For all the mountain bikes, snowboards and golf clubs around Whistler there is one hip happening here where the only piece of visible equipment is a small, rubber mat.
Ah, the yoga mat. Whistler's newest symbol of grounded health and wellness. It may even be replacing the snowboard as the go-to gear to carry around and prove you're really Whistler-style cool. Being well in Whistler often means being spotted with a yoga mat under your arm or strapped to your briefcase on the way to a morning or lunch hour stretch session.
About five years ago, I started noticing yoga mats everywhere. For the first couple years, I kept my thoughts about why folks would be out and about with a small mat to myself. Then I met Astrid Cameron-Kent and my whole universe expanded. Astrid quickly filled me in that yoga is probably one of the most popular things in Whistler.
Then, turns out half the folks I know practice yoga and about half of them are yoga teachers - and they started coming out of the ashram closet by the dozen, waving their mats in my face chanting, "Come join us, downward dog." Seems like there's some kind of Ponzi scheme for flexible, yoga folks in this town and many others across North America as they just keep multiplying. As for my Mea Culpa , I'm a coiled spring and am going to give myself a yoga membership for my 50 th birthday. Meanwhile, don't try and get me to one of your stretch downs.
Glen Iles, Event Manager of the Whistler Yoga Conference and a general promoter of all things wellness in Whistler over the past half-decade, says Whistler is developing more and more maturity in the wellness market every year. The Whistler yoga scene has developed enough to support a conference. The Whistler Yoga Conference, June 4-6, will bring together over 20 yoga teachers for more than 100 hours of workshops and celebrations.
"Whistler has really matured over the past couple years with facilities and product that is driving people to the resort... this is a good thing," Iles says, referring to the new Scandinave Spa at Riverside and the proposed development of destination spa facilities at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. "These are very different than the day or hotel spas that are out there, and they bring a different client as well."
Add to that a litany of studios and programs for yoga practitioners and Whistler is well-poised to stretch our product and market beyond hard core sports and recreation into the softer, more flexible side of things. Whistler is poised to become a developing destination in this market's evolution into what could loosely be called the "beyond spa" market dubbed "Alpine Wellness."
Composed of all things Whistler, hiking, biking, snowsports and outdoor recreation in general, plus the typical massage and facial spa experience, Alpine Wellness is a real, renewable business and market opportunity for this well, mountain town.
In fact, this market opportunity is so tied in with Whistler folks are going to be coming from all over the globe to do what we do all the time. And that is a good thing. According to Dr. Peter Williams of Simon Fraser University, health and wellness tourism is: "leisure, recreational and educational activities removed from the distractions of work and home that use tourism products and services designed to promote and enable customers to improve and maintain their health and well-being."
Over the past few years, Tourism Whistler has worked on a Health and Wellness Tourism strategy that addresses the opportunities supported by Whistler's natural and built assets to support mind, body and spiritual fitness. It also includes a definition of this market relative to Whistler: "Travel, particularly to the mountains, for the purpose of improving and maintaining one's health and well-being - mentally, physically and spiritually."
And while this market may not have been noticeable in the resort, save for the ubiquitous yoga mats, Iles says every stretch forward is a positive one by bringing a larger, more diverse group of visitors to Whistler in non-peak seasons. Case in point this year is the ninth annual Whistler Wellness Week starting May 29.
"Whistler is all about wellness," Iles says. "And as that word gets out this market is going to develop itself and move this community in a natural direction toward folks interested in what goes on here daily."
To learn more about how Whistler2020 is moving our community in a more sustainable direction, go to www.whistler2020.ca
Whistler Wellness Week Events
• "Naturally High" Opening Reception - a celebration of movement May 29
• Whistler Wellness Fair - May 29 at the Westin Whistler
• Adult Try a Tri - May 29
• Kids of Steel Triathlon - May 29
• Whistler Valley Trail Run - May 30
• Whistler Bike to Work Week - May 31-June 4
• Whistler Yoga Conference - June 4-June 6