Wildfire is the greatest threat
Just as a sizable fire would affect the beauty we now enjoy, as business owners we must also consider the economic impact such an incident might have.
I came to Whistler as a newborn; my first home backed onto Whistler Mountain's Creekside, and our backyard was almost a clear cut.
Today, that area is overgrown with pine trees three to nine metres tall, all in such close proximity that their branches either touch or make contact with the ground. Any old-growth forest has trees two to three metres apart, not one metre like most young forests here. What is startling is that most neighbourhoods in Whistler back onto, or are surrounded by, similar dense-growth fire hazards—some within metres of valuable high-profile properties.
Consider the recent fire on Panorama Drive in Brio. The burning cabin, sitting on a steep grade with Whistler Mountain behind it, backed right onto one of these dense forests. It was contained by our fire department, but not without some help from Mother Nature as it was winter, with snow in the trees and on the wet forest floor. Still, a few trees behind the house ignited.
Now imagine if that same fire took place on a hot day in August instead of February. Flames would quickly climb the mountain behind it. Burning embers would be carried by the wind, and the trees, so close in proximity, would ignite not from contact but from the intensity of heat—all the firefighters and water bombers could in no way hold back nature's wrath in that case.
That is the fire I fear.
If Whistler were to have such a fire, word of our famous resort in flames would be "Breaking News."
Photos on social media would spread faster than the fire itself. And burning along with the reputation we fought so hard to build would be the tourist-industry income.
Considering the fires in B.C. and Alberta over the past few summers—and the massive dollar amount to contain them and then rebuild—we've been given ample warnings.
Doesn't making sure there is sufficient money for wildfire mitigation make fiscal sense?
A forest consultant from B.A. Blackwell & Associates was engaged by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and identified major areas of concern. The report included many recommendations and two options, both with 10-year goals in mind. The RMOW response was the least expensive option, $1 million a year plus grants, and treating only 25 per cent of the high-risk forest, leaving 75 per cent of high-risk forest areas as a constant threat to our community. It would take 40 years to achieve treatment of all high-risk areas, only to start all over again with new regrowth.
I am deeply disappointed with the response from all levels of government and our associated stakeholders.
There are times when mitigating a problem requires the appropriate amount of effort, otherwise "too little, too late" comes into effect.
If we burn, even partially, and it is world news, we will be spending millions to convince the world to come back to Whistler. Why don't we just spend some millions now and fix the problem?
If they think fire mitigation is expensive, try having a fire.
The OCP and a better way forward
Reconciliation is real and it is needed! More education and understanding is needed as well—too many of us don't understand what generational trauma is and that trauma, especially childhood trauma, is the root of addiction.
That said, land deals with First Nations (FN) will just compound our growth problems and we need to find another way forward.
What can we create, together with FN and the province, that will benefit all parties and not compound our growth issues?
I propose a "Reconciliation-Transit-Fee" instead of the current "market" land deals being negotiated between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations—the proposed resident housing FN land deal at Cheakamus is a win-win for both communities and this letter does not pertain to this aspect of the negotiations, just the free-market components now and in the future.
The RMOW, Squamish Nation, and Lil'wat Nation want better transit throughout the Sea to Sky corridor and with Greyhound discontinuing Sea to Sky service, the need for commuter transit will surely grow.
That said, FN ultimately and historically wants cash even though the land has been their foot in the door with the courts, and the land has significant spiritual and cultural importance. However, with land deals, FN partner with developers or outright sell the land once the zoning is in place. And, the land deals have benefited some more than others in the FN communities—hence the "new eight" on the Squamish Nation Council.
The RMOW Economic Partner Initiative produced a report citing $1.53 billion of GDP generated annually, 86 per cent of which comes from the destination tourist and total resort transfers of $1.33 million in taxes sent to Victoria daily. The economic engine has been built, is overheating at times, and needs fine-tuning and lubrication—not more horsepower.
A one-per-cent Reconciliation-Transit-Fee levelled at the till on destination guest purchasers would generate approximately $12 million annually. These funds would be split 50/50 between the RMOW and FN. FN could use the funds for their priorities, which are housing, new businesses, and job generation. The RMOW would fund local transit and some regional transit between Pemberton and Squamish geared to the RMOW employed workforce.
