A dozen Whistlerites will head over to France next month to share their experiences about how to operate as an all-season resort.
Among those heading to Les Deux Alpes from June 27 to July 3 are: Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey, Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) president Craig MacKenzie, Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace and Shelley Quinn, who is coordinating the Whistler efforts. École La Passerelle will also be represented on the trip.
Quinn, who has lived in four different French resorts, said the exchange idea began to take shape after she connected with a friend who lives in Les Deux Alpes. That friend happened to bump into the mayor's wife, mentioned his contact in Whistler, and the ball got rolling.
"He called me and said 'Hey, we should think about getting our towns together,'" Quinn explained. "Les Deux Alpes is going through a little bit of a transformation in that it used to be two distinct municipalities, (with) old farming families at the bottom of the mountain, and they're merging into one municipality.
"Whistler's model of a year-round resort is a very appealing model for the European resorts that don't really have year-round activities."
Quinn said the exchange started from a grassroots level, with the French bike club Choucas Bikers first hoping to connect with WORCA.
"It really grew organically," she said. "We decided to start with WORCA, being the largest social and active club in Whistler. We didn't know if the municipality or the mayor was going to even be interested, but we thought this would be a great community thing for the club and the school."
Making the journey more appealing for the Whistler contingent is that the Les Deux Alpes municipality is picking up the tab for them to come over. Wilhelm-Morden added that the offer comes with no strings attached.
Quinn and Wilhelm-Morden both observed many mountain resorts, Whistler and Les Deux Alpes included, are facing similar issues like housing and transportation crunches, so how best to tackle those challenges will be a topic of conversation.
Wilhelm-Morden noted Whistler and Les Deux Alpes have similarities stemming from having major cities nearby. In Whistler's case, it's Vancouver, while Les Deux Alpes is roughly a two-hour drive from Lyon, France's second-largest urban area.
"I think they would have some of the same pressures being close to a large population centre with an international airport," she said. "There are quite a number of things we can learn from this trip."
With Wilhelm-Morden not running for re-election in this October's municipal election, she did consider whether she should go. However, after consulting with council and her hosts, she was encouraged to make the journey.
"I checked with my council as well to make sure they were all onboard. The mayor of Les Deux Alpes extended the invitation to me as the mayor, so it made sense to accept it from that protocol perspective," she said. "Also, when I get back, I'm still going to be the mayor for four months and it leaves ample time to impart the messages that I learn to my fellow councillors."
Quinn noted Les Deux Alpes boasts a bike park and has plans to build a horizontal gondola between two mountains similar to the Peak 2 Peak, so it's on its way to becoming an all-season destination.
"It's a two-way street," said Quinn. "They have things to learn from us, but they're also a 200-year-old village, so we have things we can learn from them as well.
"Any new ideas, something that maybe we haven't thought of that they've been doing for years, might strike a chord."
In addition to the officials who are set to attend, four WORCA riders will also join the caravan to race the Mountain of Hell from June 29 to July 1. The race is a mass start beginning 3,200 metres up the glacier.
Robin O'Neill and Will Cadham are the two participants from a race held earlier in May. Cadham was the men's winner and O'Neill was the women's runner-up—champion Leonie Picton declined the invitation as it would have interfered with her Enduro World Series calendar.
Christina Chappetta and Benoit Renault were selected to attend as part of a WORCA contest.
WORCA president Craig MacKenzie was pleased to not only be invited, but to bring an entourage as well.
"They did want to connect at the community level and not just at the top political level," he said. "There are community events that they're putting on that we'll attend on behalf of WORCA and the community as a whole."