Travelling to another ski resort is always an opportunity to learn a few things, to see where Whistler is strong and where we could improve. In no particular order, I offer the following observations.
I write these musings "in no particular order" because "highly rated resort" does not necessarily equate to "high speed internet," so this column has been pecked out one letter at a time. Unfortunately, I am not clever enough to know how to cut and paste on an allegedly-smart phone to give this column some flow.
Whistler's weather is unfairly maligned. Ski resorts are in the mountains, and mountain weather in the winter is changeable and often harsh. For somebody on a one- or two-week ski holiday, there is as much chance of hitting bad weather in the Alps as there is in Whistler. I would argue that, in bad weather, Whistler is more skiable than a lot of European resorts, which tend to be a little more casual about their trail marking and grooming. That leads one to wonder whether Whistler could make a marketing opportunity of the weather: "You can hit bad weather anywhere, but you will have more fun in Whistler.”
The potential for jet-lag is a factor for the first week of any ski holiday. It behooves Whistler to target potential guests within a couple of time zones of our own. Interestingly, my totally unscientific chairlift survey indicated a higher awareness of Whistler among Central and South Americans than among Europeans. Just as interesting is the number of times I heard a South American say "Yes, we considered Whistler, but..."
Most people on a ski holiday don't ski all day every day. Therefore, alternative activities, indoor entertainment and child care facilities are critical to Whistler's rate of repeat visits amongst destination travellers.
People don't mind paying what it takes on the mountain for good food served by well-dressed, friendly staff in warm and comfortable surroundings. There's nothing better than a bowl of spaghetti and a beer at a table for four at 2,500 metres with a howling blizzard raging outside, particularly after discovering that World Cup giant slalom skis definitely are not all-mountain skis.
Real mountain people are similar everywhere. Mountain people are not posers; they are a little stoic. Whether their family has been in town for 20 years or 200 years, they have lived the tragedies and survived the hard times. Real mountain people will forgo the latest and greatest gear for the best gear, even if the best is five or 10 years old. Mountain people may look taciturn, but many practice hospitality for a living. Their faces light up with even a minimum of conversational effort. "How's it goin'?" seems to be a universal conversation starter, followed closely by, "Snow tomorrow?"
Not everybody fixates on powder. In Tirol, Italy, a lot of world-class skiers prefer it cold, hard and fast.
People will travel across oceans to participate in an amateur race if it has cult status. The fact that a resort is full of good hotels doesn't mean they know how to prepare a race course. If there is one thing Whistler knows how to do well it is prepare a good amateur race course. In terms of course preparation, the Peak to Valley is as good as it gets. Should the hype and festivities surrounding the Peak to Valley be cranked up to pull a couple of thousand well-heeled destination travellers to town for a week, or would that simply spoil a good thing?
If you are over 55 and on a ski holiday, some form of ibuprofen is your new best friend — particularly if there is a ski race involved.
Travelling always reminds me that, overall, Whistler is as good as it gets, but there are a lot of savvy resort operators ready to steal our business. For that reason we can never stop trying to be better.
Nick is a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator who practices and lives in Whistler and Vancouver. He recently travelled to Europe to enter an amateur ski race, only to have the first day of racing cancelled because the course was unsafe.