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Reconfiguring the value equation

Giving people reasons to stay and excuses to return



When Lynn Mathews arrived in Whistler in the fall of 1966 she was welcomed by the local postal/logging clerk as the 44 th year-round resident in a 10-mile radius. There was no “town” of Whistler. Highway 99 had just been paved to Creekside, the limited valley roads were dirt and the closest food store was in Squamish. What Whistler did have was tons of snow and the ski lifts were going into the first year of full operation.

Come summer of 1967, the snow and skiers had all left the valley and Mathews remembers thinking, “Where have I moved to? There’s no people, there’s just ski lifts, a daylodge, an empty parking lot and one gas station. And they’re building a chapel?!”

As the story goes, Franz Wilhelmsen, original planner of Whistler Mountain, was inspired by the little mountainside church where he’d skied as a boy in his native Norway, and envisioned such a chapel for Whistler.

This first stage of Whistler’s development, which was completed in the fall of 1965, had included a four-person gondola to midstation, a double chair, two T-bars, and a warming hut.

At this time, the ski hill vision required immense amounts of infrastructure to grow the dream, including commercial accommodation, restaurants, sewer stations, paving… all of which, one would think, would have taken precedence over a chapel.

But Whistler’s first skiers were mostly day-trippers — enthusiastic Vancouverites who had for years been obliged to head States-side or to Europe to get their skiing fix. They’d come by train on the weekend. And if they were accustomed to attending church on Sunday, as about 4 in 10 Canadians were at that time, they’d head home again Saturday night. If they could attend a service in North America’s first ecumenical chapel on Sunday morning at the base of Whistler, then click into their skis and head straight up the gondola — well, Franz had just given them a reason to stay. An excuse to linger. By meeting their deepest needs.

"December 1967 had horrendous snowfall,” remembers Mathews, “and on Christmas Eve, members of the Chapel Committee had shoveled a path to the recently completed Skiers Chapel and lined the pathway with candles in brown paper bag lanterns. And, when I stood there that Christmas Eve watching people heading up the candle lit pathway, towards the chapel with its beautiful stained glass window, I thought, ‘Of course. It makes perfect sense to have a chapel here.’”

Giving people reasons to stay is how Whistler began.

And if Mission Accomplished is measured by its growth rate, Whistler was a phenomenal success.

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