There has been a lot of talk in Whistler recently about the need for economic diversification as the community grows and develops. And I totally agree. Over the next few years, it will become incumbent on Whistlerites to come up with new and exciting business initiatives that assure the town’s long-term success — both as a resort destination and a community worth living in. But what does that mean exactly? And more importantly, what does it look like?
For the last 40 years, Whistler has been in the mountain-sports business. Skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking — and the celebration of a local culture that has been performing these sports at the cutting edge — that’s what this resort community’s reputation has been built on. And it’s provided us with a distinct brand and a unique personality.
Indeed, while a growing number of business people in town seem enthralled by the shopping-mall/amusement park model — “Fill those beds at all costs!” appears to be the new battle cry — I would argue that Whistler’s future success is intrinsically tied to the development and evolution of its original core story.
Which, in my mind, makes locally-produced Prior skis and snowboards one of the most promising diversification experiments going.
Think about it. Here’s a Whistler-based company that has been designing, building and distributing a product that is directly linked to the resort’s economic engine. A product, furthermore, that reflects local riding styles and conditions. And one that can change and evolve quickly to fulfil the needs of a very demanding and high-performance consumer. Talk about innovative…
“We certainly see ourselves more as artisans than manufacturers,” says company founder and co-owner Chris Prior. “That’s why we’ve focused on custom-style production. We’re definitely not in this just for the money. We’re trying to create a business that also values a healthy lifestyle. To me, success means being able to surf and test product on the mountain as much as being able to pay the bills at the end of the month…”
But that doesn’t mean that the company isn’t run in a business-like manner. Enter Dean Thompson — a tough, no-nonsense guy with an enduring love for adventure sports and an unswerving focus on the company’s bottom line. “There’s a great satisfaction from making a product that people really love,” says the MBA graduate and other half of the Prior ownership team. “But producing skis and boards in a place like Whistler means that we have to do things a little differently than our competitors (who mostly manufacture overseas, increasingly on the other side of the Pacific Ocean). I mean, this is a tough place to make a profitable go of it. You have to be really creative — and really disciplined.” That’s why, adds Thompson, the company decided to go to the direct sales route.