internet 

By Alix Noble The cyber age has arrived at Whistler, as an increasing number of local entrepreneurs are finding a market on the Internet. With around 30 major sites originating in Whistler, "We're definitely keeping up with the world as far as technology goes," said Scott Wurtele, who along with his wife Wendy has a new site called Whistlerlife. Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains both have websites, as does the WRA. Frank Franchini, a founder of Whistler Networks, the first Internet service provider at Whistler, said his site gets two to three new businesses coming on-line every week, each one wanting to have its own web page. They now have about 53 business web customers. Since Whistler Networks came on-line two years ago, Franchini has seen a lot of activity on the Internet from Whistler. "There's new stuff almost every week, and it's constantly growing and changing. There are new applications and new ways of making things happen. It's hard to keep up." But keeping up is the key to a good website, according to Scott Wurtele. Whistlerlife is updated every week — a necessity in order to stay competitive. "You look at a web site and it will say 'Newsflash, February 7' — that's a dead site," said Wurtele. Many businesses set up web pages as a form of advertising and some even sell retail merchandise over the Internet. For Troy Assaly and Tim Allix of Whistler's Accommodations Network, the Internet business is a supplement to full-time jobs. The Accommodations Network is one of several accommodations listings accessible through Whistler Networks. They are able to provide listings far below the price of classifieds listings in ski magazines, with no length restrictions. Most of the people who access their site are from the US, said Assaly, but a healthy percentage come from places like Australia and Hong Kong. Many sites exist to attract tourists and out of town interest, but Wurtele's new site features a chat line, which is "definitely for local people, but it will be looked at internationally," said Wurtele. "It's for people who are thinking about moving up here, someone looking for a new mountain bike — the latest was from a guy who wanted to play ping-pong." Wurtele describes the chat page as similar to a letters-to-the-editor page, but "you can post it at 3 a.m. and have it up in seconds." The chat line is only censored if the material is pornographic or libelous, said Wurtele. There are currently 800 Whistler residents who access the Internet through Whistler Networks, a good indicator of how many local Internet users there are, said Franchini. Over the past year Franchini has seen business increase by 100 per cent. He measures by the number of servers that access his site. Last August, Franchini saw 5,000 visits — in the first two weeks of this August, he's already had 12,881 and in February visits topped 44,000. "It's amazing how fast it's changed, it's really based on results," said Assaly. He has been on-line for 18 months and seen the number of accommodation sites on the Whistler Networks page balloon from three to 23. Whistler Networks website was listed as one of the best websites by Snow Country magazine's on-line editor this month, and Assaly noted that the quantity of information at Whistler is comparable to top Internet sites at other ski resorts in North America. As interest in the Internet continues to grow, Wurtele hopes to be able to provide access through a cable line. Assaly is waiting to be able to do safe credit card transactions to book on-line reservations. "The impact will be that tourists can plan their vacation before they get here. They'll be able to do everything without using a travel agent."

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