If not a waterpark, then what? 

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I know I am probably the only person in Whistler who was in favour of the Renaissance-plan waterpark that Whistler Blackcomb (WB) proposed in the spring of 2016.

Pitched as a year-round, weather independent activity centre, it was part of a then proposed $345-million development by WB as it moved ever closer to an all-season resort. (Though in all honesty, I feel like Whistler has reached that goal and more.)

The plan was fully put out to pasture after Vail Resorts (VR) bought Whistler Blackcomb later that year in a $1.4-billion deal, with the ski-industry mammoth's CEO Rob Katz saying," ... we intend to keep our focus on core mountain improvements."

Which matches perfectly to VR's website which states in bold type, "Our product is the great outdoors," and there is no doubt that an indoor waterpark has little to do with the "outdoors."

Most everyone felt the waterpark was a step too far down the road to Disneyfication. But as a mom of two kids born and raised here, I was fully behind the idea. When the Pineapple Express comes to town, or the snow doesn't arrive as seems to happen every year, a water-play area that included slides, a surf zone, a kids' splash area, cliff jumping, and hot and cold pools would have been awesome. The building was also to feature a family-entertainment centre, food and beverage options, and an eight-lane bowling alley.

I bet there are plenty of families who have visited recently, or who will be here over the Christmas holidays, who would have embraced such a facility.

Yes, we have activities that are not skiing. This winter sees Vallea Lumina open for the first time in the winter with its awesome story-tale light show out at Cougar Mountain. We have a great indoor climbing facility, a local recreation centre, escape rooms, an outdoor skating rink and snow-mountain play park, cultural activities and more. But a waterpark would have been an engaging all-day adventure addition.

Whistler is one of nature's greatest outdoor-adventure playgrounds and the resort offers a plethora of off-mountain activities to capture this, from ziplining to bungee jumping to snowmobiling in the winter and the corresponding summer activities.

And staying true to our mountain culture and focusing on upgrades that reflect this focus has always been part of our culture.

But ignoring flat ski and boarder numbers across North America, the impact climate change will have on alpine resorts, and the increasing alienation of new snow sliders due to cost of equipment and passes could be perilous.

There is a push to get new skiers to resorts and to open the activity up to those who might not normally try it or even be able to afford it.

Earlier this month, Vail Resorts announced a program to reach out to the youth in urban centres, including Vancouver.

"The company will provide free lift tickets, ski school, equipment rentals and other services to local non-profits, who will combine those services with youth mentorship for enriching, on-mountain programs across Vail Resorts' growing portfolio," states a Dec. 3 press release.

Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, are personally donating US$10 million, over the next five years, to participating non-profits to help "develop and expand programs, fund transportation and support other needs necessary to provide mountain access and engaging experiences. The goal of the new initiative, which is expected to launch during the 2020-21 winter season, is to enhance access to winter sports for underserved youth and inspire the next generation of skiers and riders."

I would argue that these new skiers and boarders will fall in love with the experience, but when they come back on their own, with family in tow, other activities are going to be needed if the momentum is to be maintained.

Resort survival in the era of the climate crisis and economic challenges rests on becoming, or staying, a year-round destination with multiple activities—diversification is key.

Earlier this month, we also learned that a plan for a bowling alley complex that had been floated for one of the long-term vacancies in the village—a large, 20,000-square-foot space at 4295 Blackcomb Way that has sat empty since the AlpenRock House closed in 2002—is also likely dead.

Last year, a proposal by National Beerhall Inc. to bring in a bowling alley, restaurant, patio and game centre drew swift backlash from the local bar and restaurant sector over the project's extensive size and staffing requirements. Ultimately, the proponent became "increasingly uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do in their facility," mostly surrounding the requirement to have "youth under the age of majority in the premises throughout the opening hours," Rick Amantea, landlord Larco's VP of development told Pique.

Larco is looking for a concept that will fill both the upper-level and underground spaces, he said.

Yes, we are a ski and mountain-bike mecca, but we can't afford to be complacent as we all face the future together. As we look toward 2020 Whistler's leaders across the business, activity, culture and local-government sectors need to look out across the next 15 years and imagine how to keep our home and resort vibrant and attractive.


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