Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Shooting the shinola with David Perry



He just can’t help it. No matter that David Perry has been gone for six years. No matter that he’s now Senior Vice President of Everything at Aspen Skiing Company. No matter, even, that his family has taken to Colorado life like ducks to water. Mention Whistler and Perry’s pulse shoots up immediately. "It’s kind of like being a parent and watching your offspring grow from child to adolescent," he explains. "I still get pangs of anxiety whenever the subject of Whistler comes up. I was part of a really great dream here. And I still have a strong connection to this community. When I visit Whistler today, I feel everything from pride to regret, from disappointment to optimism. But mostly, I wish only the best for this place…"

Still, Perry admits he’s concerned for Whistler. How events transpire from here, he says, will play a huge role in defining how it evolves in the future. "In times of transition like this," he adds, "the decisions that are made by the people in power have huge consequences. Now, more than ever, Whistlerites have to reflect on the true nature of this place. They have to focus on what makes this resort community special. And then they have to make sure that their vision is respected!"

That’s why Whistler’s "$99 hotel room special" campaign makes no sense to him. "There’s an old saying among marketers," he explains, "‘when times get tough only the fool reverts to price cutting.’" He laughs, but there’s not much humour there. "It breaks my heart," he says. "You can spend decades building up your reputation, and it can be all torn down in a matter of months. To me the "$99 special" campaign is a metaphor for the Quick Fix. With this campaign, Whistler has squandered all the perceived value that people have been building around the brand for decades…"

It’s a simple principle, he says. "Don’t tinker with your core positioning! Whistler was positioned as a global brand. And with that came great success and great responsibility. From quality to reputation, from service to value, Whistler had to deliver on customers’ expectations over and over again. And we did – to great acclaim."

With the dismantlement of that positioning, Perry worries that Whistler is going to struggle to define itself now. "Whistler was built on attitude – an attitude of entrepreneurship and irreverence. So what’s the message now?" he asks. "Is Whistler going to turn into a two-day stay, rubber-tire traffic resort?

Perry spent 18 years at Whistler. A ski instructor who’d cut his professional teeth in Banff, the smooth talking (and even smoother skiing) wonder boy worked his way though the mountain ranks here until he was one of the top executives in the sport. As the marketing director for Whistler Mountain in the early 1990s – and then as vice president of marketing and sales for the newly amalgamated Whistler-Blackcomb until 2000 – Perry was inextricably linked to the branding process that firmly consolidated the resort’s position on the world stage.