski bum lifestyle that the town was founded on. The free-spiritedness held within those pages has been all but eliminated from the Whistler media today — and, arguably, from the town itself.
No longer do we celebrate drugs and nudity the way we once did. Yes, there are a lot of people who like drugs and nudity, but no longer is it advertised as a crucial component of the Whistler lifestyle. It is, however, a crucial component to the town's development. It is, in fact, what the spirit of the town was founded on. Not drugs and nudity per se, but the characteristics of the people that tend to indulge in such behaviour have laid the foundation for what Whistler has become. It was not just about skiing. That was merely one facet of an entire worldview that included a heady sense of liberalism, a fondness for ceaseless good times and certain reckless abandon. That reputation still exists, sort of, even as these same people have all grown up and as the town has evolved into a corporate suck hole.
And that's the problem, I guess. The corporatization of Whistler™ has stifled the true spirit of Whistler. Town leaders — namely, the fine people at the RMOW, TW and WB — have found themselves in the oxymoronic position of trying to brand themselves as an appealing cultural destination while effectively stamping out the only real culture it has ever had.
Whistler needs to embrace where it came from in order to offer these "authentic Whistler experiences" that the RMOW is so keen on providing through its Festivals, Events & Animation program. But based on last year's program, and from what's already been announced this year is not culturally unique — we can see the VSO or Barenaked Ladies at outdoor venues in Burnaby, for example — and thus not authentically Whistler.
The manufactured culture that the RMOW is creating through the FE&A program as it currently exists will remain a bogus representation of Whistler culture until those in charge take a good deep look at what and where Whistler came from to pinpoint what exactly Whistler is and what made it so special in its early golden years. It was never just about the mountains — those are what reel the people in. It's what lies at the heart of the town that will connect with people and make them truly fall in love with this town, the way people have been.
I don't mean to rag on the RMOW and I do think the FE&A strategy can be successful if it's handled properly. I think Wanderlust, the three-day yoga/wellness festival coming here in September, is a step in the right direction because it captures the essence of what Whistler was and still remains to be, at its core.
But I still feel that Whistler is, at its core, a groovy, hippie mountain town that has lost its groove.
Of course, my opinion of Whistler, is informed by fact that I hate snow. I really do. It's been decided.
BUT — and it's a big "but" — I've made it my duty to give a serious shit about what happens here. It has been my home for two years, and if I didn't care I never would have lasted in this job.
So when I was flipping through the Answer, I saw a vision for what the true Whistler was — and still is — all about. That spirit still exists. Look at the success of the Basscoast Music Festival as an example — that's the evolution of Whistler worldview right there. Thousands of kids flock here from all over the world to flout responsibility for a season or three because of that spirit that the Answer was capturing. The reputation has outlived the reality, I guess, and these kids keep it alive. They also keep the town alive, quite literally.
So what am I saying? I don't really know. Go get naked, I guess.