Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) president Craig Mackenzie wore a few different hats (and helmets) during a recent trip to the French resort Les Deux Alpes.
Of course, he provided expertise to the counterpart club, Les Choucas Bikers, analyzed the real estate situation as a realtor for Sotheby's, and perhaps surprisingly, lined up as a downhill racer for the first time in the treacherous Mountain of Hell.
"The Mountain of Hell lived up to its name for me," Mackenzie said with a chuckle. "There's a photo of me with a very big smile on my face for surviving it."
The race wasn't the driving factor for Mackenzie being in France, but it wasn't irrelevant either as Les Deux Alpes had brought over a dozen Whistlerites as part of an all-expenses-paid trip to get some ideas of how to follow Whistler's lead as an all-season resort.
Mackenzie said the resorts share some similarities, and could learn from one another.
"It's always interesting. Everybody has their little wins and then everybody has the things they're up against," he said.
Mackenzie said what he monitored particularly closely was how Les Deux Alpes handled e-bikeswhich are much more common in Europe than North America, but is an issue WORCA and other clubs need to tackle.
"The big part of it is trail maintenance," Mackenzie said. "(In Les Deux Alpes), you can tell the maintenance on them is not great. In certain places, you can see where the trail got rutted deeply and so people just moved over, so there are these multiple trails, which really start to break up the top surface of the terrain.
"In an environment like ours, where you have a lot of rain, that would cause erosion problems."
However, Mackenzie also noted that since the trails in France are viewed as "public domain," they don't receive regular maintenance.
Another consideration is the distances bikers can travel on e-bikes, as Mackenzie recalled an operator saying an average rider could traverse 35 kilometres on a single charge, while better riders could double that. In addition to increased wear and tear on the trails, there could also be tenure issues to sort out.
From a real-estate point of view, Mackenzie looked at Les Deux Alpes with an eye to the coming Whistler Village renewal, which, given the buildings' wood frames approaching the end of their 45-year lifespan, is coming sooner than later. While the French resort had some creative solutions to similar problems, such as building an extra level on top and using the penthouse's sale to fund exterior repairs, it would be difficult to implement given that those buildings had concrete frames.
"We don't have large numbers of concrete buildings. The majority of suites are in wood-frame buildings, so it's not really possible to do that," he said. "We have to look and say, 'What's the Whistler solution?'"
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, meanwhile, said the trip was "intense," with numerous meetings on tap throughout the weeklong visit.
She spent much of her time with the municipality's two mayors, discussing best practices for community management, capital investment into glacier retention, guest demographics, and "warm beds and cold beds" as Les Deux Alpes looks to diversify.
While the Whistler contingent left without much set in stone, the communities signed a friendship pact to continue exchanging information. Meanwhile, schools in the two communities also discussed student exchanges, which will help create the foundation of the relationship.
"We'll take this slow," Wilhelm-Morden said.
Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace went to France looking to learn more about not only the local chamber, but also what kind of businesses were there. She said, however, there wasn't really much for Whistler to take away, but that the trip was still worthwhile.
"Their resort is not as large as ours and it's designed very differently," she said. "There was a lot more that we as a chamber could contribute to their business community than the other way."
The local chamber was also more regional in nature, and is based out of Grenoble, roughly a two-hour drive away. During a meeting, however, Pace said the group is interested in replicating the Whistler Experience training program, which strives to create a consistent experience for visitors. Fernie, for one, is already working on a similar initiative.
Pace said in addition to Les Deux Alpes striving to become an all-season resort, it is also looking to become more family friendly, with the bulk of its visitors being 35 and under. She said they did the right thing by reaching out to Whistler for advice and hopes to see the relationship continue.
She added she was reassured that Whistler is on the right track when it comes to tackling some of its own crises.
"One thing I did learn is when you live in a community and you work with the issues and you work with the challenges, you always think that you're behind the eight ball, but then you go to another community and realize 'We're way ahead of it and we're doing extremely well,'" she said. "I thought the Europeans might be able to give us some more intel, whereas we were able to give them a lot of support."