If Whistler was a liquid mixture you could boil down like a reduction on your kitchen stove, distilling out its essential qualities, one flavour in particular would stand out.
It wouldn't be the flavour of the sustainability crew, with carbon offsets and reusable grocery bags, although people who fall under that stereotype no doubt offer an imperative taste to the Whistler dynamic.
It wouldn't be the old school ski group either - cowbells and all - even though this town was built largely on their dreams, and even though the Olympics held high salute to their efforts over the last 50 years to build a premier ski resort from a low-key fishing spot.
No, instead it would be a flavour that many local demographic connoisseurs prefer to disregard: the gnar-bros.
Let me explain. Gnar-bro is a brand of spice that mixes "gnarly" lifestyle with "shred the gnar gnar (sic)" attitude. Its ingredients are composed mainly of ladies and gents wearing bright colours, in clothes that are either too baggy or too tight, who strut around the village stroll and take over the ski hill at all hours of the day, listening to some combination of underground hip hop or indie pop or techno techno. Overt, obtuse, extreme stereotypes aside, it's the demographic that is often let out during important meetings in Whistler's boardrooms, and yet, from a purely marketing point of view, it is one of Whistler's best assets in attracting clientele from around the world.
Why should we care about gnar-bros?
I'll answer that question with another question: what is one thing Whistler as a ski resort offers that makes it stand out so starkly from the rest? Answer: The illusion of youth.
It doesn't matter whether a visitor is aged 18 or 65, when people come to Whistler, the years in their bones suddenly seem to slip away to reveal a fresh, temporary burst of energy. Examples of this are everywhere: the group of businessmen gathered around a table of drop shots at Amsterdam pub; the 50-year-old retiree who follows his teenage son into the terrain park and attempts a jump before ending up in the clinic; the mother of four who decides to try out for a Women's Wednesday downhill session just for the hell of it, wheels ablazin'. Last June, when the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held their annual conference in Whistler, the youth illusion could be seen in the hundreds of councillors and mayors from across Canada who hit yhe dance floor at night or lined up at Zog's Dogs for a quick bite in between meetings.
That's where the importance of scenester Whistlerites and seasonal workers comes in.
You see, Whistler's Youth Illusion (from here on out abbreviated all official-like into WYI) is best advertised through the ski and bike bums that pack into this resort every winter and summer. Sure, they live 12 people to a two-bed room apartment. And yes, they work night jobs, washing dishes and cleaning hotel rooms for a pittance of a salary. And yet, whenever the first snowflakes fall in November - whenever the water at Rainbow Park finally gets warm enough to dive into - they are always among the most enthusiastic. Through their passion for fun, they create and nurture the WYI.
Last week the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival wrapped up, marking the end of the third major party to grace Whistler in the past three months. Unlike the first two parties though (the Olympics and the Paralympics), the WSSF didn't shy away from embracing Whistler's inner gnar-bro; while the Olympics and Paralympics highlighted a new fantastic side of Whistler and fuelled further inspiration for what this place can be, last week's festival was an unadulterated throw-back to the often-overlooked people who make Whistler truly Whistler.
Most importantly, the neon atmosphere of WSSF served as a key reminder that, as we start to move beyond the Olympics and as a new era takes shape in this corridor that doesn't involve VANOC or the IOC, we need to remember the importance of the WYI.
We need to remember - as one recent letter to the editor by Lydia Harrison-Lucy kindly pointed out two weeks ago - that "this town would be nothing, and I repeat nothing, if we were not here to hold the entire inner workings up and functioning." We need to remember that as dime-a-dozen as these youth sometimes are treated by cash strapped business owners and landlords, each young individual who comes for a season of fun adds exponentially to Whistler's ultimate success. In short, let's acknowledge our beloved ski and snowboard bums, bike vagabonds, mountain-culture scenesters, seasonal worker superstars, renegade midnight partiers, and everyone else under the age of 30 who sprinkles their glitter along Whistler's streets. Without them, the ever-important WYI would be a pipe dream, all puns intended.