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Milestone marked as community considers future

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"These are my people."

Sporting a used-to-be-white ski toque embossed with the old Garibaldi emblem, those were the first words uttered by Cathy Jewett as she gathered with over 1,000 people to celebrate Whistler Blackcomb's 50th anniversary last weekend.

Jewett, who has lived in Whistler, well, since almost the beginning, really, epitomises in so many amazing ways the spirit that is this mountain resort. Always ready for action, ready for adventure and a dedicated volunteer, she was also the first female patroller to work an exchange program in macho Val D'Isere back in the day.

While a rare character, Jewett's passion for the mountains, and Whistler in particular, was mirrored in every face at the Dec. 12 bash, which had to be moved from a mountain-top location to the Whistler Conference Centre because so many people wanted to mark the milestone.

Long-time residents mingled with newer ones as everybody celebrated the incredible changes both the valley and the mountains have gone through since Whistler opened in 1965.

A village that started with a dream of hosting an Olympics, it has become a place where many have had their own dreams come true — big and small.

Of course, there are ski resorts across the globe, but there are few, if any, communities like this one. We are more than the sum of our parts — Whistler the town, Whistler the mountain, Blackcomb Mountain, the Sea to Sky corridor, the many businesses that call this home, and the people who live here.

Think back to the incredible ways we have helped those in need over the years, the hundreds of thousands of dollars we have found to support each other when misfortune strikes.

Think back to the great joy we have celebrated together when we see hometown heroes find success not just in sport, but also in life.

It is also a resort filled with creative people who take initiative to create change.

This is not something to take for granted as we head into what will likely be challenging times, as the ski industry comes face to face with climate change and other economic issues.

Now, more than ever, with the unified position embraced on climate change at last week's United Nations conference in Paris, Whistler needs to face this challenge creatively — as a community.

The legally binding global agreement that emerged, is a pivotal event in the history of climate activism, but it is important to remember that such action didn't start — and won't end — in Paris.

To that end, AWARE is bringing Green Party leader Elizabeth May to Whistler on Jan. 21 to share her insights into the conference and what the next steps for Canada need to be (stay tuned for more details).

And there will be next steps for everyone.

Whistler Blackcomb has been a strong environmental steward since the 1990s and noted in its 2013 Master Plan prepared by Ecosign: "Climate change is the single largest threat to the environmental, social and economic health of our planet. The impacts of climate change affect the health of our mountain ecosystems. By reducing our contribution to climate change and protecting our ecosystems, we will be a model for action toward sustainability. We see Whistler Blackcomb as a small community within the larger community and will work to build positive and supportive relationships both locally and globally."

There is no doubt that climate change will have more serious effects than those ski resorts experience. But the industry is a major force in driving tourism in B.C. It provides a livelihood for 12,000 people in the province with the province's 85 ski areas bring in $600 million in revenue annually — mountain resorts make up approximately eight per cent of total tourism revenue in B.C., according to Destination B.C.

So as we look to the future, while celebrating our past let's put our creative thinking caps on and work together.

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