Alta states 

A writer’s confession: Ten reasons for loving Whistler

click to enlarge Whistler Style Many an exhibitionist has called Whistler home. Chili Thom doing his part during one of many legendary parties
  • Whistler Style Many an exhibitionist has called Whistler home. Chili Thom doing his part during one of many legendary parties

It happens. People get pissed off. They get insulted. So it goes. And the response is never slow in coming. That’s what you get for being presumptuous enough to put your opinions out there for all to read. Especially in this town. What surprises me is how personal it gets. In the last two-and-a-bit years of writing Alta States, I’ve been accused of all sorts of things. I’m anti-Intrawest. I hate Whistler. I’m a disruptive detractor. I loathe snowboarding. I’m a sentimental neo-Luddite. I live in the — gasp! — city!

And yes, those accusations hurt. I mean, do you think I would really spend my time writing a weekly column about a place I disliked as much as my critics say I do? Believe me, that’s a non-starter.

Fortunately Alta States has also allowed me to learn a heck of a lot about the various members of this great, complex social weave we think of as the Whistler community. And that has been a thoroughly positive experience (and it’s made me love this place even more than I did before). From Ace McKay-Smith to Florence Petersen and Irene Whistney, from Peter Alder to Mike Varrin, Dan Ellis and Jorge Alvarez: the folks who make this place swing are positive, caring, generous people who truly care about the future of Whistler. And it’s made me realize just how much is at stake here.

Another aspect of my Alta States meandering has been to pursue the “future of mountain resorts” line of enquiry. And that, faithful reader, has been both fascination and sobering. Again, I’ve been fortunate enough to access some of the most progressive thinkers in that domain. Whether Eldon Beck or Myles Rademan, David Perry, Helen Klanderud, Arthur de Jong or Rick Kahl, it’s evident from everything these “seers” are telling me that the mountain tourism business is undergoing profound changes right now. Resorts that resist these changes, they warn me, will not survive. It’s that simple.

As with mining, logging and fishing in the last century, B.C. boasts incredible mountain tourism potential for the 21 st . And Whistler is defining the very leading edge of that potential right now. In other words, where Whistler goes over the next few years, many other resort-towns will follow. But that doesn’t mean we’re failure-proof. Especially given our province’s economic track record.

So does it not behoove us to move forward carefully? Is it not in our best interest to ask difficult questions of our leaders? And do it publicly — without eliciting rancour or abuse? Besides, if we want people to consider us “world-class”, are we not responsible for holding ourselves up to a higher standard? I mean, isn’t that what ‘world class’ is all about?

As Bobby Zimmerman once wrote, “the times they are a changing.” And if we can’t make those crucial alterations in our way of doing things, we risk quickly becoming obsolete. “In times of transition like this,” David Perry said in the first-ever Alta States column, “the decisions that are made by the people in power have huge consequences. Now, more than ever, Whistlerites have to reflect on the true nature of this place. They have to focus on what makes this resort community special. And then they have to make sure that their vision is respected!”

Let me put it to you bluntly. While the Aspen Skiing Company is spending oodles of dough to underwrite one of the biggest solar array projects in Colorado, Intrawest is investing in one of the biggest energy-consuming capital projects ever at Whistler. Which one is more sustainable? And which one reflects best our 2020 vision?

I’d love to have that discussion in an open forum. So yes, I totally agree with Colorado resident R. Schwartz who wrote a letter to the Pique a few weeks ago suggesting we should develop more of a point/counterpoint exchange in these pages. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to do all along…

Indeed, I would much rather have a rip-snorting debate with W/B CEO Dave Brownlie over the viability of private clubs on public land instead of being attacked in the letter-to-the-editor section for my personal shortcomings (and not for the facts quoted in the column). Interested Dave?

Sadly it all comes down to the bully factor (or the perceived bully factor). “ You're right, I should (write a letter to the editor),” said an Alta States supporter recently. “But I won't. Because like countless other drones in this corridor, I rely on WB to pay the rent. And you can bet your life that we are all expected to fall into line — whether we are employees, associates or contractors…”

But in the end, that’s neither here nor there. Either you love Whistler — and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and fight for its future (in whichever form you believe it should take) — or you’re just a carpetbagger along for the ride. I know in which camp I stand. What about you?

