News » Whistler

pitoniak

comment
Until last November, when he came to speak at the Spirit Luncheon, Ed Pitoniak had never been to Whistler. During the five days he was here the cloud level never got above midstation. Naturally, he fell in love with the place. Two months ago he moved his family here. "I had gotten to know Whistler vicariously, through editing Michel Beaudry’s column, beaudry@home," says the former editor in chief of SKI magazine. "But I had a sense early on that Whistler was a place in a state of creation, it was by no means finished." During his five days here Pitoniak sampled the spectrum of experiences that make up Whistler: he had dinner at an Intrawest executive’s home in Horstman Estates one night, then breakfast at the Southside Deli with Binty Massey and the Dirtbags the next morning; he strolled through the village and he jogged the mountain trails. By the time he returned in the spring, to be keynote speaker at a World Ski and Snowboard Festival dinner, he had accepted a position with Intrawest. Since May 1 he has been Staff Vice President of Idea and Product Acceleration, reporting to Hugh Smythe in Intrawest’s Resort Operations Group. Pitoniak, who grew up on a farm in Massachusetts, was looking for an opportunity to get back to the mountains after nine years with SKI in New York, including the last three as editor in chief. "Aspen and Vail are, in a sense, finished places," he says when asked why he didn’t go to an American mountain town. "Who wants to live in a finished place? Finished places have a lot of expensive residential real estate and wealthy people, but no one new coming in, no emotion, no creativity. "Vail has entered a Baronial Era in some ways. People who have ‘made it’ live there. Aspen is a lot like Manhattan, very self-interested." The evolution of Whistler is part of what drew Pitoniak, his wife and two daughters to the Coastal Mountains from Upper Montclair, New Jersey. If the evolution of a place can be seen as a progression from barbarity to civilization to decadence, he says Whistler has become a very rich, civilized resort, but there are still elements of barbarity, which are part of the attraction. "I think Whistler is now entering a critical point in its evolution. We’ve got to make sure younger people always have a role in the community," he says. "We have to make sure that creative passion gets to stay here." Those are familiar words to anyone who heard his talk at last year’s Spirit Luncheon. He is impressed by the live music scene in Whistler, a sign of the energy in town, but is concerned the young people who provide much of that energy may be left without a place to live. "The whole resort business runs on emotion. People make it happen. They could be making more money elsewhere, enjoying a better standard of living elsewhere, but they power through it because of the emotion of being here. When that emotion goes, as it can in resort towns, it all starts to fall apart." How does that tie in with his new job at Intrawest? "What I’m trying to do is understand what people want, both guests and staff, and find that intersection of staff and guest expectations," he says weaving his fingers together. "I have a feeling the 26-year-old visitor from Seattle is here for the same experiences as the 26-year-old employee. Somehow we have to create a culture where people share that experience." He sites the Southside Deli, Pony Espresso and the golf courses as examples where that "lattice work" can be seen. "People there are united in their passion," he says. "My job is to figure out what that means in Whistler and also in Snowshoe (one of Intrawest’s ski areas)." Snowshoe is a 1,500 vertical foot mountain in West Virginia and light years away from the type of skiing and snowboarding the two local mountains can offer. But it is also Intrawest’s second biggest revenue generator, after Blackcomb, drawing skiers from all over the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern region who may drive 10-14 hours just for a weekend of skiing. "Emotion is the fundamental fuel of this business. If you lose sight of that you should go to Snowshoe," Pitoniak says. "Do you think anything but emotion could get people to drive 14 hours to get to a resort?" Pitoniak, who began his magazine career in 1979 as an editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine, had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking and talking about mountain life while at SKI. Part of the reason for his move to Whistler was he felt it was time to stop talking and start acting. "I thought it was a risk worth taking," he says. "The hunches I had are starting to look like Whistler is the place to be, with the energy and passion that’s here. "What’s intriguing is that Whistler is not a place that reveals itself instantly. You don’t walk into the centre of the village and go, ‘oh, this is it.’" Another reason for his move west was Smythe, president of Intrawest’s Resort Group, whom Pitoniak knew prior to his visit last November. "He’s a man who thinks of mountain life in a holistic way. For him it’s not just about pumping people up the mountain and selling them a lift ticket." Pitoniak also likes the Canadian sense of self he has discovered in Whistler. "People don’t get up every day and raise a banner saying I’m this or I’m that. So much of the world is reduced to a tag line. Whistler hasn’t ‘succeeded’ in reducing itself to a tag line." He notes that the United States is a country where the most important words written are the Declaration of Independence. "The U.S. is a declamatory country. Canada and Whistler are not declamatory. "Aspen was declamatory from the start. Walter Pepke (the industrialist who revived the town after the silver market died) had the Aspen Idea from the start, kind of a manifesto. "In the Whistler Idea there is no manifesto, it’s an experience."

Add a comment