Turning a corner 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/TOURISM WHISTLER
  • Photo by Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler

In 2015, as newspapers across the country carried stories of the stabbing death of a teenager in Whistler during the May long weekend, it was hard to imagine that the resort would ever leave behind its reputation for violence, vandalism and drunkenness over the Victoria Day holiday.

But if this weekend was anything to go by, it just might be that Whistler has turned a corner.

With GO Fest finishing off its sixth iteration, the weekend has morphed into a part family, part adventure-activity-fuelled destination to mark the start of summer.

When GO Fest was first announced, it wasn't that warmly received by the community. Many felt it was a wishy-washy idea that would go nowhere and that only policing, roadblocks and absolute vigilance by the accommodation sector not to accept underage vacationers and to push up the price of rooms would create change.

Perhaps we did have an air of desperation about us a decade ago when it came to the May long weekend. As a Province newspaper reporter back then, I'll admit to my fair share of front-page stories about the mayhem in the resort. Just Google how the resort was portrayed.

So we can embrace the change with a quiet satisfaction.

That's not to say that we can sit back and believe our raucous May long weekend problems are behind us.

Getting here has taken a great deal of effort from our local RCMP, from local government, from the accommodation sector, from the pubs, clubs and bars and also from local residents.

In 2015, Pique ran a lengthy news story about the troubles of the weekend. Said one local when asked if he and his family were going to enjoy the festivities, "Oh, god no. None of our friends are. Everyone's leaving. This is the honest truth. I don't know any of our friends who are sticking around for the weekend."

The party atmosphere of any long weekend in the resort has oft been the root of angst locally. We are in many ways the architects of our own misfortune as we spend so much time, effort and money attracting people to come and enjoy Whistler.

Entertaining people and offering adventure, fun and escape is our raison d'être after all. Finding that balance between having fun and feeling safe, and having fun then watching it turn bad and never wanting to come back is actually a fine one.

When my kids were small, I stayed out of the village at night on the weekends in the summer. There were too many drunks, people smoking weed, spouting profanity and making poor choices played out publicly in front of family outings. (Did you see the letter in the last council package from a visitor shocked by the inebriated state of some of our young female miniskirt-clad partiers who while repeatedly falling down left nothing to the imagination of onlookers, while their male counterparts injured themselves falling into planters and stairs? Really, go and read this letter. "This is not healthy tourism. It is an unethical and immoral way of cashing in on youth who are in a sad, vulnerable and dangerous state of intoxication," said the letter writer.)

Believe me, I understand that the crazy, wild, irreverent partier is also a quintessential part of Whistler, but it's not the vision we want young kids to see. Indeed, I would say it is no longer the image we want to portray at all.

Yes, we are a destination resort, but we are growing up, maturing into a place where adventurers come to fulfill dreams, where travellers come to embrace nature, where epicureans come to indulge. Can clubbing, letting go and giving life a giant bear hug be a part of it?

Absolutely.

But here's hoping that we have left behind the days of substance-fuelled violence and vandalism.

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