Despite a handful of violent incidents mostly involving visitors from the Lower Mainland, local officials are calling this year's May long weekend a step in the right direction, stressing that it will take time to change the culture surrounding Whistler's historically problematic holiday.
"There were a few isolated incidents of violence and unruliness, but on the whole I think the weekend was successful," said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden during her Mayor's Report at council meeting Tuesday, May 20. "Getting this weekend back isn't going to happen overnight as we all anticipated, but this was a very good start."
With a beefed up police presence and the launch of GO Fest, an outdoor-oriented festival developed in part to create a family-friendly atmosphere and celebrate the upcoming summer season, RCMP still had their hands full over the course of the weekend.
The first major incident occurred the evening of Saturday, May 17 when officers on foot patrol were notified of an alleged assault involving a large group of young men that had taken place outside an Upper Village hotel.
Upon attending, officers discovered a man bleeding from the head — he refused medical attention and was uncooperative with police. RCMP questioned several men in the area believed to be involved in the incident, although ultimately no arrests were made.
Shortly after, RCMP was notified of an apparent stabbing in one of the rooms of the same hotel. While clearly in medical distress, officers on the scene reported the victim showed no signs of being stabbed. He was also uncooperative with police and refused medical attention, although he later attended the Whistler Health Care Centre to seek treatment for a puncture wound to the back of his shoulder. The man received six stitches and was airlifted to Vancouver hospital as a precautionary measure, said Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair.
Although the parties involved were wary of police, LeClair does not believe they are affiliated with organized gangs.
"The Integrated Gang Task Force has recognized that from previous visits up here (on May long weekends) and I think they've recognized that we're not getting the gangsters up here — we're certainly getting people involved with crime — but not the gangsters," LeClair said. "A lot of the victims we dealt with had multiple prior contacts with the police as suspects, so they're not in the habit of cooperating with police."
The Whistler detachment coordinates with school liaison constables at schools across the Lower Mainland to get the word out that bad behaviour will not be tolerated in the resort, LeClair said.
"How we continue to try to get that message out to the mayors of some of the cities in the Lower Mainland and the administrators at some of the high schools — that's going to be a challenge for next year," said Wilhelm-Morden.
The unruly behaviour was not isolated to the village this year, with reports of a brawl involving between 20 to 25 men and women in front of a luxury home in Bayshores coming in after 8 p.m. Saturday.
A complainant called to report the party, where a man was observed wielding a knife and stabbing a telephone pole, as well as a young woman who was "pulled back in (the house) by the throat," LeClair said. A 17-year-old Surrey male was later arrested in connection with the alleged assault after he had fled the scene in a taxi. A can of bear spray and a pellet gun were confiscated from the male as well.
Several individuals at the house on Brandywine Way were later evicted after it was determined the owner of the home was under the assumption he had rented out the residence to just one person.
Hilton Whistler GM and May Long Weekend Committee member Stephen Webb called the weekend a success from an accomodation sector standpoint, and, amidst calls from some to raise room rates on the holiday, he said each individual hotel should have the ability to set their own price point.
"If we think there will be more demand (on May long weekend), then we will price higher," he said.
Later that night, police were advised that a man was stabbed in front of a nightclub. Officers attended and observed the victim with a slash down the right side of his face, requiring several stitches.
The 19-year-old Surrey man provided police with a vague description of his apparent attacker, but as of press time no arrests have been made, LeClair said.
Another incident involving a blade raised eyebrows with local police when a man who suffered a puncture wound to the abdomen, that later required a blood transfusion, told RCMP "he had cut himself with a knife while cutting limes" in his hotel room.
"Police questioned him extensively and he stuck by that story," LeClair noted.
All in all, nine individuals were arrested on Friday, May 16 for a range of minor offences. The night also saw six no-case drug seizures, three hotel evictions, and 71 bylaw tickets issued.
On Saturday, 11 people were detained, nine of whom were from the Lower Mainland. Three individuals were evicted from hotels, and only 40 bylaw tickets were issued, largely because police were preoccupied with more serious incidents, LeClair noted.
The following day saw a 17-year-old Coquitlam male arrested for mischief, the seizure of 94 grams of marijuana from a 21-year-old Vancouver man, six arrests for public intoxication and 50 bylaw tickets issued.
LeClair welcomed the inaugural Great Outdoors Festival and the positive atmosphere it created during the day, but admitted, "the vibe certainly switched around later on in the evening." He said the unruly behaviour was proof that RCMP needs to maintain a high visibility in the village, and that police presence may be increased on the Saturday evening when the bulk of serious offences occurred.
Crankworx Events Inc. was selected to develop the Great Outdoors Festival, which featured a range of outdoor recreational activities, free concerts in the village and cultural programming..
Crankworx GM Darren Kinnaird was pleased with the event and said attendance was "really great across the board."
While final ticket sale figures were unavailable at press time, he said that several events exceeded expectations, like a stand-up paddleboard clinic that drew 125 participants, and Sunday's Slush Cup, with over 100 people.
"We saw more families, more locals for sure around that weekend and I think it was definitely a step in the right direction," Kinnaird said.
The inaugural festival also played a role in strong room night figures this year, with bookings pacing ahead of May long weekend 2013 by three per cent, according to Tourism Whistler (TW).
"What we would expect to see is probably similar high levels of occupancy on the Friday and Saturday and growth on the Sunday and Monday, which is really in line with all our strategies to drive mid-week bookings," said Louise Walker, VP of marketing for Tourism Whistler.
TW president Barrett Fisher also noted a strong mix of visitors in the resort last weekend, with all ages represented.
In conjunction with the RMOW's Festivals, Events and Animation program, TW embarked on a marketing push promoting the festival in the Lower Mainland, Seattle, and nationwide through Canada.com, said Walker, who reiterated that it takes time for a new event to establish itself.
"We were never expecting things to suddenly switch overnight, it does take a few years to build a reputation and gain a strong following," she noted. "It's also worth bearing in mind that we're very close to that reputation of May long weekend because we're in Whistler; a lot of our international visitors are not aware of that reputation, so it's sort of a balance to make sure we're not making it into something it's not."
The May Long Weekend Committee will be meeting in the coming days to debrief on the success of the strategies put in place.