Paying a lot more to play
It should be clear to everyone who has been following Vail Resorts' acquisition of Whistler Blackcomb that a new era has started — and nothing in Vail Resorts' actions to date should leave any illusions about its path forward.
Sitting in their corporate boardroom in Colorado, Vail Resorts executives have little reason to cater to local skiers and Canadian visitors to Whistler. They have a massive base of over 650,000 Epic Pass (their name for the season's pass to all of Vail Resorts' properties) holders in the U.S.
Whistler is now the biggest resort in their portfolio, and as everyone knows Whistler is already overcrowded during peak periods. Their biggest sales target is going to be U.S. vacationers — Whistler will likely seal the deal for many who almost bought Epic Passes in previous years. And all of those new and existing pass holders are going to need space on the mountains.An important part of Vail Resorts' strategy is to steer visitors toward Epic Passes rather than short-term or single-day tickets. Focusing on selling season's passes gives them financial stability, especially in low-snow years, and has been widely acknowledged as a game changer in the ski industry, and one that has been widely copied.
A key step in selling so many passes is to increase short-term and single-day pass prices while keeping Epic Pass prices relatively low. But relative is the key word: the promise of lower season's pass prices at Whistler Blackcomb, which was widely reported in the media last year, has proven to be false when all of the perks that Vail Resorts cancelled (two free single-day lift tickets, on-mountain discounts, ability to buy a $500 gift card for $100 off) are taken into account. The high-season day ticket rate at Vail in Colorado is US$175 per day (CDN$237), compared to CDN$139 in Whistler this year. It is a certainty that Whistler day pass prices will increase next year.
Retail and food costs will also increase, if pricing at Vail Resorts' U.S. resorts is a guide. Vail Resorts has also eliminated many specialized passes and add-ons that made skiing reasonably affordable for local families. These include the midweek pass, the Parent Pass (which was partially resurrected after complaints), and one- and three-day Edge cards. Vail Resorts' shabbiest move so far has been the cancellation of the long-standing spring skiing add-on for Edge card holders (which used to be free for those upgrading to a season's pass). The other pricing changes Vail Resorts is making kick in next year, but the cancellation of the add-on in the middle of this ski season is shameless. My quick summary of the impact of Vail Resorts' pricing strategy is as follows:
• Season's pass holders will see little change in the net cost of their passes, but their on-mountain experience next year will be degraded by overcrowding brought on by having so many more season's passes in circulation, and by higher food and retail pricing if they choose to buy.
• People who ski five to 20 times per year and previously bought five- and 10-day Edge cards (or one of the other restricted season's passes that Vail Resorts recently cancelled) will either have to buy a much more expensive season's pass, or a newly restricted Edge card that offers less value in the early- and late-seasons as Vail Resorts claws back free and discounted days.
• The biggest losers, unfortunately, will be families who ski only a few days per year, families with teenagers, and seniors. Vail Resorts has no (or at least very limited) age category discounts beyond children (12 years old), so youth and seniors can expect to see substantial price increases in the coming years as Vail completes the roll-out of its pricing model. All that being said, Whistler's future still looks reasonably secure. Business owners are probably happy. Visitors will keep coming, perhaps in record numbers, but the mix is going to change — and perhaps that is fair.
But it does mean that a lot of local families are going to have to pay more to enjoy Whistler, summer and winter. And some will be priced right out of the market.
WB policy needs re-think
I recently had my daughter and her boyfriend up for a ski weekend. We had lunch in the Glacier Creek Lodge on Blackcomb. When we went to pay, I supplied my season's pass for the discount and said that all three of us were together. The clerk rang up all three trays together and I paid using a Whistler Blackcomb (WB) gift card.
A couple of days later, I looked at the receipt and realized that the 20 per cent food discount was only applied to my entrée. In the past, it has been my experience that the discount has been applied to the total food portion.
I sent an email to WB customer service asking for the additional $6.05 discount assuming the cashier made an error. I was told that the season's pass perks were for personal use only and the discount had been properly applied. They referenced a statement on the WB website, which reads: "All Perks are for Passholder personal use only... "
I replied, pointing out that I could put all items on my tray and say that I was extra hungry, go through the line three times or have my guests pay at different times but have my pass scanned since the picture is not looked at and my name is gender neutral.
In addition, previously this year, I have used my pass for a similar group meal, ski rentals for my guests, etc. and always received the discount on the full amount.
The reply to that was: "Technically the passholder discount is intended to be for the passholder only. If you have had exceptions made to this rule in the past, that is at the discretion of the rental store staff, and is not standard practice across the resort."
Well, I disagree with that statement as my experience is that the standard practice has been that season's pass discount applies whenever used. There are other perks like the three free day passes, two-for-one Fresh Tracks tickets, etc. that are not likely to be used for personal use.
I don't know if this new practice is a result of Vail Resorts management changes, or simply that someone in the management chain decided to interpret that statement literally. But if this is going to be the standard practice, when I have guests, I will rethink where we eat when I am paying.
