Preparing for winter

Summer is unofficially over.

The calendar may say there is another week or so of summer to play with but everyone knows in their heart that the third long weekend of the summer, Labour Day, is also the end of summer.

The signs indicating the end have been growing more ominous for weeks. The light is a little more slanted than it was just a short time ago. The length and texture of the days tells you we are into autumn. On the sides of the mountains old logging roads are becoming first yellow, then orange slashes, spectacular in the late afternoon sun against the deep green of the surrounding conifer trees. And on the top of Wedge last week, the first promise of winter snows to come.

Tuesday of this week the education system sputtered into gear again , another right of fall. Parents drove children to school for the first hour of classes, and the RCMP set up radar traps to catch the parents speeding in school zones. The learning process has resumed.

There are still attempts to hold on to summer – green fees and hotel rates drop after Labour Day – but the real work now is preparing for winter. Construction crews scramble to get buildings "closed in" before the first snowfall. Whistler’s black bears desperately scavenge to find enough food to hold them over the winter. And the annual migration of seasonal workers arrives to take up the search for a place to live.

Summer is wonderful, but it’s still an accidental discovery for most of us in Whistler. Winter is what we came here for. It’s what most people know Whistler for – face shots, huge bowls full of snow, more terrain than you could ski or ride in a season. That’s what Whistler has promised for years. This fall, the promise is a little different.

Value is what Whistler is emphasizing. The mountains haven’t gotten any smaller, but the prices have. The first indication was last week with Whistler-Blackcomb’s announcement of season pass prices. "I think as a resort we have an overall value challenge here," Whistler-Blackcomb’s Stuart Rempel said.

The value challenge, as Whistler-Blackcomb’s season pass pricing indicates, is to do more for residents and regional skiers/boarders, those who can make use of a season’s pass.

But the value challenge is also reflected in Tourism Whistler’s advertising, promotions and vacation packages, which are aimed at visitors.

And the value challenge is in the context of the global environment, with the George Bush-led economy still on shaky ground, oil prices still high and interest rates on the way up. These factors, and the seemingly broadening War on Terrorism, haven’t helped the still-struggling airline industry that plays a key role in determining tourism value. This week the last chapter in the two-year history of Air Canada’s Zip airline was written. Last month Air France and KLM joined the list of airlines that are now applying fuel surcharges to the cost of airline tickets.

So the value challenge this winter is both within and outside of Whistler, just as it is within and outside of every other winter resort, beach resort and cruise ship line.

Summer is over. Prepare for winter. And enjoy the fall.

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