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Feature - In search of Whistler’s soul

What do people find in Whistler once they get past the pretty face?


By Lisa Richardson and Stella L. Harvey

The mercury drops and we’re wrapping up the International Year of the Mountains waiting for the snow to fly. Recruiting season arrives with an influx of starry-eyed travellers. They’re so green they would photosynthesize if they got a little sun. They come, devoted pilgrims, though housing and jobs are elusive before Christmas. They come for the Whistler experience.

So too will the tourists. At two million skier visits a year, Whistler is still on the podium for North American ski resorts. The tourism industry shouts a consistent message, "People come for the Whistler experience." Packed hills and trails provide compelling evidence to support the rhetoric. Of course they come. Why wouldn’t they? To say the place is beautiful sounds trite. Take a look around. We have a stunning, accessible unlimited year-round playground with friendly people who provide exceptional customer service. This is the paradise tourists dream about. This is the place they flock to in search of tranquility, solace, fun and excitement. And, they must be finding it because they keep coming.

Visiting a place is one experience. Staying and making it home is another. Those who came to Whistler and settled here were drawn into an alternative lifestyle. Were seduced by the yawp-over-the-rooftops experiences – snorkeling through freshies, cruising on our bikes, relaxing by the lake, quaffing drinks on the Citta’s patio with your mates – the people, the vibe, the wide sky.

Kara-Leah Grant is a typical case: "I was 22 when I arrived in Whistler. I'd been travelling for a year and a half and came to Whistler for just a few days. That was in 1998. And despite having tried to leave a few times I've stayed because I feel connected here, I feel like I’m part of something. It’s a feeling I never got living in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, or London. I stayed because I love the mountains and the trees and the lakes and the rivers and the rocks. I think our dependence on the outdoor lifestyle and the movement of the seasons makes us feel connected to the Earth and to each other far more than in other towns and cities."

It’s beautiful, and we’re seduced by beauty. But after a time, the glamour turns out to be a little bit of light and mirrors. The sheen starts to fade away. Like all myths and magic, a little reality starts to chew holes in the fabric. Properties bought as rustic cabins 20 years ago suddenly net a million dollars, and locals who succumb to curiosity – "let’s just see what we can get for this place" – suddenly find themselves homeless when a too-good-to-refuse offer lands in their lap.