Not only is he Citizen of the Year, Brad Sills may one day be the person who saves your life.
Sills was honoured for his public service with Whistler Search and Rescue on Friday (July 6) at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler during the inaugural Whistler Excellence Awards.
Receiving one of several accolades handed out that night at the black-tie event, Sills humbly remarked public service is more of a commitment to community than about receiving awards.
“It is quite the honour,” Sills said afterwards. “I have lived here a long time and never even pondered the possibility that somebody would nominate me, let alone grace me with this honour – it was quite a surprise actually.”
A volunteer with the local search and rescue team since 1977, the long time resident has been involved with more than 1,000 rescues in that time. The organizational model for the team and others in B.C. is community-based with volunteers who go through extensive and ongoing training.
Like Sills, many are long-time members including founder Dave Cathers, who he honoured in his acceptance of the award.
“He has always been my personal shining light as to how one conducts oneself if one is to call themself a Whistlerite,” he said, adding that means an appreciation for the place he lives and a desire to share it with others in a meaningful way. “We all have an intense love for the mountain environment and having experienced them we are all cognisant of the fact (that) despite your best wishes and plans things do go wrong.”
When they go wrong Sills is one of the people called in to make it right. He said people can dramatically influence that by being prepared but even the most experienced mountaineer can need help out of a tough situation.
“Search and rescue was started more to help the more gifted mountaineer but it quickly showed us that all sorts of people travel in the mountains and it doesn’t matter your skill level. If you are in trouble, you are in trouble,” he said.
While search and rescue work is a personal commitment it is the support of partners and families Sills pointed to as being necessary for it to happen.
“Very little ever said or appreciated of them and it really is a huge burden especially in the emergency services.”
Last year’s Citizen of the Year Joan Richoz, who presented Sills the award, said in addition to keeping people safe the local business owner was also critical in Whistler being awarded host status for the 2010 Olympics.
Organizers were looking for a venue to hold Nordic events and originally considered Lost Lake but ruled it out because the amount of environmental change would forever alter the character of the area.
“I think in the very first meeting I was there and suggested a better location for this would be Callaghan Valley,” said Sills, who is founder and principal owner of Callaghan Valley Wilderness Adventures. “Whistler Mountain would always be the site for alpine but that was not significant enough in terms of venues offered to get a host city designation.
“In the end we forfeited the land from our licence in order for Whistler Olympic Park to be created… By bringing Nordic skiing into the fold it brought with it more than a third of the medals.”
When Sills’ backcountry lodge, with its 48 kilometres of groomed trails, began in 1981 its first management plan with the Crown set out a mission to develop and operate the most comprehensive Nordic ski facility in North America. In order for the 2010 venue to be developed the company had to give up 750 hectares of its leasehold.
“I’m certainly not taking credit for what is there now but we fulfilled our mission statement, which at the time was wildly optimistic,” Sills said.
Resort planner honoured as Business Person of the Year
If recognition from your peers is the highest honour, Paul Mathews of Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners is at the top of a mountain.
Mathews received the Business Person of the Year award Friday, having been nominated by his staff for growing the business from its humble beginnings in 1975 to one of the world’s most preeminent resort planning companies in the world.
“Collectively, the Ecosign employees wish to nominate Mr. Mathews for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year prestigious award to recognize his commitment and passion to his company, staff and the community as a whole,” wrote vice president Don Murray in the nomination.
In addition to passion for planning and the distinction of the company designing 350 resorts in 38 countries it is also his commitment to his staff that saw him be nominated. Murray wrote a testament to that is the fact nine out of 18 employees have worked 15 years or more at Ecosign.
Since a global economic slowdown began in 2008 it has been a challenge, Mathews said, even with some of the company’s competitors going under.
“We have made it through mainly by being global,” Mathews said, adding he is fortunate he hasn’t had to go through layoffs. “That meant I was very conservative and motivated and went out and found work.”
That includes planning work on Olympic venues in four different Winter Games host communities over the years, all the while bringing back knowledge learned elsewhere to Whistler to work closely with the ski resort here. It also meant dipping into savings to keep the $1.2-million-a-year payroll rolling out despite the recession.
“The company has grown so well and is so prolific it is probably due to the staff, not just the leader,” Mathews said.
The success of the business also comes from the mandate to design efficient, pleasing resorts that balance human activity with the natural environment long before sustainability was even a buzzword.
“That is what we wanted to do is design sustainable resorts both financially and ecologically,” he said, adding 82 per cent of the company’s projects have been realized or are making a profit. “The reason our resorts work per se is we get a very fine balance of the capacity on the ski hill and capacity of beds and parking.”
Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak gondola and successful summer use is another example, averaging 380,000 sightseers and 120,000 bikers in what would typically be the off season.
“It is a very successful project financially and for the community that has been a game-changer for Whistler in the summer,” he said. “They are making money in the summer, which ski resorts never do.”
Friday’s gala was the inaugural Excellence Awards, which combined previously separate distinctions handed out annually by the Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of Whistler, the Whistler Arts Council and the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.
Those organizations partnered to put on the event and additional awards were handed out in the following categories:
Service Excellence Award - Sundial Boutique Hotel
Sustainability in Action Business Award - Whistler Community Services Society
Business and the Arts Award - John Nadeau and TD Canada Trust
Innovative Business and the Arts Award - RTown Communications