It also means that WB shops are now just another (albeit more expensive) place to shop of the many in the village and are no longer a preferred store when I am shopping with others.
I forwarded the whole email thread to Vail Resorts customer service pointing out that this policy should be reviewed but have not received a reply yet.
Sammamish, WA and Whistler
Stealing from those in need
One of Whistler's greatest assets is WAG (Whistler Animals Galore). Dogs and cats in need of care and support are lucky to live here. However, this is not a happy story.
The WAG donation boxes that many local retailers generously place in their shops raise a surprising amount of money for our local dogs and cats.
The spirit of this effort, which helps to define who we are, is a community collective and filled with love and support. The soul of this town is on display. Whistler people love supporting WAG. Sadly, just last week, a full coin box was stolen off the counter at Mac's, one of our best locations to raise money. They are now unable to raise money for us anymore.
The individual who stole this box, which incidentally featured the picture of a beautiful young dog who needed a home, is no doubt one of the growing number of individuals who drive like maniacs, leave their empty skis at the front of a powder line up for hours while eating breakfast somewhere, race ahead of you and take your line, leave their cars parked in fire lanes in front of schools clearly marked, drive 70 km/h in a 30km/h zone, fail to pick up their dog poo, chew stealthily while shopping around the bulk section, etc.
How did everyone become so self righteous? Maybe it is due to years of being told they live in the "best place on earth." Must be filled with the best people...no?
I am not reminiscing about the "old days." I am, however, reminiscing about the thoughtful days once spent living in a thoughtful town.
I better go. I need 10 minutes to pull out of my street onto the freeway clogged with cars, so I can drive for five minutes to drop my child at a school with no school bus, just hundreds of carbon-spewing cars driving there every single day. Twice. Global warming be damned.
Ah, the Whistler life.
Response to 'New Thinking on Old Growth'
I'm responding to Angela Mellor's (Letter to the Editor, March 23 in Pique) on the role of old-growth logging in the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF). I believe CCF's logging of both second and old-growth timber is sustainable and consistent with Whistler's vision.
Ms. Mellor is correct when she says the issue is bigger than Whistler. The CCF includes First Nations and other communities from Squamish through to Mount Currie. It is a three-way agreement between the communities of Whistler, Squamish First Nation and Lil'wat First Nation to work together to manage the forests for the benefit of all parties and the local community.
I agree that one of the highest values of the forest is to support and promote the world-class tourism and recreational businesses in and around Whistler. All forestry activities done by the CCF, including road and trail-building work, recognize it is critical to maintain or enhance Whistler's recreational values.
With this in mind, the CCF's allowable harvest has been intentionally set at only half of what actually grows per year in the CCF. Within the CCF, there are areas protected for the maintenance and establishment of old forests including old-growth management areas, riparian reserves, cultural management areas and wildlife-habitat reserves. This is sustainable forestry at its best.
The forests surrounding Whistler must also serve as a forested fire break to work to slow or prevent wildfires from burning into the community. Harvesting within the CCF areas is managed to reduce forest-fuel hazards and create access for recreation and fire suppression.
The age of the tree doesn't directly affect the fire-hazard level. It has more to do with density and amount and type of fuel on the forest floor. Due to these factors, managed forests are generally superior to unmanaged forests to protect communities from wildfires.
First Nations have managed the land and forests surrounding Whistler for thousands of years. After a brief interlude of the last 100 or so years, they are resuming their role of looking after the land for the benefit of all people. I believe the forest management practices used in CCF reflect this role.
I have spoken with many people, including the forestry spokespersons of all three B.C. provincial parties going into the May 9 provincial election, and they all support thoughtful and sustainable old-growth harvest such as is currently practiced by the CCF.
Finally, the CCF is within a management area called the Whistler Landscape Unit where 78 per cent of the forested area is mature or old forest and is protected from harvesting.
I do not see logging old forest as an "all or nothing issue." We can harvest some old forest along with second growth forests and still maintain lots of old forest for aesthetics, carbon credits and biodiversity.
Thank You to our Volunteers at Whistler Olympic Park!
On behalf of Whistler Sport Legacies, I would like to thank all volunteers for their valued contribution to Whistler Olympic Park during the 2016-17 season.
As a not-for-profit organization, we greatly rely on our Volunteer Ambassador program and the support from the community. Over 500 shifts and 2,145 hours were logged this winter season, in which our 57 ambassadors were active in snowshoe-trail packing, sport-school support, assistance for our guest services and rental shop teams and lending a hand to our sport and event operations staff or our ski patrol. We are exceptionally grateful that 67 per cent of our volunteers were returning this season, so they could share their knowledge about our venue with fellow volunteers and new seasonal colleagues.
For our mission to grow sport in the Sea to Sky Corridor, our volunteers are of immense importance. A study says that 80 per cent of sport delivery happens through volunteerism, and in fact the sport sector is the only one so dependent on volunteers — so we would also like to thank the volunteers who helped with the Nordic clubs' programs and the many competitions throughout the season. Without their dedication, the sport delivery would be very difficult, if not impossible.
