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Whistler-Blackcomb named ‘Best in Mountain Environment’

U.K.-based agency cites Operation Green Up, Habitat Improvement Team in decision

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By Andrew Mitchell

This week Whistler-Blackcomb received the “Best in Mountain Environment” award at the U.K.-based First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards, which are a collaboration of The Times, responsibletravel.com, Geographical Magazine, Conservation International and the World Travel Market.

Whistler-Blackcomb was among 1,200 tourism operators nominated for awards this year, with tourists themselves doing the nominating. The final decision came down to a panel of 13 judges.

This is not the first time that Whistler-Blackcomb’s environmental activities have received recognition. The U.S. National Ski Areas Association presented the company with Golden Eagle awards in 2003 and 2005, and six Silver Eagle Awards.

Arthur DeJong, manager of mountain planning and environmental resources for Whistler-Blackcomb, says it’s humbling to receive the rewards, but says it’s still only the beginning of a long journey.

“With all these awards we can’t fool ourselves,” he said. “Even if we’re considered world leaders, the journey to sustainability has just begun for us. We’re so far off being sustainable and there’s so much more to do.

“I like to use this analogy — when we get an award like this it just says that we get it, we’re in the arena and the lights are on, but at best we’re only at first base. It’s a lifelong journey to get to home plate. And given current world issues like global warming… we have to run these bases much faster.”

DeJong says these awards do have an impact, however, and reinforce the direction Whistler-Blackcomb is taking on the environment.

“If you went in and asked the VP of marketing, Stuart Rempel, does it pay off, he would say absolutely, positioning the ski area as a green operation is increasingly becoming important to our guests. If you went to ask human resources director Kirby Brown if it helps he would say absolutely, because we’re reliant on a young workforce… and the environment matters to them and they’ll choose companies that have the same values. If you went to finance, they would say waste and energy management and reduction is working and we’re saving dollars as a result.

“You can walk to all corners of the company, and prove that (environmentalism) does support the bottom line.”

The town of Aspen won in a new category, Best Destination, that celebrates a resort, village or an entire country that manages tourism well for the long-term benefits of tourists, conservation and local people.

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