Editorial 

The name game

Several years ago, about the time Whistler first began placing in the top three of American ski magazines’ annual resort rankings, a Vancouver ski columnist suggested Whistler be re-named and asked his readers for input.

The idea for the contest came about because the American magazines were referring to Whistler as Whistler/Blackcomb. It made sense, from their point of view. Here was a ski resort with two mountains, operated by two different companies, in a foreign country. Most of the magazine editors had never seen the place. They were primarily interested in it for its skiing – not summer activities, not snowboarding, not the community that lived there – so why not refer to it as Whistler/Blackcomb?

That the town in the valley at the bottom of Whistler/Blackcomb was called the Resort Municipality of Whistler created unnecessary confusion for readers. The name was too long and people would get the town and mountain mixed up. Describing event X or policy Y at "Whistler" left people wondering whether the writer was talking about the town or the mountain. So Whistler – meaning the town and the two mountains – became Whistler/Blackcomb to many American publications and their readers.

But normally the use of a slash between two words means either word could be used, and the reader is left to decide which is most appropriate. Under this interpretation, when a magazine referred to the great nightlife at Whistler/Blackcomb they could have meant the great nightlife provided by Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation or by Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises or, most likely, by some of the clubs in the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

The situation didn’t get any better when Intrawest, which owned Blackcomb and several other mountain resorts, brought Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation into its fold. The new company operating the two local mountains was renamed Whistler Blackcomb. The first logo for the new company, most people will remember, had the Whistler name first but the Blackcomb name above Whistler.

In newspaper stories, where it would be cumbersome to insert the logo every time the company operating the two mountains was referred to, we have always referred to it as Whistler-Blackcomb. To not indicate some connection between the two words could lead to even more confusion.

About the same time Whistler and Blackcomb mountains were becoming forever linked, either through a slash, a hyphen or an exchange of shares, Intrawest was forging an international reputation for itself by taking the principles that made the Whistler Village a success and applying them to its other mountain resorts. That Intrawest had little to do with the development of the Whistler Village was – and still is – lost on many people. In many press reports it was "the company that owns Whistler/Blackcomb" building another village, just like it did at its first mountain resort.

For many Lower Mainland residents, and indeed many Canadians and overseas visitors, the company that operates Whistler and Blackcomb mountains seems to be of less importance. "Whistler-Blackcomb" is a term seldom used. When they say "Whistler" they may be referring to the community or to the mountain; the context usually makes it clear.

"Whistler," I suspect, can also mean many things to Lower Mainland residents. Most know of Whistler as a resort north of Vancouver, but for many that’s as far as their knowledge of this place goes. Impressions, however, are another matter. Wealth, hedonistic pursuits or some other un-reality are some people’s image of Whistler, furthered by headlines from Lower Mainland papers such as "Whistler snowed under with drugs" and "Sin City North."

How many realize Whistler generates an estimated $2 billion annually for the provincial economy? The cruise ship business, by comparison, generated an estimated $400 million for the provincial economy last year.

But as the old cliché goes, any publicity is good publicity, so long as your name is spelled correctly. Except that last month we were told Whistler can’t be part of the official Olympic bid name. Nor can Whistler/Blackcomb or Whistler-Blackcomb. If the bid is successful the 2010 Games will be known as the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

As for the that columnist’s contest for renaming Whistler years ago, the winning entry was "Crystal Peaks." One of the suggested and rejected names, that may be worth looking at today, was "George." How about the George Vancouver 2010 Olympics?

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