Top of the food chain 

Sustaining snowsport culture in the 21st century

It's that time again. With the summer business season slowly winding down - see that bit of new snow on Mt Currie last week? - Whistler enterprises are already beginning to gird their loins (so to speak) for the coming winter. And what a winter that could be...

Like the polar bear and the Bengal tiger, Whistler is considered by many to be the apex predator of its domain. Don't smile. While I was lauding Aspen Ski Corp the other week for the client-centred manner in which it was dealing with the recession, my counterpart at the Aspen Times was going gaga over this place.

"Whistler Blackcomb is Aspen's competition, not only as a draw to skiers, but as exemplar of a resort that celebrates mountains and community, and focuses the resulting synergy on the local economy." gushed columnist Paul Andersen after a recent visit here. "All this makes it hard to resist wanting to ski Whistler Blackcomb, even if you do live in Aspen."

Funny, isn't it? The snow always seems to be deeper on the other hill...

But seriously - being an apex predator also has its downside. Just ask the bear and the tiger. I mean, it's great to be at the top of the food chain when your natural environment is rich in resources. But when times get tight, you're still stuck with the biggest belly to fill. And no amount of algae will ever replace seal as a food source.

Know what I mean? Summer business at Whistler is doing okay and all. But let's talk yield for a moment. Does anybody in this valley really make money during the summer months? I, for one, just can't see it. Sure, there's a lot of big talk and bold objectives, but the countless ads for $99 rooms says it all...

Like it or not, Whistler is still primarily a winter resort town. And I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. But even our winter success is less assured than it once was. Think about it. Whether or not Whistler's bloated infrastructure is ultimately sustainable is entirely dependent on how many aspirational skiers and snowboarders exist on this continent.

It's all about selling the dream. Someone living in the prairies, for example, has to be seriously motivated to travel halfway across the country to come for a snowsport holiday in coastal B.C. Indeed, snowsports have to play a very big part of folks' lives before they'll plunk down their hard-earned stack of semolians for a Whistler holiday. But wait. It gets even more tenuous: if there's no local hill for neophytes to hone their skills on, what are the chances that snowsports will even enter into the holiday decision making process? I'd say slim to none...


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