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Gauging the future of the Spirit Pass

Almost 3,000 people have taken Whistler Experience training this year



When the Whistler Chamber of Commerce retooled its Spirit Program in 2014 — partnering with the University of Victoria and rebranding it as the Whistler Experience — the hope was that it might move beyond a simple means to a discounted ski pass.

"The whole idea of the Whistler Experience program... was to make it relevant at a level almost more profound than the pass itself, where the program itself would not be directly impacted by pass price fluctuations," said Grant Cousar, acting CEO and chair of the chamber's board of directors.

"We think we're at that place."

Through the Whistler Experience, local workers can get world-class service training along with their discounted ski pass.

"We certainly think that it's worthy of a resume," Cousar said.

"I don't know how many places you get to go that you can get service training that's powered by a university-backed course."

With Vail Resorts' acquisition of Whistler Blackcomb last August, talk soon turned to how the cost of a season's pass in Whistler might be affected.

When Vail's Epic Pass comes online in full at Whistler Blackcomb next season, it will likely cost around US$849 — a discounted Spirit Pass through the chamber currently costs $1,439.

What that means for the future of the Spirit Pass isn't yet clear.

"We look forward to working with Whistler Blackcomb and trying to offer the best value program — both on training but also on the ski pass — we can, but that's a discussion that we'll continue to have, and it will become a more public conversation in the months to come," Cousar said.

For now, the chamber still sees the value in the training offered through the Whistler Experience.

"Certainly if folks are seeing that there isn't a value add, they're entitled to their opinion," Cousar said.

"We definitely believe with the training that's involved that there is a huge value add."

The program has seen solid attendance this year — almost 3,000 people have been through its courses, which is about 75 per cent of the total for all of last year, Cousar said.

"Given that we've still got I think four more of our major courses to run as well as all the onlines, we see no reason that we won't surpass last year's numbers," he said.

And the effect the program has had on service in Whistler is evident on a stroll through the village, he added.

"When you can walk through town and see smiling and engaged faces that genuinely want to help and show people around, and just better the whole life experience... the whole town seems to kind of have a gel that progresses us forward," he said.

"I'd like to think that Whistler Experience is a huge reason why we have that sort of jump in our step."