Revisiting Renaissance 

  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb

Renaissance, as described by Whistler Blackcomb in April of 2016, is dead.

And, along with the death of the $345-million development plan, which was to continue the transformation of the mountains into a truly four-season attraction, goes Watershed, a weather-independent, year-round activity centre with an indoor adventure waterpark.

I may be the only person in Whistler to lament this decision by Vail Resorts (VR) and its leader Rob Katz, who said this about it last week: "While we remain intrigued by the water park that was previously proposed as part of the Renaissance project, we intend to keep our focus on core mountain improvements and will defer consideration of a water park to our longer-term planning for the resort."

Most everyone felt the waterpark was a step too far down the road to Disneyfication. But as a mom of two, I was fully behind the idea. When the Pineapple Express comes to town, as it does pretty well every winter, 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.

Travelling as a family, it is almost impossible not to have weather impact vacations, whether it is rain in Hawaii or at your ski resort. In Hawaii, rain falling on a warm day isn't much to complain about, but days and days of rain in an alpine venue is another thing all together.

Yes, we have an indoor trampoline facility, great indoor climbing, a local recreation centre and even escape rooms, but a waterpark would have been an engaging all-day adventure addition.

Who knows — maybe now all those rumours about Great Wolf Lodge putting in a themed waterpark in Squamish will actually come to fruition, since Vail Resorts has stepped back from these plans?

At last week's announcement by WB's new COO Pete Sonntag, it was clear that the focus for his company — Vail Resorts — is on-mountain guest experience. VR would argue that it knows better than anyone how to successfully run ski and snowboard operations, and adding $66 million in new and re-purposed chairlifts and a gondola is how you stay No. 1.

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

But does this mean the call for weather-independent attractions in Whistler is over? Climate change isn't going anywhere, after all. And if VR is stepping back from base-level attractions, is development of the alpine planned to stay out of the rain belt?

Asked during the Chamber Holiday Lunch last week, if Sonntag and other top WB leaders were considering developing more of the alpine terrain, the short answer was no. It would be an expensive undertaking and the sentiment is that terrain already in use could be accessed more efficiently by more people with a focus on upgrades instead.

WB spokespeople were also clear that VR's branding of the resort is for those "with an adventurous spirit." This is challenging terrain and it can have challenging weather and that's all part of the package.

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.

There's no need really for VR to expand its recreational offerings in Whistler as it has done at many of its other resorts.

(For example, last May, VR announced upgrades at its Breckenridge operations under the Epic Discovery banner. The changes brought ziplines, challenge courses, and a climbing wall to its other summer offerings such as the super-slide and the mountain coaster.)

Indeed, we all know that Whistler has found that magic spot where summer and winter visitors both flock here to enjoy not just the outdoors, but also all the activities on offer.

As discussed many times in this space before, Whistler's success has caused serious growing pains, so perhaps the addition of Watershed needed to be reconsidered.

Staying true to our mountain culture and focussing on upgrades that reflect this focus has always been part of the WB 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.

Resort survival rests on becoming, or staying, a year-round destination with multiple activities — diversification is key.


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