editorial 

Just remember On Saturday morning Doug Forseth, vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, officially opened $13 million worth of new lifts, the Fitzsimmons and Garbanzo Express chairs on Whistler Mountain. When the Fitzsimmons Express was officially started, chair number one was first to leave the village area — empty — with the words "Seppo’s chair" on the bubble. Seppo Makinen, as most people know, was one of the pioneers who built Whistler. He and his crew cut most of the early runs on Whistler Mountain while operating out of a tent camp 6,000 feet up the mountain. He died late last month, as most people know, in his camper in Lot 4. Some of the contrasts between the little logging town of Alta Lake, which Seppo moved to in the mid-60s, and Whistler today are obvious: chairlifts didn’t cost $6 million apiece back then, real estate was a gamble and aside from skiing there wasn’t much else going on in the valley. Today Whistler is at the forefront of a global industry and, blessed with snow while many other resorts are suffering through another early-season drought, on the verge of another huge season. But it isn’t by divine right that Whistler is prospering, nor is there any guarantee it will continue to prosper. Back when Seppo was cutting ski runs, Whistler Mountain was a dream held by a few businessmen and some people who were willing to invest in that dream. Everyone who lived here knew everyone else and people looked out for one another. That same feeling of everyone being in this Whistler experiment together was crucial when, in the late ’70s, the town took the big step toward becoming an international resort with the building of the village and opening of Blackcomb. Surviving the recession of the early ’80s again required a great deal of faith and a commitment to a common goal — "keep the herd going roughly west," was a phrase one individual used to use. That faith and commitment has paid off in spades today, with Whistler’s success far beyond anything the pioneers could have imagined in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s. But in the quest for success it has been easy to forget where Whistler has come from, the principles that were followed and some of the people who built the foundation for this success. In recent years Whistler has lost a number of pioneers, the people who had faith and commitment not just to a resort but to the community. Walter Zebrowski, Dave Mathews, Franz Wilhelmsen, Glen McPherson, Ralph Latham have all passed away in recent years, and now Seppo Makinen is gone too. It is, in many senses, a sad commentary on Whistler itself that at the height of the town’s success one of its pioneers was allowed to pass away alone, living in a camper in a parking lot — although it’s understood that Seppo made choices that might have prevented him from spending his last year or so in better circumstances. The juxtaposition of the new chairlift and Seppo’s passing gives pause to reflect. The roots of Whistler’s success have always been in a shared sense of responsibility to one another, in business, in pleasure and in life. That sense still exists — it can be seen in enthusiasm for protection of the environment, in the way people rally in support of one another in times of disaster such as a house fire, in a commitment to employee housing and perhaps with a commitment to seniors housing. But in some ways that sense isn’t as strong as it once was. Seppo’s passing may be an example. For all the sophistication and success of Whistler in 1999 we give thanks. We also remember how we got to where we are today.

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