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Whistler's May long 'turns a corner'

Officials, residents applaud another peaceful holiday

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For years, the consensus among locals was that you avoided the village at all costs during Whistler's notorious May long weekend.

But with another mellow holiday in the books, that sentiment seems to be shifting.

"In the old days of the craziness, locals would avoid the village like the plague," said Tim Koshul, referencing previous editions of the holiday that had earned it a reputation for rowdy, unruly behaviour. The food and beverage manager for the Hilton, Koshul said the hotel's Cinnamon Bear Bar and Grille used to serve as a haven for residents looking to escape the May-long madness, but that wasn't the case this year.

"I did see some of our regulars on the stroll venturing off to normally uncharted territory," he said with a laugh.

Two years after a stabbing left a Burnaby teen dead, and four years after vandals caused thousands of dollars in damage to retail shops throughout the village, it would appear the culture has evolved, thanks to a multipronged approach from local police, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and the hotel sector.

"I think we have turned a corner, much the same way we did with New Year's Eve several years ago," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "We knew it was going to take a couple years to get that word out about May (long weekend) in Whistler being family-friendly, with no misbehaviour tolerated, and I think that word is out there judging from this weekend."

Approximately 60 violation tickets were issued, primarily for open liquor, and Mounties also dealt with a handful of impaired drivers over the weekend.

The only violent incident police relayed to Pique involved a male who was punched at a nightclub on Sunday night.

A heavy police presence, along with regular road checks on Highway 99, played a factor in ensuring the weekend remained enjoyable for both visitors and residents, said Cpl. Darren Durnin.

"The Whistler RCMP were focused throughout the weekend to maintain a safe and pleasant experience for all and are happy to report that the vast majority of people did enjoy themselves responsibly," he added.

The hotel sector has also played a crucial role in transforming the holiday's reputation. The weekend has long been a magnet for youth from the Lower Mainland looking to come to Whistler to blow off steam — often without their parents — which led to stricter booking policies and increased security presence at the community's major hotels.

But Hotel Association of Whistler president Saad Hasan said it's not time to "let our foot off the accelerator."

"I can be optimistic and say the tide is certainly turning," he added. "But I don't think we should lose any of those policies and procedures that we've all put in place."

Four years ago, the municipality launched the Great Outdoors Festival as a way to celebrate the transition to summer and attract a different demographic to the resort. With a range of family-friendly programming, sports workshops and free concerts, it appears the four-day event is having its intended effect.

"I think the GO Festival is part of it with more family-friendly entertainment coming to town, like (Vancouver rock band) 54-40, which was a real draw for the older crowd," said Restaurant Association of Whistler president Amy Huddle.

"I just really think this weekend is being marketed correctly to get the right people into town."

The other good news is both the restaurant and hotel associations reported strong business throughout the weekend. Tourism Whistler did confirm, however, that room-night bookings were pacing two per cent behind last year's holiday, although that might indicate a shift to earlier bookings, according to communications specialist Marion Young.

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