Meanwhile here are my 10 reasons for loving Whistler:

1) The geography : We are blessed with a chain of coast-hugging mountains that have no equivalent anywhere else on earth. Glaciers, snow, granite and vast temperate rainforests: the geographic mix is truly stupendous.

2) The weather : Forget Colorado and Utah. I love it thick. I truly enjoy those big, honkin’ storm systems that come whirling down the Alaska Panhandle, stacking up against our coast like commuters at rush hour. Snowbird can keep its ‘lightest snow on earth’™, I prefer mine with a little gravitas.

3) The terrain : There’s nothing on this planet like hitting Peak-to-Creek when it’s just been groomed to the valley and there’s no one in sight and you can let it go for 1,500 vertical metres; similarly, few resorts anywhere offer the buzz of climbing over Spanky’s Ladder and hitting Diamond or Ruby Bowl with 60cm’s of fresh on 60cm’s from the day before.

4) Garibaldi Provincial Park : What can I say about a place that leaves me breathless every time I venture into its domain? Looking down from Fissile Peak unto a face that is more Alaskan in stature than most of the big-name Chugach runs, I am instantly reminded of just how special it is for Whistler to abut such an easily-accessed mountain wonderland.

5) Sea-to-Sky : Whistlerites forget sometimes just how far their community extends. Whether living in Squamish or Pemberton — and yes, even reaching out to those poor abused weekenders from Vancouver — the group of folks who consider Whistler “their community” stretches far beyond the municipality’s physical boundaries. And what a lucky thing that is: from tidewater to cloud-scratching summit, Whistler life is unique for its range of activities and interests.

6) Arts & Culture : Whether Writers’ Festival or Film Festival, works by Chili Tom, Cori Ross, Michele Bush or Stephen Vogler, the burgeoning arts scene at Whistler is becoming both entertaining and wildly diverse in its offerings. It’s at this point, say many resort-community thinkers, when a place really begins to thrive.

7) Born And Raised in Whistler : It’s truly exciting to see this “new” generation of born-and-raised Whistlerites and what they’re accomplishing in the “outside world”. Whether Victoria Whitney, Ali Milner or Claire Daniels, Davey Barr, Johnnie Burgess or Max Horner (to name but a few), these young ambassadors are adding more shine to the Whistler luster with everything they do. Hopefully they will all be able to find a place to live here in the future…

8) History : We stand on the shoulders of giants! Without the vision, determination (see even stubbornness) and hard work of its founders, Whistler would likely still be a quiet summer getaway with great fishing and good hiking. Remember: when Franz Wilhemsen and his posse started building here in 1964, there was no road, no electricity and no telephone connection….

9) Generosity : I am always in awe of people like Kathy Podborski or Andy Szocs or Colin Pitt Taylor or Andrée Janyk who put in countless volunteer hours simply in the hopes that the Whistler community will be better off for their contributions. But it seems to be an intrinsic part of the town’s DNA — and an extremely valuable asset.

10) Whistler Style : I first started writing about Whistler in the middle 1980s. Bold, adventurous — and totally chauvinistic about “my” mountain — I made it my business to reveal to the world what a great place this was. And yet, while it was virtually unknown outside hardcore skiers’ circles, I discovered in my travels that Whistler already had a reputation as a very cool place to live and play. And that status came directly from the resort’s earliest inhabitants: people like Dag Aabye and Jim McConkey and Nancy Greene Raine and Toulouse Spence and Hugh Smythe. Among mountain aficionados , “Whistler Style” hasn’t changed much in the ensuing years — only the names have. Now it’s Hugo Harrisson and Mike Douglas and Manuel Osborne Paradis, Britt Janyk and Maelle Ricker and Julia Murray. The message: Whistler style still kicks ass.

So there you have it. My top 10 list. Got any other reasons for loving Whistler? Drop me a line and let me know. I’m always happy to add more to my list…

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