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Alta states

Iconic or Ironic - Whistler’s paradigm shift slow to take root



Talk is cheap. And in my business, you get to hear a lot of it. Fortunately, you get to hear some great stories too. Over the last couple of months, I’ve spoken, argued, debated, laughed, exclaimed, snorted, enthused and smiled with some of the most progressive people in the mountain tourism business. However tenuous — however fleeting — what linked them all was their connection to Whistler. And their love of mountain life, of course…

But all of them — to a person — knows just how tenuous Whistler’s position is in today’s fast-changing climate (if you’ll forgive the pun). As Peter Alder reminded me the other day: “When World War II came along, nobody went skiing anymore — not even in neutral Switzerland. Subsequently, a lot of resorts went out of business.”

OK, so World War III isn’t on us just yet. But climate change certainly is. At least that’s if you dare to believe 99.9 per cent of the world’s leading geographers and biologists. And whether we like it or not, Whistler is in the front lines of that battle. “Nature-based tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the global tourism industry,” Arthur DeJong reminded us a few weeks ago. “Those (resorts) that manage to safeguard the integrity of their natural surroundings will be successful. Those who don’t won’t be.”

And it’s definitely become part of the mainstream media discourse. From last week’s New York Times’ article “How Do You Ski If There Is No More Snow?” to Business Week’s recent “Little Green Lies”, urban journalists everywhere can be heard chortling over the plight of snow-eaters around the world. But then, it’s not like the ski business has a great reputation for environmental correctness. Witness Business Week happily dismissing the credibility of an “industry which gorges on energy to create a fantasy of always-plentiful powdered (sic) snow and cosy alpine hideaways…”

Ouch. So what are we really doing about changing perceptions? Other than fancy words and sweet-sounding promises, what are Whistlerites actually doing to ensure that the community’s magic and natural wealth is sustained and protected for future generations?

Last week Mayor Melamed brought up the urgent need for a paradigm shift among Whistler residents. “In everything we do now,” he said, “we have to ask ourselves: “Is this necessary?” It’s a question well worth asking. But it’s how we respond to this question collectively that will really tell the tale…

And it’s not going to be easy. Changing habits hurt. It makes things uncomfortable. Just ask any athlete — it’s hard to train your body to adapt to a new technique. And often you go backwards before you get to go forwards again.

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