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Free transit to staff housing after gondola closes

Whistler launches Walk Safe campaign this month to help keep locals safe



Whistler Blackcomb is giving its staff another option to get home safely to staff housing this season when the Excalibur Gondola is not running.

From December 20 until the end of March, there will be free transit whisking people from the village up to staff housing. The bus will run from 5:45 to 8 a.m. before the Excalibur gondola starts for the day, and from 9 p.m. to 2:45 a.m. after it shuts down again for the evening.

The goal is to keep people from walking up the ski runs and keep them off the dark and steep road to staff housing. The initiative was driven in part by staff feedback, and from the tragic death of employee David Christian, an Irish native who died of hypothermia in Horstman Creek, after he lost his way home in March 2012.

"We decided that we needed to make a change," said Joel Chevalier, WB's director of employee experience.

The pilot project will cost $30,000 with Whistler Blackcomb picking up $20,000 of that tab. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Moe Joe's and Gibbons Life came to the table with the remainder of the funding.

Chevalier said it didn't take much convincing to ask them to participate.

"It's a cool program and we're excited about it and hope it makes it beyond year one," said Chevalier.

Meanwhile, the municipality is launching its Walk Safe program this fall. It's a unique Whistler spin on an ICBC initiative.

"It's an overall campaign but we've customized it for Whistler," said Norm McPhail, the municipality's general manager of community and corporate services at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting (Nov. 4).

"Being visible amid Whistler's dark skies is essential for pedestrian safety."

There are ways to make yourself visible, he said, including:

• reflectors

• head lamps

• bright clothing

• staying on lit trails

• using crosswalks

• walking facing traffic

"As much as this sounds like very basic stuff... it's something that we almost have to give all our new people that come to the resort an inoculation about annually," said McPhail.

The campaign will include ads on transit and in Pique and the Question, among other things.

The bar industry has also been involved in discussions, getting the message to their patrons, possibly even putting reflective stickers on their backs as they leave the bars, and even handing out reflectors.

The municipality will also hand out reflectors at the annual Jill Ackhurst Welcome Week dinner this month.

Keychain flashlights will be handed out with transit passes as well.

"It's a good opportunity for all of us to engage with the young demographic, which is where the highest-risk area is," said McPhail, adding that 48 per cent of the deadly accidents across the province involve people in the 18- to 24-year-old age group.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden asked if the RCMP was doing anything differently when they see pedestrians on the highway, possibly picking them up or giving them a ticket, in light of this campaign.

"There is a renewed vigour as to how to handle those incidents," said McPhail, adding that enforcement may not necessarily be the key.

There were also suggestions from council that the local taxi companies, or the fire department, could get involved.

"I think we need to develop a program for the people that are missed," said Councillor Jack Crompton, floating the idea of a program with the taxi industry to get drunk walkers off the highway. "In my experience... it ends up being people that are new to town that get injured or killed on the highway walking home. And so they're probably people who are missed by our messaging."

McPhail said talking to the taxi industry is something the team is looking at now.

"I've got some ideas for you," added Crompton.

To learn more about the campaign go to