By Michel Beaudry
He was the token hippie on Whistler’s first council. At least, that’s what his three other colleagues first thought of him. But over time, they came to realize just how valuable John Hetherington was to their team. “John’s role on the council was making sure that what was happening at Whistler was environmentally sound,” says Al Raine, the government-appointed council member who shared two terms with him. “He was our conscience. And he could be stubborn as all get out.”
Three decades later, the feisty Hetherington is still hard at it. On the cusp of his 64 th birthday — with two grown-up kids — John can be found on most clear winter days guiding clients for Whistler Heli - Skiing, the firm he co-owned until very recently when it was sold to Whistler-Blackcomb. When asked about the sale, he just laughs. “My partners and I are getting on in age,” he explains. “We needed an exit strategy. And frankly, Whistler-Blackcomb was the only viable choice when it came time to sell. They really like the idea of a heli-skiing operation attached to a ski area. And with their marketing prowess, they should do quite well with it…”
There are a lot of bigger-than-life characters in Whistler. But few can lay claim to the kind of life that Hetherington has led — or the kind of impact that he has had on this town. Politician, entrepreneur, mountain guide, parent, passionate paddler, skier and cyclist, Hetherington is the kind of guy on which the pillars of this community have been built. “I’ve always been an adventurer,” he says. “And I’ve always considered my life at Whistler as a bit of an adventure. Would I change anything now in retrospect? Not on your life!”
Hetherington arrived in Whistler in the fall of 1967. Toronto-born and raised, he was spending a winter skiing in the Alps when he first heard about this great new ski area lost in the wilds of coastal B.C. “I was working as a ski patrol in St. Moritz,” remembers Hetherington, who had just completed a degree in economics and political science. “Part way through the season I met this guy from Vancouver — Dr Norm Gelpki — and he told me all about this new place called Whistler. I had already decided to return to Canada for Expo 67, so I figured it would be no big deal to travel west in September and check the place out…”
It was a decision that would totally change his life.