I got a telephone call from Argentina the other day. "Hey," said the caller. "This is Jamie Schectman. I'm phoning from Las Lenas. Just read your Alta States column on the future of the ski business at Whistler the other day and really liked it. I think we should talk..."
Don't you just love the global e-community? Don't you just love the way you can cast things out on the net (in this case my story) and suddenly get responses from the most unlikely places? But I digress.
For a while there I thought I was all alone. More respect for the mountains? Smaller ecological footprint? Taking down lifts as a sign of progress? Didn't seem like I was getting a lot of props from the Whistler mandarins for challenging the status quo. I really started questioning my motives after a WB senior manager accused me a couple of weeks ago of "being the only person in the Whistler community to still consider the (eat-to-eat) gondola a questionable investment."
Was that really the case? Was I the only person in snow country wondering why the ski business was still stuck in 1980s thinking 10 years into the new century?
I just couldn't believe that my peers could be that closed off to reality...
I mean, c'mon folks. If you'd been presented with a 1960s ski resort product in 1986 - rope-tows, rickety two-man chairlifts, phantom grooming - do you really think you'd have been satisfied with such an offering? Of course not.
Same goes for Hugh Smythe and Paul Mathews's 1980s vision for Whistler. "Build it and they will come," was the Smytthews operational philosophy. Their idea was to accessorize the ski experience (read: make it easier) in order to attract new adherents. And for a while it worked.
No question. High-speed lifts and high-tech grooming completely revolutionized the ski resort "product." But as Greek philosopher Zeno reminded us many centuries ago, "you can't just change one thing." Acting on the Smytthews vision, as it turns out, was the skiing equivalent of opening up Pandora's box.
Alas, we're still dealing with the consequences of that vision.
To me, WB's recent (and successful) attempt to shove even more infrastructure down the throat of Whistlerites is akin to Detroit making the biggest, baddest eight-cylinder muscle car in 2010 - and wondering why they're going tits up. Nothing wrong with the technology. It's the vision that's flawed...
And we even gave WB a tax-break for building the dang thing. Talk about getting taken for a ride.
Enter Schectman and the Mountain Riders' Alliance (see mountainridersalliance.com). Their mission statement says it all: To aid and assist in the development of values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-owned-and-operated ski-energy centers throughout the world that encourage minimal carbon footprint business practices as well as alternative energy creation, while making a positive impact in the local community.