Whistler Olympic Park's volunteer ambassadors contributed to the successful introduction of almost 2,500 elementary school kids to Nordic skiing, they supported our instructors in facilitating youth-sport programming and holiday camps, they assisted in preparing the field of play for over 15 Nordic sport competitions in the park, and they promoted us by spreading the word about our objectives among their friends, family and the broader community.
To all the volunteers associated with Whistler Olympic Park, thank you for all your hard work and support, we are looking forward to seeing you again next winter!
President & CEO
Whistler Sport Legacies
Buck Cancer success
What a night! Mechanical bull rides, live music, silent auction, raffle, food and drink, and fun with friends. Saturday, April 15 was another riotous and successful Buck Cancer at Dusty's in support of Families Fighting Cancer in the Sea to Sky.
The evening would not have been possible without the generous support of many individuals, groups and businesses in the Sea to Sky community. Thanks to everyone who joined us for the fun, bought raffle tickets and bid on items in the silent auction.
It is with a huge amount of gratitude that we would like to thank the following supporters: Whistler Firefighters Association, Ryan Donohue, Dusty's Bar and Grill, Josh Kearns, Scotiabank Whistler, Walsh Restoration, Blackcomb Snowmobile, Watermark, Whistler Brewing, Slopeside Supply, Some Assembly Required, Tim Hortons, Summit Avalanche, Shoppers Drug Mart, Nicklaus North, WOVA, Trish Jamieson, Acklands Grainger, Alpine North Limousine, Blackrock Oceanfront Resort, Upper Village Market, Sushi Village, Justine Andrew, 21 Steps, Coast Mountain Brewing, Araxi, Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Chromag, Hy's, Nesters Market, McCoos, Whistler Golf Club, Escape Route, Samurai Sushi, Coastal Culture, Ziptrek, Whistler Liquor Store, Starbucks, Sport Stop, Escape Room, Nordic Development Team, Fun For Kids, Kathleen Tennock, Pan Pacific Whistler, Stacey Bodnaruk, Canadian Wilderness Adventures, Vincent Massey, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Nesters Liquor Store, Delish Catering, Celebrate Whistler, Pasta Lupino, Red Door Bistro, Chocohappy, Ryders, Wedge Rafting, Nagomi Sushi, Kelly Pogson, Mongolie Grill, Elevation Hair Studio, Basecamp Fitness, Two Peaks Home Inspections, Lodging Ovations, Alpine Café, Whistler Baskets, Kee and David Cronin.
With the funds raised we are able to continue helping Sea to Sky families with dependent children who have a family member diagnosed with cancer.
Michelle Williamson and Lisa Geddes
Co-founders Families Fighting Cancer in the Sea to Sky
It is never tacky to say thank you!
Thanks to all who came out last Friday, April 21 and participated in the Spring Creek Community School Tacky Tourist Family Games Night fundraiser.
You arrived in hilarious and spirited, tacky costumes, you played bingo, bowled, face painted, cake walked, you enjoyed home-baked sweets, candy floss, popcorn, pulled pork and hot dogs, and most importantly, you shared lots of laughs and fun with your kids and other families. We are happy to report that we raised over $2,000 for our school!
Huge thanks to the SCCS PAC team, SCCS teachers and staff, custodian staff and Principal Stuart Bent and all the other parents that provided their support and volunteered many hours of time to coordinate another memorable and successful fundraiser for our school.Special thanks go out to event coordinators Katherine Currall and Tracy Higgs, to Susan Hammersley, for running the cake walk along with all the families that donated cakes, to Carson Hamm for organizing and running the bingo, to Jeff Isert and Adele Ferguson for donating and spinning the candy floss machine, to Kerri Fletcher and Tanya Goertzen for setting up and supervising the Grade 6/7 dance room, to Ecole Passerelle for lending us some of their spaces for the night, to Snowglobe Photo Booth, to Leslie Scott for her fishing game, and to WSS student volunteers and the Interact Club.
And many hands helped in the kitchen led by the always calm and competent Tyla Emde. A shout out to Kerry Chalmers along with the Grade 4 families for the bake sale and to Caralynn Haasen, along with the Grade 7 families for the always delicious fruit kebabs.
And to our prize donors, your donations brought on smiles, shouts of winning joy, encouragement to play and participate, and in turn, helped to raise many more dollars for our school.
Thanks to Nesters Market, Nesters Liquor Store, Great Glass Elevator, Katherine Currall - Real Estate Professional, Whoola Toys, Haven Health & Massage Therapy, Hy's Steakhouse, Resort Municipality of Whistler Meadow Park Sports Centre, Escape Room Whistler, Thornhill Real Estate Group, Whistler Dental, Village 8 Imagine Cinemas, Camp Coffee, Coast Mountain Brewery, Lift Coffee Company, Samurai Sushi, Kahuna Paddleboards, Bearfoot Bistro and Riverside Golf.