Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Getting the word out - selling snowsports to the world



"I have always said to myself that we need more hockey players riding..."

Steve Bauer, Canadian cycling demi-god

Somewhere, somehow ol' Franz Wilhelmsen must be chuckling at our fate. Whistler's original "build it and they will come" entrepreneur, Franz was not the kind of guy to be intimidated by critics.

And there were many. A ski resort in the Coast Range? With all that wild and wet weather? And in such an isolated location? No way. But the old RNAF pilot stood by his vision. "Why shouldn't Vancouverites get to experience the thrill and beauty that skiers regularly enjoy in the Alps?" he'd ask rhetorically. "Our mountains are just as beautiful as theirs..."

The man was certainly ahead of his time. But even he became concerned as the thirst for profit proliferated at Whistler. By the mid 1980's, Whistlerites were fixated on a point far beyond ol' Franz's regional vision.  I still remember speaking with Wilhelmsen about it. He just couldn't get his head around the "international destination" thing. "We aren't the Alps," he said. "We don't have nice weather here. And rich people like nice weather. And we're on the edge of the world - that's never going to change." He refused to believe people would travel long distances to come here... and was generally dismissed by the era's young bucks for this lack of faith.

Talk about irony. If not for our regional market this winter, we'd be dead! A year after our Olympic extravaganza - 12 months after betting it all on one throw of the marketing dice - we're finally realizing how the future invariably refuses to conform with what the forecasters predict. That big post-Games surge of international visitors? Didn't happen. That huge wave of new business? Never materialized. Turns out Olympic TV viewers aren't necessarily mountain-sport enthusiasts. Go figure...

Of course, the current economic roller-coaster hasn't helped. And the great minds behind Whistler's current peccadillo have been quick to strap themselves in for the ride. It's all about the high buck, they complain. We just can't be competitive on world markets when the Canadian dollar is really worth a dollar....

Funny that. Five years go, it was all about the infallibility of Whistler's strategic marketing. The 60-cent dollar had nothing to do with the surge of visitors back then. It was all about our "smart" people and their "hot" marketing campaigns. ...

More irony? Consider just how marvellously blessed we've been by Maman Nature this winter. And yet just how empty the place has been for the last few weeks. I mean, there ain't nobody here and the skiing still sizzles. Talk about a flashback to our old "regional" past. Which leads me to offer this little ditty.