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"It's more than the adrenalin rush of sliding downhill that draws people to the mountains." - lessons from the Fest



Two weekends ago, to promote the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, organizers took the festival to Vancouver, holding a rail jam outside the Vancouver Public Library on a Saturday night. It was raining off and on all evening but the event still drew about 200 people at any one time; many of them passersby, some street people, most just curious. Who knows if any of them will ever come to Whistler. But the publicity stunt at least gave Whistler a presence in Vancouver and in some Vancouverites’ minds.

And that is what the ski and snowboard festival is all about. It’s become so much more than skiing and snowboarding; it’s much more, even, than arts and cultural events. It’s about people and what draws them to the mountains.

The defining event of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, for me, has become the Words and Stories evening. Words, stories, characters, sense of place – more than 40 years worth in Maurice Young Millennium Place Monday night. There was Jim McConkey reminiscing about shooting bears in the garbage dump with rubber-tipped arrows, and about Dag Abye and Seppo Makinen. There was Ace McKay Smith’s slide show of her life as a ski bum, from pre-conception to advising Nancy Greene at the Grenoble Olympics to growing up at Tod and Grouse mountains. Stephen Vogler spoke about coming of age in Whistler in the ’70s and his career as a mogul skier. The wonderfully dexterous Ivan E. Coyote painted verbal images of her hometown of Whitehorse and how it has changed. And Jeff Holden and his partner capped the evening with a performance piece about love.

As MC Michel Beaudry said, there has been a lot of talk and questions about Whistler’s spirit this year, but Monday there was a lot of evidence that it is alive and well.

We define ourselves by our actions, and our inaction. Individually, that may include how many days we get on the mountains each winter, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s more than the adrenalin rush of sliding downhill that draws people to the mountains.

What it is exactly is hard to define, but you could find fragments of it Monday night in Millennium Place. Nearly 200 people, a cross section of generations – from Garry Watson to Mayor Ken Melamed to 20-something contemporaries of Holden – coming together to share experiences and perspectives forged in the mountains. It was uplifting.

The people in that room, on stage and in the audience, were a source of optimism at a time when Whistler could use a boost. People are the key. It may be the physical environment that brought us together, but it is the people that make a community.

So when we look for actions, and inactions, that define Whistler we need to look at what they mean to people: affordable housing and affordability; economic opportunity; intellectual and spiritual growth – these are the things that determine whether people stay here or move on. These are the things that Whistler, collectively, needs to make happen.

As long as people want to stay and share stories, there is reason to believe that they can happen. And there is reason for optimism.

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