Whistler is more than Vail Resort's Whistler Blackcomb — much more.
It is an entire package. Its brand encompasses true adventure, as well as luxury, value, outstanding service, a vibrancy few holiday resorts can match, pristine environments... and, well the list goes on.
When visitors come here to recreate in the winter and summer the mountains are a pivotal part of the experience, but let's be frank: no tourist is going to return to a place that had great snow, but lousy accommodation, meals, service, and adventure activities. And it has to feel like it was good value.
All the partners in the resort play a part in our success from the taxi and coach drivers, to the servers, to the restaurants and bars, spas and those who provide the all-important soft place to lay your head after a fun, if exhausting, day outside.
The locals know this, the municipal government knows this, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce knows this, Tourism Whistler knows this — Whistler knows this.
As Vail Resorts (VR) settles its corporate mantle over mountain operations, one hopes that this truth settles there also.
Sitting at the table with partners, sharing information, helping to curate and shepherd the success of Whistler — not Vail Resorts — is the task at hand.
There is no doubt that VR is a successful company (made that much more successful by its $1.4 billion takeover of Whistler Blackcomb).
But Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) new reality is that things are run from Broomfield, Colo. This is not a criticism or a judgment. It is just a fact.
How this will impact WB, or Whistler, or the partnerships that define our success, remains to be seen.
But let's be clear. Whistler is not, and never shall be, corporate. We are about entrepreneurship and irreverence both strangely balanced with sophistication — and it's a delicate balance for our global brand and reputation. We are about adventure and the great outdoors and we embrace the challenges they afford us.
That is the story we tell and share — and that is the experience we want to share with our guests.
Already we see the relationship with our snow sliders changing. The removal from sale of the one- and three-day Edge cards is basically a signal to the regional and local markets (average spend per day is $125) that they are of little importance to Vail Resorts' vision. It's all about the destination skier and the Epic Pass (destination visitors spend $265 per day).
(Said WB's new COO Pete Sonntag last week: "I understand that [the Epic Pass] can be viewed as, hey, this is geared towards destination. Yeah, it's a great option for the destination guest who's going to be here for multiple days, but it's also a great option for locals, too.")
I'm sure Vail Resorts knows that most people and families who bought those products are not going to buy an Epic Pass and travel to the other 13 resorts that are part of the pass even if they have better snow — they don't have the money for the most part.
An Epic pass is US$879 — a three-day Edge card was CAD$269. The five-and 10-day cards are still on sale for now. An unrestricted five-day card is $449.
No doubt this decision is good news for local snow operations at Cypress, Grouse and Seymour mountains, and it will no doubt cut down on highway congestion.
But in the fluctuating market that is tourism is it a good-long term strategy — cutting out many of the regional mountain users? Let's not forget that that this market has helped keep Whistler afloat as it has dealt with all sorts of past challenges including a strong Canadian dollar, 9/11, global financial crises and the general ups and downs of the travel segment.
If there is one thing I can predict with certainty it is that things are always changing.
And as Vail Resorts settles into its ownership of WB, we are all adjusting to this change, as is VR.
Said Sonntag last week: "I can tell you there's no limit to what (VR) will bring to bear to make sure the integration is successful."
So, as we head into Thanksgiving (yay for the turkey sales!), let's be thankful for all of the success we enjoy, let's be thankful that tourists want to come and visit one of the most amazing natural-destination regions in the world, and let's be thankful that we have creative, smart and passionate residents who want what is best for the resort and everyone living here.
Let's be thankful for the peace, safety and beauty of our home.