Outside one of his Whistler ski shops Scott Carrell stops in his tracks. An unhappy British family of four is huddled under the eaves avoiding the rain. "Trying to find something?" he asks. "Where you from? Are you looking for a place to go for dinner?"
It’s easy to see why the former Intrawest executive-turned ski shop guy is Whistler’s top businessperson. Pressed for time three days before Christmas, he still tries to help this family’s stay be a little brighter.
"It’s not about me or my business, it’s about the whole community and the success of the resort," Carrell says, striding to another of his six ski shops.
Whistler Chamber of Commerce named Carrell businessperson of 2005 at a recent luncheon. Carrell describes himself as a "hard-ass" and getting up to speak at the luncheon he stayed true to form, advocating for a change in direction amongst Whistler’s business community.
"My whole focus in this town is to make the business community sustainable," he reiterated after, "and I believe to be sustainable we need to have a healthy business 12 months a year."
Carrell, 50, grew up in Vancouver but came to Whistler 28 years ago. He built and ran Blackcomb’s retail division, managing 500-unit hotels and staffs of 1,500. He left his position as vice-president/general manager of Blackcomb eight years ago to strike out on his own, starting Affinity Sports.
"I wanted to have control and when you work for someone else you don’t really have control," he said.
A father of two teens, Carrell likens the changes Whistler must go through as similar to having a family. "If you want to make the most of the situation you have to shift your priorities and commitments," he says.
The changing climate and changing demographics demands that Whistler adjust its focus from a five-month, snow-dependent economy to something more diverse, says the Tourism Whistler board member. Shortened stay visits indicate that skiers and tourists just aren’t spending the time here they have in the past, he says.
"People who used to ski seven days in a row are now probably skiing three/four days… so we need more people to come [to] provide the same number of stays."
Carrell says if Whistler had more attractions, people would stay longer. He suggests marketing Whistler as a wellness resort is one step. "We have 20 spas in this town and all kinds of high calibre coaches, physiotherapists and restaurants – we have everything in place." Carrell doesn’t want Whistler to turn into Las Vegas north but says the resort could accommodate regular casino nights, a poker tournament, or comedy festival.
"We need to market as more than just a ski resort, we need to be more than just one thing," says the man whose livelihood has relied on the ski industry.
"The argument has always been that we need to stay focused on winter because that’s where everybody makes their money," Carrel says, "but I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore." He says that rationale isn’t borne out by current $95 room rates in the village. "This is our fifth winter in decline – how much lower are we going to go before we start to add some other things (than skiing) to this town?"