As the snow line moves down and up, and back down the mountains between assaults of October storms, thoughts turn to the winter ahead and what kind of season were going to have. Shops have packed away the last evidence of summer, Whistler-Blackcomb has held its job fairs, the scramble for a place to live is largely over, but theres still a month to go before the mountains open and a new winter season begins.
Its a contemplative time. The winter and its endless potential lie just ahead, but we must wait while nature loads the mountains with the snow that makes anything seem possible. Daily there are new predictions about what sort of "snow-year" awaits and armchair analysis of weather patterns and their similarities to some previous year.
But weather aside, this is not like any previous year. In addition to the snow base on Whistler and Blackcomb, we will soon be getting daily updates on accumulations in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Little has changed on our mountains since Sept. 11, but everything has changed. Theres a war on, dont ya know? The main battleground is on the other side of the globe, but the impacts are being felt in every corner of every town. Its not that we should all be checking our mail for anthrax, rather its the uncertainty that now hovers in the background of every previously held assumption.
The War on Terrorism and the fragile economy, weakened by the Sept. 11 attacks, have hit the tourism/travel industry hard. It may rebound in the months ahead but no one can say with any certainty. A survey story in the New York Times last weekend found many people who traditionally spend the Christmas holidays at a resort or retreat away from home are staying put. The writer found a lot of people are travelling, with some feeling Canadian destinations offer particular safety and comfort. But others are waiting before making any travel plans. Tourism Whistlers own survey found one-third of all respondents are concerned about air travel, with New Yorkers most concerned and Seattle residents least concerned.
Anyone whos just here for the skiing or boarding and doesnt think this affects them is blinded by the snow. A tourism-based economy means jobs, and money, come and go as tourists come and go.
While the winter ahead is a mystery for Whistler, theres more certainty a little farther south in Squamish. But theres less optimism.
Squamish was already suffering prior to Sept. 11. Conflicts in the Elaho, a declining lumber market, expiration of the softwood lumber accord with the United States and an agreement to hold off on logging while the Squamish Nation developed its land-use plan for the Elaho have hit the Squamish economy hard. Some people have turned to Whistler to look for work.
Theres already a lot of Squamish residents who commute daily to Whistler for work. The economic ties between the two towns probably stronger than most of us realize. And they could be strengthened even further. A regular bus service between Squamish and Whistler would help both towns.
Squamish may also find an ally in Whistler in its fight to get funding to keep the Royal Hudson running. The summer train doesnt serve Whistler, but it is part of the tourism economy, which is the basis for Whistlers existence.
So as the winter of 2001-02 approaches, with the snow falling on the mountains, and the bombs falling on Afghanistan, there is more uncertainty than there has been in a long time. But we can be certain of who our neighbours are.