For much of B.C., Labour Day weekend signals the end of summer, one last weekend lined up on a highway or waiting for a ferry, followed by the first day of school on Tuesday morning.
For Whistler, Labour Day signals the beginning of the ski and snowboard season, and the frenzy to get ready for it.
Whistler-Blackcomb releases the rates for season passes just before Labour Day. The forward-thinking seasonal employees are already in town looking for a place to live, as well as a job that will pay the rent and allow time on the mountains. Individual businesses are screening job applicants to see if they have the basic qualifications (a place to live). Inventories are being ordered, restaurant renovations are planned and construction crews pick up the pace to make sure the buildings they are working on are closed in before the first snowfalls hit.
It?s not quite the typical Canadian scene Stephen Leacock used to write about, but it?s life in a mountain resort town. It?s a time of optimism, at least for Whistler, which has enjoyed more than a decade of steady, at times spectacular, growth. While other industries and towns are now grappling with a 19 per cent tariff on lumber, the collapse of the high-tech market or a fishing industry that shows little sign of recovery, the forecast for Whistler, officially, continues to be bright. Hotel room nights sold are expected to be up this winter. Skier/boarder numbers are projected to be something similar to last year. Individual businesses, some of which are survive on faith, naturally are anticipating a good winter.
Whistler has, during its phenomenal 15-year period of growth, benefited from some good fortune. Snow has been adequate, if not superb, virtually every winter. Combined with a lack of snow some winters in competing resorts, this has helped draw attention to Whistler. Money has also been available for investment in new lifts and opening up additional terrain, so that there has been something new to draw visitors back most seasons. And of course the decline of the Canadian dollar in the last few years has made Whistler even more attractive to American and British visitors.
By the same token, Whistler?s success is by no means accidental. Hard work, good planning and faith in that plan ? particularly at times when few others had faith in Whistler ? laid the foundation for that success.
The question, as Whistler prepares for another winter season, is whether continued success and growth is a given. There are some signs that it is not.
Last winter, for the first time in several years, Whistler did not set a new record for skier visits, even though the number was apparently not far off the record established in 1999-2000. So far this spring and summer international travel to B.C. has not matched last year?s numbers. And for the first time in memory the economies in Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America are all sputtering at the same time.
As for Whistler?s direct competition, Colorado resorts have now dropped the season pass price wars of recent years but are instead buying up seats from airlines to guarantee direct flights from major cities to their resorts. Vail has done this for several years, but this year virtually every major Colorado resort has got into this game. Whistler has done this in the past too, buying seats and offering them at discounted rates as part of a vacation package during non-peak periods. However, there are no direct flights into Whistler, as there are into Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, Telluride and other areas.
For Whistler, Labour Day still brings plenty of reasons for optimism, but no room for complacency. As other towns reliant on single industries can attest to, the landscape is constantly changing.