Ever since Pique Newsmagazine was started five years ago we have tried to write about and focus on the larger issues, decisions and strategies affecting Whistler, as opposed to the day-to-day news events. The long-term impact issues such as affordability and ski industry trends have on Whistler, its economic well being, its liveability and what the town may look like in the future are what we have tried to emphasize. We have written about debates, strategic plans and the consequences of having no plans. Whistler is a complex, fascinating, ever-changing experiment and following the issues at the local, regional, national and international levels that can have an impact on this resort town is important. But too often we haven’t done a good enough job covering the human side of those issues, decisions and strategies. Although Whistler is blessed with a spectacular natural environment, has achieved phenomenal success as a resort, and is a national and world leader in many areas, what Whistler is really all about is people. We were reminded of that this week. The death of Seppo Makinen, who would have been 71 this past Monday, was a huge loss. A Whistler icon, Seppo arrived here in the early ’60s to cut the first runs on Whistler Mountain. He never left, despite financial setbacks, despite the failure of two marriages, despite the fire which destroyed the home he built. Whistler changed tremendously in the 35 years Seppo lived here but he remained a generous, enthusiastic man who didn’t seek to make a fortune but enjoyed the good fortune of living in what he called the best place in the world. On Tuesday of this week a fire destroyed a new employee housing building just weeks before it was to be occupied, leaving 35 people without a home for the winter. This was a material loss — fortunately there was no one in the building — but there is a very human side to it. There wasn’t supposed to be a housing crisis this year. Three new employee housing projects were going to be available. The Whistler Housing Authority had statistics on how many people were employed last winter and how many homes would be required this winter and the two numbers seemed to match. And then the plan started to fall apart. After last winter’s record number of visitors, and with no indication this winter would be significantly slower, businesses hired more employees this year, creating more demand for housing. But on top of that, some landlords decided not to rent suites and cabins to employees, preferring to hang on to them and try and cash in on the demand for accommodation at Christmas and New Year’s. This week’s fire exacerbates the "housing problem," but it’s really a human issue. More people who have jobs in this town are now scrambling to find a place to live, while some others hope their homes or suites bring them a windfall. This town has lost several pioneers in the last few years: Maury Young, Franz Wilhelmsen, Glen McPherson, Ralph Latham... and now Seppo Makinen. While sad, such losses are an inevitable part of human experience. What is not inevitable is the loss of people who get fed up and leave this town because they are tired of being gouged. Seppo Makinen should be remembered as one of the people who made Whistler special. There are others who can have the same impact if given the chance.

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