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Whistler does the Georgies

Local construction industry makes mark at B.C. Home Builder Awards

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Whistler has long held a reputation as one of the world's top ski resorts, but in addition to its formidable terrain and resort infrastructure, for the last 25 years our mountain town has garnered many accolades for the construction of dwellings. In the B.C. home builders industry, no award is more coveted than a Georgie. On the weekend of February 1, four Whistler construction companies — nominated in seven categories — will attend the gala event at the Vancouver Convention Centre in hopes to bring home another golden statuette for proud display on their mantlepiece.

From its rustic roots on the shores of Alta Lake, to the iconic squats of the 1960s, like Toadhall, to the present day staff-housing complexes, Whistler has always had its share of lodging fit for an impoverished ski bum. But in the early '90s, a new kind of home began to spring up; one of luxury, extravagance and innovation — a home-away-from-home for affluent professionals and their families. It was this increased demand for such high-end homes that contributed largely to Whistler's construction boom in the early '90s.

"Most of my friends and family think that it was because of skiing that I moved to Whistler," said Dave Johnston, owner of Blue Ice Construction Ltd., who moved his company to Whistler from Vancouver's North Shore in 1989.

"That was a part of it, but it was actually a great career move for me to come up here. I was operating in North and West Vancouver, and through all my connections there people wanted me to do (work) up in Whistler and I decided it would be a great place to raise my family. A lot of skiers on the North Shore had (land) up here so it was a natural fit for me, I walked straight into a couple of jobs as soon as I got here."

With much of the valley a blank canvas ripe for development, land began to be acquired by visitors to Whistler looking for a more permanent place to rest their heads. Investment from the south of the border was being fuelled by the disparity of the strong U.S. dollar just as Whistler was coming of age as the world's premier ski resort.

"Things were really taking off and the level and quality of construction was going up with the money that was being injected into Whistler," said Johnston, whose company is nominated for a Georgie this year.

"It was a very exciting time because it was fairly easy to get jobs, but the level of the jobs was very challenging. We were breaking new ground on all sorts of (construction techniques). We were on the leading edge, I was thinking it was just in B.C., but it turned out we were leading edge for a much wider market in Canada, North America and beyond."

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