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Peter Ladner: Sometimes nice guys do finish first

click to enlarge Peter Ladner
  • Peter Ladner

I didn’t think the guy had a hope in hell. He was way too nice a person. Far too willing to play by the rules. Didn’t matter that he was perfectly suited to the job. Or that he represented a way of life that truly reflected modern West Coast sensibilities. In this era of intimidation politics, backroom deals and bovine party tactics, I thought he’d get chewed up in the process and trashed like yesterday’s news.

I’m happy to say I was mistaken. Against all odds and despite the media’s total dismissal of his campaign, a Snoweater is now one of the principal candidate for the mayor’s job in Vancouver. And I couldn’t be happier for my brother-in-law.

Yeah. Yeah. I’m not trying to hide it. Peter Ladner and I are related. Been that way for over a quarter century now. So I’m biased. Sue me. Still, I’m going to spare you all the pap about what a great guy he is. Rather, I’d like to share some stories with you about his 45-year connection to this patch of mountains…

Why? Because I think it’s exciting to have a mayoral candidate in Vancouver who has such enduring ties to Whistler. And very physical ones too. I mean, this is no poser. This isn’t the politico who buys a fancy place at Nicklaus North, dons a pair of rear-entry boots and Bogner outfit for a photo op and teeters down the bunny hill to his next fundraiser.

No. Peter Ladner is definitely Old School Whistler. Been coming here since the place opened. Since before that even. Owns a modest little condo at Creekside that he and his wife and his four kids use as base camp for their myriad mountain adventures. And he loves Whistler for all the right reasons.

Right reasons? Yeah, c’mon now, you know what I’m talking about:

This is a guy who happily sports tatty hand-me-down gear on a grizzly, stormy Whistler day — a day when most sane 59 year olds wouldn’t even consider being on the hill — while gleefully riding deep fluff in the trees with his grown-up kids. This is a guy who thinks a worthy running challenge consists of racing the Rubble Creek Classic. And winning the race.

Not convinced? Consider this: at the infamous Knee Knackering trail run on the North Shore a few years ago, Ladner had his own 40-and-over record obliterated by Whistler’s Kevin Titus — only to break the standing 50-and-over record in turn…

He may look harmless. He may have the demeanour of a well-meaning pastor. Or an earnest choir master even. But as an athlete he has few peers. Blessed with a great ticker and a light touch on his feet, Pete is one of those guys who seems to do well in just about any sporting endeavour he undertakes.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pay the price for his sporting enthusiasm sometimes.

Just last winter I ran into Pete in the forest on Whistler Mountain’s west side. His face looked like he’d just done a head dip on cement — there was scraped skin from the bridge of his nose all the way down to his chin. It looked terminally painful. Turns out he’d had a bit of a crash on his skis. “Went over the handlebars,” he admitted ruefully. “And my glasses kind of got caught between the ground and my face.” The scabs from that fall, I knew, would be with him for the next few weeks at least. And I remember thinking: how refreshing to see a big-city politician who is still willing to play hard on the mountain — regardless of the photo-op consequences.

Now I can already hear some of you tsk-tsking about risk-taking and bad examples and irresponsible behaviour. Go ahead. As far as I’m concerned, good leaders have to be comfortable with taking risks. That’s what makes them effective leaders, for gawd’s sake. And while Peter is certainly no extreme-sport junkie — at least not when you compare him to his children — I’m thrilled that we have a leadership candidate in Vancouver who actually loves mountain adventures the way he does.

And it’s a love affair that’s been going on for a while. “When you told me you were going to do this story I immediately thought back to one of the first summers I spent up here,” he says. “It must have been the summer of 1968 — maybe ’69. I was a supervisor on a youth group clearing the trails from Taylor Creek to Black Tusk Meadows — including the ones around Garibaldi Lake.” He smiles at the memories. “It was amazing, you know. We lived in the cabins up there. So the whole area became our playground. We explored every corner of it…”

But his initiation to trekking the local high country dates from even before that. “It was the summer of 1966,” he recalls. “The headmaster of the school I was attending decided he’d introduce this new program to his students. It was called The Duke of Edinburgh Award.” He chuckles. “You know, kind of a Boy Scout thing on steroids. Outdoor adventure and leadership training, only stepped up a notch…”

One of the criteria was a multi-day survival hike. So Ladner and four school companions — Stephen Owen, Pete Quinn, Brian McDaniel and Dave Slater — decided to climb up to Garibaldi Lake and walk from there to Whistler. “It was an incredible experience,” he says. “And quite the adventure, I can tell you. By completing the trek, we even managed to become the first Canadians to pass the program’s gold level.” And then only lightly self-mocking, “which got us a meeting with the Duke of Edinburgh and everything.”

But it’s not just Peter’s physical abilities that impress. For this is also a guy who harbours a profound appreciation for the unique beauty of our Coast Mountain locale.

On a recent overnight snowshoe outing to Russet Lake with an Outward Bound group, Ladner decided to spend the night outside alone, away from the shelter. “So there I was, all by myself, set up for the night under the stars,” he explains. “And it was deathly still. There was no sound at all, except for my heart beating and the blood coursing through my veins. It was so quiet it was almost spooky.”

He pauses for a moment. “And all of a sudden it hit me. I realized that this is one of the few places on earth where it can be that quiet. And I also realized just how fortunate I was to be able to experience it like this. It was a very magical moment…”

So there you go. At a time in B.C.’s history when it’s never been more important for Whistler and Vancouver to co-operate as municipalities —“We’re definitely blood brothers on this Olympic thing,” says Ladner — I find it refreshing that there’s finally a candidate out there who “gets” the relationship. And one, furthermore, who wants to leverage it for the benefit of both communities…

According to the two-term councillor, much has already been accomplished between the two groups. “Of all the councils in the region,” he says, “our closest connection is to Whistler council, for sure. My impression is that we can work quite well together.”

But it’s not a connection you should ever take for granted, says Ladner. “One of my key platforms issues — one of the things I really want to focus on in this election — is that I believe Vancouver can become one of the most globally competitive cities in the world.” And leveraging the community’s relationship to Whistler, he argues, is a major component of that strategy. Why? Because, he says, the “Whistler Experience” is right at the top of the perks list when recruiting talented young workers to the city. “Some of us may take it for granted,” he says. “But having world-class mountain resort in your own backyard is a huge asset. And we shouldn’t be shy to promote that connection.”

From a business point-of-view, Ladner also believes Whistler offers an ideal environment for exploring new perspectives. “It’s so close to Vancouver yet so distinctly different — climate geography, atmosphere — that people can get really inspired to address issues in different ways here. I think Whistler could carve out a very interesting niche for itself as a centre for corporate retreats.” In fact, he says, from his experience “it’s an asset that the Vancouver business community has yet to fully exploit.”

On that same subject, it’s also important, adds Ladner, to let Whistler be the resort community it was designed to be while Vancouver focuses on being the region’s economic engine. “I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest for Vancouver to become a ‘resort city’,” he says. But that doesn’t mean that Vancouver councillors can’t learn from their Whistler counterparts. “As an early convert to The Natural Step,” he says, “I was quite inspired by the work done by Whistlerites on that front.” Another smile. “And as far as affordable housing goes, they’re still leaders in the field…”

When all is said and done however, it still comes down to “days on the mountain” for Ladner. And like the dyed-in-the-wool Snoweater that he is, he never gets quite enough. “Unfortunately,” he says. “I didn’t spend as much time skiing as I wanted to last year. But this next winter, my first priority is to get out on the mountain, ski into the back bowls and soak up the scene as much as I can. Know what I mean?”

Indeed I do…

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