Opinion » Alta States

Peering into WB's Future

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Whether it's the two lifts they've designated for the Flute Peak zone (sigh — I remember Bob Dufour telling me they'd never expand beyond the Symphony Lift), or the high-speed quad that completes the full colonization of Blackcomb Glacier Park (something Blackcomb management solemnly swore they'd never do when they finagled their "last" concession from BC Parks bureaucrats), or even the trio of new lifts they intend to stick in the Khyber/West Bowl/Grande Finale area (an already-too-busy ski zone despite its limited access) — it's just too much. Too urban. Too industrial. Totally unsustainable.

Yeah. Yeah. I know. They say they have no current plans to build these lifts. It's all for a future, they insist, that may or may not manifest itself. Besides, they explain, that's what the master planning process is all about: ask for the stars and hope for the moon. But consider this factoid: when the company got pushback from the BC Federation of Mountain Clubs over its proposed incursion into current park lands, WB made what they said was a huge concession and promised not to expand further into the provincial park — until the year 2020. Note: that's only six years away...

What really bothers me about WB's latest round of big-time planning, however, is how its authors missed identifying one of the most significant shifts in ski culture in the last five decades! And that, my friends, is the incredible growth and development of self-propelled skiing. This is the nature-based tourism phenomenon (winter version) that we're being told millennials everywhere are embracing. So how the heck did Ecosign (and WB senior management) miss it?

Seems a no-brainer to me. Given the recent proliferation of mountaineering gear on resort-skiers' feet — not to mention the explosion in split-boards among lift-riders — one has to assume a steadily growing demand for hike-to terrain in the next few years... but with a caveat. I think there's an incredible opportunity to develop new "inbounds" (and, by extension, avi-controlled) terrain that isn't groomed or otherwise managed... and takes a few minutes to walk to.

And it could have huge returns for Whistler... almost as big as the mountain biking revolution (if we play our cards right). Don't laugh: compared to the skinny sticks I grew up on, today's super-fat mountain boards offer a much easier off-trail riding experience... something that few mountain resorts have really exploited yet.

This is where an understanding of ecotones is vital. Rather than building lifts right to the limit of their property (and creating a really hard edge between inbounds and out-of-bounds riding), tomorrow's successful snowplay resort will figure out ways to feather the edges — to create texture if you will — between the "controlled" sectors inside their boundaries and the "uncontrolled" wilderness beyond their boundaries.

Sadly, there's nothing even remotely close to that in the current Whistler and Blackcomb Master Plans. And when those alpine lifts are built, in 2016 or 2021... or whenever management decides, well, then it will be too late to reconsider. Fortunately, nothing's been approved just yet. That's why I encourage you to check out the plans for yourself. Here's the link: www.for.gov.bc.ca/mountain_resorts/resort_plans/proposed/index.html#whistler.

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