Quality or quantity? WB's latest capital plan a questionable investment 

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"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts."

- Henry David Thoreau

The world was a vastly different place back in 1986. The U.S. was surfing a new wave of prosperity, the Iron Curtain was slowly being dismantled, big-spending boomers were in the prime of their lives — creating, in turn, their own baby boom... and snowboarders were j-u-u-s-s-t-t-t beginning to make an impact on their local hills.

Hugh Smythe couldn't have timed his move any better. The savvy operator knew exactly what the installation of revolutionary-new high-speed lifts could do for Blackcomb skiers... and ultimately all of Whistler. But he also knew how much this new technology would cost. No matter — Hugh was on a mission. And he wasn't going to be stymied by mere obstacles. When he convinced Vancouver developer Joe Houssian to get involved in the snowsport business, Blackcomb's founder suddenly found himself with all the shekels he needed to propel his west coast baby onto the global ski scene.

It was all about real estate development rights of course (something like 15,000 bed units were eventually allocated to Houssian's company, Intrawest). Still, Smythe's on-mountain upgrade was one of the boldest and most creative moves in the ski-resort business of its day.

And it changed Whistler forever. While some might point to the completion of the village as the most important element in the resort's rise to prominence, I still think Smythe's "wizardry" with Blackcomb Mountain's lift alignments and enhanced uploading capacity created a seismic shift among skiers and riders (let's not forget that Blackcomb was one of the first "majors" to allow boarders on its slopes).

I can still remember zooming up the hill on those new lifts that winter and marvelling at all the fall-line runs they accessed. How much vertical we could ski now. How fast the turnaround was... but also how busy things got on the hill with all these lifts disgorging their up-mountain cargo at such an accelerated pace.

No matter, said my friends. That's progress. You'll get used to it. Now, about that next run...

Fast forward to 2013. Different world, eh? The Russians are über-capitalists now, America is bankrupt, the boomers are playing on creaky joints, and a growing community of self-propelled sports enthusiasts are re-defining what "health and wellness" is all about in the 21st century.

The snowsports world has changed dramatically too. Talk about a revolution in gear! Wide-bodied boards, reverse camber designs, lighter composites, a greater commitment to offpiste innovation by major brands: they all add up to one thing. It's never been easier to adventure off the snowbeaten path than it is today. Forget lessons. Forget paying your dues. With the new gear (boards and skis), you can blunder your way pretty much down anything.

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