By almost every metric you can apply, I'm not your prototypical Whistler dude.
The last time I stood on a pair of skis, Bill Clinton was in office and I still considered "Ninja Turtle" as a viable career choice. The only things on two wheels I've ever had more than a passing interest in is that guy who would ride around my neighbourhood hawking ice cream from a rickety Dickie Dee cart.
When I first became enveloped by the Whistler bubble some two-and-a-half years ago, I wondered how I was ever going to fit into a community I didn't truly understand. It wasn't the zest for life or the appetite for adventure here that threw me for a loop. Those are the qualities inherent to our little resort that I absolutely adore. It was something deeper than that, something altogether more alarming: Speak ill of our precious ski town, and face the passive aggressive wrath of a thousand suns. OK, I'm exaggerating just a smidgeon, but the reality is being a journalist in a place like Whistler can quite often make you feel like you're ensnared in the worst kind of catch-22. As reporters, we try to have our finger on the pulse of the town, even if the beat isn't always music to our ears. It's our job to cover the good, the bad and the ugly and unfortunately that sometimes puts us at odds with the folks who don't follow that old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Report on the lack of snow? You're hurting your community. Cover the growing housing crunch? You're hurting your community. Write about a drug overdose or death in the backcountry? Ditto. Normally if it bleeds, it leads. In Whistler? If it bleeds, people want it buried. Anything that doesn't jive with our modern resort's shiny, corporate sheen is simply swept under the rug to rot and fester until the smell is so offensive that we have no choice but to bust out the Febreze.
At the end of the day, we are beholden to the almighty tourist dollar, I get that. It's the reason we're all able to live in such a beautiful and unique place, and we should be extremely cognizant of how the almighty tourist views us. But we can't let it undermine our values, the values that defined Whistler before Whistlerites gave a rat's ass what other people thought of the place they chose to call home.
It's that fear — because fear is exactly what it is — that means I have to call the mayor if I want a quote on library programming. It's the same fear that resulted in weeks of cajoling behind the scenes with Whistler Blackcomb so we could report on their top executives yearly earnings — information that was already public for months. It's the same fear that will probably earn my gracious editor (Hi Clare!) a few snide emails or phone calls over this very column. I'll even stop with the navel-gazing for a moment because it's not just us journalists who suffer from the cognitive dissonance and doublespeak so rampant in our community that it would make Orwell spin in his grave. Let's face it: as idyllic a place as Whistler is, we have all the same problems that any other town of 10,000 does. In fact, with 2.5 million annual visitors and boatloads of coveted tourist dollars streaming its way through our community on a daily basis, we actually have more, and we're not doing anybody any favours by plugging our ears and whistling Dixie every time one of those problems rears its ugly head. We need to be able to have frank, open discussions if we are going to face the very real, very large issues coming down the pipe in the future.
With the Olympics now in the rearview, skier visits staying flat, and international tourists' growing appetite for authentic destinations that fall off the beaten track, Whistler needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Our biggest concern shouldn't be about maintaining our resort's glossy public image, but rather if there's anything resembling a soul behind it worth saving.