These new funds could potentially, along with revenue from pay parking and bus fares, create no-charge transit inside the resort and add a much-needed carrot to the recently implemented stick component of resort-pay-parking.
Objections to a Reconciliation-Transit-Fee are: 1) We've been going down the land-deal path and changing course may be difficult; 2) FN wants land; 3). Provincial approval is required and this would set a precedent.
To counter the objections: 1) What's the rush? Let's get it right; 2) FN ultimately wants cash and to maintain their unceded rights to the land; 3) Precedents and innovation are what made Whistler what it is today and provincial approval is required regardless.
Implementing a Reconciliation-Transit-Fee will take leadership and making the time to get it right. It will reduce the pressure on growth, oil the economic engine by providing more affordable transit for the workforce, and create more cooperation with the communities in the corridor. It will also be a long-lasting significant move toward reconciliation with our FN partners—without compounding our growth problems—a win-win.
Doing what's good for Vail Resorts
Vail Resorts acquired Whistler Blackcomb because it saw it as an underperforming asset that was their core business. Underperforming? Yes, and the application of the Vail Resorts business model would bring a greater return.
Simply put, Vail Resorts wants to get rid of Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's "brown-paper baggers" (BPB), or to force them onto season passes. That way, the company has weatherproofed a major part of its income stream.
Vail Resorts wants destination tourists (as does the Whistler Chamber of Commerce) as they spend far more money.
To disguise this abandonment of day-trippers, Vail Resorts needed a distraction and what better way than hyping proposed changes (I hesitate to use the word "improvements"): $66 million invested on Whistler Blackcomb and not one square inch of additional skiable terrain! (For real infrastructure improvement, think Peak 2 Peak and the Crystal Chair.) So Vail Resorts touts "the world's first three–gondola connection" as if by stating this to be a wonder, it will be; to say nothing of the 250-metre hike between Blackcomb Base and Skiers' Plaza. What's so wonderful about that? But that's connectivity, Vail Resorts style.
As for the new gondola: Wizard and Solar Coaster worked perfectly for me in winter (now I'll have to take my skis off). And in summer, riding Wizard/Solar was a real treat—360-degree panorama, empty sky above and the terrain below, the breeze in your face and, often as not, a bear, safely 10 metres below you.
Make no mistake, Vail Resorts is doing to Whistler what is good for Vail Resorts. They will prattle on about "community" and sling a few thousand dollars to good causes, but as far as the BPB lot are concerned and the habitués of the likes of Roland's and the Alpine Cafe, they care nothing.
Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell grasped this as soon as Vail Resort's "plans" were announced and came, ineluctably, to the conclusion that for many Whistlerites it was time to move on: Whistler was never going to be the same.
During the June 23 and 24 weekend, Whistler Gymnastics had its fourth annual Whistler Summer Classic indoor/outdoor gymnastics meet. The event hosted over 250 athletes, their families, coaches and judges from around B.C. Participants from ages six to 53 years old took part. This year, the meet held a special adult session during Saturday afternoon and showcased the best of adult gymnasts in the province.
The annual Whistler Summer Classic is the largest fundraiser for the club, and the event wouldn't be possible without the community support and countless volunteer hours.
We would like to recognize so many generous local businesses for the support. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze sponsors will be showcased on the Whistler Gymnastics website for the year leading up to next event. This event would also not be possible without the best volunteer parents in town. Endless hours leading up to the event and during the event made this year's Summer Classic flawless.
OROS Whistler Gymnastics Club is a not-for-profit, community club that provides classes, camps and drop-in programs for kids and adults in both gymnastics and trampoline from recreational to competitive. Through various fundraising initiatives we can keep fees accessible for all, provide ongoing professional development for our staff, purchase equipment and provide travel assistance to various championships.
Finally, on behalf of OROS Whistler Gymnastics and all athletes who participated in such a unique event, a very special thank you to all of the club members who came and volunteered. Your time and commitment is invaluable for this big fundraising event!
The Whistler Summer Classic Committee