With a long list of changes and challenges affecting Whistler's community in recent years, it's not uncommon to hear some questioning whether Whistler is losing its soul.
But if the Whistler Excellence Awards held on April 25 are any indication, that spirit is still alive and kicking.
Around 500 people gathered in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's ballroom to celebrate Whistler's best. It was the largest crowd in the award ceremony's history, noted Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace, the host of the sold-out evening.
The big winner of the night's prestigious Citizen of the Year award was Steve Bayly, someone who "epitomizes the can-do spirit that is the foundation of this community" and "advocates for the underrepresented in our community," said 2017 Citizen of the Year Heather Paul.
Over the course of his career, the builder, developer and landlord has developed several projects throughout the resort. He was also the founding director of the Whistler Housing Authority and director of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC), in addition to building the 2010 Olympics athletes' village now known as Cheakamus Crossing, and has spent countless hours volunteering in the community.
"It's especially an honour to be in Whistler where there's been so much volunteerism from so many people," Bayly told the crowd, adding that one difference with the award he won is that its recipients can sometimes tend to be "over the hill."
"To all the young entrepreneurs and the next generation, hopefully you'll all keep a corner of your desk or kitchen table or your workbench available for volunteerism. It's made this place."
The award for Business Person of the Year went to Matheo Durfeld, who won over finalists Sarah Strother (Pique's publisher) and Kerri Jones, while the app ULLR Adventure Maps bested Gogglesoc and WNorth to take the title of Innovative Business of the Year.
Sea to Sky Removal earned the Sustainability in Action Business award over finalists Sea to Sky Soils and Whistler Blackcomb, while Josianne Fox of SmartFox Consulting was named Rising Star of the Year amongst nominees Blair Kaplan and Isaac Marangoni. The Whistler Experience Service—Small Business award went to Rocks and Gems Canada, nominated alongside The Fitzsimmons Pub and Farfalla Hair and Esthetics, while there was a tie for the Whistler Experience Service—Large Business award. Canadian Wilderness Adventures and Basalt Wine + Salumeria earned the same score, while the Whistler Public Library was named a finalist in that category.
Angie Nolan, who was nominated alongside Ace MacKay-Smith and Dave Petko, was named this year's Whistler Champion of Arts & Culture (for more, head to page 59)
Newly added to the awards roster this year was the locals' choice award for favourite local legend. The list of nominees was packed full of beloved longtime locals like "Princess" Stephanie Reesor, Ace MacKay-Smith, the Hairfarmers, Tara O'Doherty, Sue Adams, Mo Douglas and Barrett Fisher. However, it was Brett Tippie, a pioneer of freeride mountain biking, former World Cup snowboard racer and announcer with a personality to match his list of accolades, who came out on top.
To that end, Tippie's five-minute acceptance speech was a highlight of the evening. He had the local crowd—and himself—roaring with laughter as he told stories about looking up to fellow nominee Ace MacKay-Smith—then his high school president—before hitchhiking to Whistler in 1988, convincing mountain staff to open up the lifts to mountain bikers, and joking about Ross Rebagliati, his teammate on Canada's first national snowboard team (who famously "won the gold, then lost the gold, then won the gold," again).
"I hitchhiked here from Sunshine Village because I heard that they allowed snowboarding on Blackcomb. I got here, snowboarded and it was like a big mountain, and I was like 'oh, my legs hurt—I like it here. This place is cool!'" he remembered.
Tippie recalled taking up a tree-planting job to save money to fund a summer of snowboarding on the glacier. "I ran out of money right away, because it was only 15 cents a tree, right? And so I took my last money and I bought a six-pack and a canteen, a whole bunch of cans of beans and a lift ticket. And then I lived right below the 7th Heaven chairlift for like a week and I snowboarded for a whole week on one lift ticket," he said with a laugh. "That was my first abode here in Whistler. I can't get arrested for that now, can I?"
Tippie's speech—and the event itself—had a notably uplifting way of summing up what Whistler's community is built on and why it's worth celebrating. "When you do come to Whistler it's awesome because, you know, whether you're rich, whether you're poor, everyone comes here to shred or to party," he said.
"Everyone's a bit of a freak, but they're cool freaks and we're all here hanging out together and shredding and partying. I love it!"