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Hide and seek

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That first whiff of fall is in the air. Then the long stretch through September and October as we await the sporadic snowfalls that create the snow base on which we depend. It is the season to take stock. And perhaps think of new ways to hide.

Locals are great at hiding: It is an elusive and obsessive pursuit to avoid the crowds on the mountains and it involves creative use of lifts to get to the runs where the tourists and Lower Mainlanders dare not venture.

But how long can we continue to hide? Already locals are wary of Vail Resort's 550,000 Epic Pass holders who may well want to head to Whistler to experience the legend firsthand. Luckily, they won't all come on the same weekend, although Vail just announced last week it has added Les 3 Vallees, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D'Isere in France, Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy, 4 Vallees in Switzerland, and Arlberg in Austria to its existing collection of 13 resorts in the U.S. and Australia.

If the snow prevails, we'll be looking at a busy winter with annoyingly long lift lineups, and that crowning moment after a day on the mountains when you are in the bar lineup and you just want a beer but must cool your jets as the tourist ahead of you orders six labour-intensive double-mojitos for his friends. It is at that moment you ache with frustration.

It is then that you start to think of the allure of Valemount, the newly announced $175-million resort nestled between three mountain ranges. Lifts will take skiers to four peaks, with the highest elevation at 3,200 metres. And a couple of glaciers. And the largest vertical drop in North America with some of the longest ski runs. And you think how easy it would be to hide there.

Valemount Glacier Destination Resort began with inspiration from European ski resorts: Lifts that take skiers to peaks that dominate the landscape. But more than that, the idea was forged from the consensus that a small community can increase tourism while preserving the mountain lifestyle.

Sound familiar?

Hit hard by the decline in the forestry and wood-processing industry, Valemount struggled to find its way through tourism and recreation. And the Valemount project is clever, with an eye to attracting international skiers, the numbers of which have fallen by 50 per cent since 2001. The Valemount master plan attributes the drop in numbers to the "stagnant product mix that does not compete well in terms of climate, vertical drops and lift infrastructure."

The Valemount master plan is loaded with info, such as the fact that Colorado, which has twice the number of destination resorts as B.C., gets double the number of skier visits compared to this province.

(If you've skied Colorado, or Utah, you know they're just fine with the dry snow, and with some resorts that serve free, fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies when you finish your day of skiing, plus a bowling alley to take the kids to later. But they're no Whistler Blackcomb.)

And Switzerland attracts approximately the same number of American skiers as Canada. The Swiss Alps draw more than twice the skiers from Asia, Japan, India and Brazil. It is to this market that Valemount developers look.

On paper, this appears to be a winner. There is talk of a resort village with more than 2,000 beds — and mention is made of employee housing.

There is also mention of the "third-largest lift-serviced non-contiguous vertical in the world" — after Zermatt, Switzerland, and Chamonix, France. And low-density skiing, which is economical. And no anticipated snow-making requirements. And north-facing slopes. And summer skiing.

Not that far away are Jasper and Banff: two of the must-see destinations for international visitors, who number 7.5 million a year to that area.

International tourists follow the same itinerary: They come to Whistler, spend a night or possibly two, ride the Peak 2 Peak, particularly in summer, then head to Banff and Jasper. In winter, if they come here for the skiing, they stay longer.

Valemount developers expect construction to start shortly after provincial approval, which was granted Aug. 17. And in the meantime, we await word on Whistler's next big project: Renaissance, that $345-million development that was announced early in April with nary a word since.

So there will be skiing at Valemount for the purists — year-round — and with plenty of places to hide, although it doesn't seem like one would really need to. There will be exceptional backcountry sightseeing. There will be a new expanse of territory for sledding, which draws from Calgary and Edmonton.

There are conceptual drawings for a quaint, largely pedestrian village that appears similar to the early Whistler, long before the hour-long lineups, the crush of Airbnb, and the need for a food bank — and before we learned how to hide.

In light of Renaissance, it is easy to envision Whistler with tourists who arrive armed with swimsuits instead of skis.

It is even easier to envision the skiing purists who will eagerly book Valemount.

And we may be just a little envious of them.