Opinion » Editorial


The bigness question



Talk to any local with a telescope and they'll tell you that the night sky around here isn't what it used to be.

The resort has grown hugely in the past 11-plus years that I've lived here, with new hotels, neighbourhoods and amenities all shooting photons into the night sky. You can still see more of the galaxy from Whistler than you can from Vancouver or Seattle, but the Milky Way is getting faint and far fewer stars are visible to the naked eye.

That light pollution is a direct consequence of growth (not to mention the lack of bylaws and planning to preserve this once spectacular interstellar resource) and in the scheme of things it's hard to measure what the true impact is. Certainly something beautiful and intangible is lost, but it's equally possible that something tangible is being lost as well.

I always imagined what it would be like coming to Whistler from a city and looking up, seeing the stars for maybe the first time in your life. That's an experience we've never explicitly sold in any specific way but no doubt it has (or had?) a value. Maybe it was one of the reasons that people came back to the resort year after year, or bought homes here. Maybe it sold a few extra night tours. Maybe it was the little detail that put Whistler over the top for somebody scouting out the resort before booking a conference. Who knows?

But if our night sky does have a value, and I believe it does, then it can safely be said that value has diminished over time.

The reason I bring up stars is that I believe the same can be said for other Whistler experiences; some of the things we've become famous for have also diminished by the simple fact that we've grown. The winter powder skiing experience, for example. The summer beach experience. The village dining/pub/club experience (to the point where you can face a two-hour wait for a table some nights).

And now Whistler is at a crossroads once again. We have an abundance of homes and hotel rooms, and more beds to fill than ever - too many beds if we're to be honest, but they have to be filled all the same in order to keep the resort and its growing population gainfully employed and paying down mortgages on all those new homes. It's a Catch-22 situation: we need more and more people to come here for the experience, but the more people that come here the less that experience is worth.

Take Chuck. (I don't know his real name, I only knew him for seven minutes on a chairlift one day last winter and I'm calling him Chuck.) Chuck was relocated to Whistler last year from Vernon, where he was a regular at Silver Star. He loved Whistler Blackcomb's terrain, but was dismayed by how fast powder disappeared, the long lift lines, the crowded lodges at lunch time. "The runs are longer but I used to get 15 or 20 runs a day at Silver Star," he told me. "Here? What is it, 1:30? I started at 8:30 this morning, and I think I've done all of six runs."

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