It's almost like a bad science fiction novel. Somehow we've blundered into this strange little bubble where time has stopped. Know what I mean? Nobody who wields power in Whistler wants to talk about anything beyond February 2010. "We'll deal with that after the Games" is a common refrain these days from most everyone in the decision-making corridors of Sea to Sky.
And that's a huge mistake. Sure, the Winter Olympics are important. After all, most of the northern, mostly-white half of the globe will tune in this self-aggrandizing sports circus at some time during its two-week orgy. And we definitely have to do a good hosting job if we want to continue to attract new visitors to the Coast Mountains.
No question. The Games are important to our future. They offer a great opportunity to showcase our product; a wonderful chance to show what West Coast hospitality is all about. If we get the right weather between December and February and if the rain holds off and the sun shines, we'll get the kind of "free" press most other mountain resorts can only dream about. And yes, we'll never be the same after February 2010.
But as most Whistlerites are beginning to realize, the main party is going to be down south in Vancouver. As for locally-based events, residents will soon discover just how much these Games have become an insider's schmoozfest. In other words, forget the poor ticket-scrounging spectator (or the naïve local who thinks she'll get to participate in the celebrations). They're the last ones anybody is paying attention to. As an old colleague of mine put it a few years back: "he who has the most Olympic accreditations around his neck wins!"
As most of you know, I've been out of circulation for the last few months. With a murdered wife and a whole new life to build up out of the ruins of our old one, I've been more focused on family issues than on the political machinations of the IOC and VANOC and how Whistler taxpayers are getting the short end of the Olympic stick. Still, it's not like I haven't been paying attention. And what I see worries me.
And I'm not the only one. "Whistler is a community of scared people right now," says Peter Alder, my favourite Whistler elder. "Absolutely! People are afraid to speak out publicly about the important issues." He pauses, stops speaking for a moment. Smiles sadly. "It's a small place, you know. Everyone is beholden to someone in this village. It's understandable. But it's very, very dangerous to the community's future well-being..."
The valley's resident curmudgeon and a man who knows more about the global mountain resort business than just about anybody else in B.C., Alder is at that wonderful time in life where he just doesn't care what people think about him. "I don't go much in the village anymore," he continues in that Swiss-inflected drawl that is so much a part of him. "It's just too depressing. But my feeling - from watching how people behave and listening to what they have to say - is that this upcoming two-week event is overshadowing everything else at Whistler right now."