Measured several different ways, the winter of 2011-12 has been one of Whistler's best. Snowfall accumulations, of course, set some records. And record snowfalls in a winter when most of the rest of the continent and large parts of Europe didn't get any snow until well into the ski season is a recipe for success.
A record number of room nights sold is also expected to have been set this winter, to be confirmed once the final tallies are done.
But despite the strong "fundamentals," 2012 is still a long way from the heady pre-recession days of 2007. Before the great global financial meltdown, punctuated by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the bailouts of several other American banks, things were different.
The Christmas holiday period in 2006 set up the winter of 2006-07 to be one of Whistler's best. There was abundant snow — while Europe again had little — and lots of people in town. And people were spending money — even if they were using credit — in a way that we haven't seen since then, paying full price for hotel rooms, for example.
The financial picture of 2007 is illustrated by looking back at some of the advertising. Pique was full of ads for real estate developments, many of them in Squamish. Optimism in the ski industry was high, as major investments planned for Red Mountain in Rossland and Revelstoke showed. With Whistler near buildout, local real estate prices were being pushed up and affordability was a major issue, which some of the advertising of the day played on. An ad from a Rossland development stated: "Imagine having bought in Whistler 20 years ago. Now imagine buying at Redstone." Meanwhile, a Whistler development claimed: "You can still own in Whistler for less than you think." Mortgage rates were about 6.5 per cent in 2007.
Ads for long-term accommodation were scarce, as affordable housing at Rainbow and the athletes' village was still three years away. Meanwhile, the Careers section of the paper regularly took up 14-15 pages. There were six and a half pages of jobs in last week's Pique.
While times were good, the Whistler economy, and much of British Columbia's economy, was further stimulated by Olympic preparations and the hundreds of millions of dollars from governments and sponsors that followed. The Sea to Sky Highway upgrade was about half done in 2007 but the huge fibre optic cable that now carries so much data between Whistler and the Lower Mainland had not yet been installed by Bell. Whistler was about to switch from propane to natural gas, as the gas pipeline was completed in parallel with the highway construction.
Infrastructure upgrades were a primary focus with the Olympics on the horizon. Major projects in Whistler included the Fitzsimmons Creek debris barrier, the sewage treatment plant and various hotel facelifts. "Sustainability" seemed to be the word of the day at municipal hall, although it wouldn't apply to the Whistler True Local brand that debuted at Crankworx 2007 (and hasn't been seen since).