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Has Whistler Lost it's Soul?

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 
Has Whistler become a glitzy money-pump more than a ski area?

In 1972, I moved to Whistler to become a ski-bum. For 3 years I explored every majestic cranny of those mountains and savored freedom I'll never capture again. Ahh – the glory of youth.

About 10 years ago, I began visiting Whistler regularly again, impressed with the development of the mountain and the base area - literally something for everyone.

Hussin and his buddies took a couple of great mountains and made them world-class destinations with a great lift layout, wonderful restaurants and a charming village. Kudos!

Over the past few years, though, I've become increasingly disenchanted. Whistler/Blackcomb began to demand 5 to 7 day minimum stays, prices continued to soar ($70 lift tickets), and crowds were becoming dense. Time-share and real estate promotions appeared to be the primary objective (the warm bed theory).

This year, the final straw for me is the new Whistler website (www.whistler.com). Is this Orbitz or Expedia?

They no longer even bother to promote their resort. There's no large photo of the mountain, a beautiful skier, or even a nice lodge. Just a huge reservation page wanting to know what dates you're scheduling.

Last year I heard a Canadian radio show where Whistler merchants complained that traffic was down at 20% over past 2 years, and getting worse. They groused that Whistler management had become greedy, and was killing the golden goose.

Has Whistler lost it's soul?
post #2 of 36
yes, probably about 10 years ago.
post #3 of 36
Did it ever have one?

I may well be ignorant, but Whistler has never held any appeal to me.

Sure, it's enormous, but almost everyone I ever talk to complains about the conditions (rain, fog, yada).

I guess I'll get up there at some point, but no hurry. Probably wait for a late season deal.
post #4 of 36
Originally Posted by waxman
yes, probably about 10 years ago.
Yea that's the right answer..... maybe 12 or 14 but no point quibbling.
post #5 of 36

Soul schmoul

I go to Whistler 4 days a year, and can never wait to get back. I'm back there in 3 weeks. Whistler has two great mountains, plenty of snow, and that's what can't be faked.

As for the village, it's an Intrawest resort, so did it ever have a soul? I don't know if it did, but I don't care. I enjoy being served beers by winsome lasses.

OTOH, what the hell do I know? I live in a country sold its soul 25 years ago...
post #6 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Dino
OTOH, what the hell do I know? I live in a country sold its soul 25 years ago...
What happened in 1980? Are you referring to the death of disco?
post #7 of 36
Look past all that glitz and time share or is that crime share? and there is still the mountain. By the way The weak US Peso is hurting Canada as much as anything.
post #8 of 36
Whistler is a fantastic place to ski. I try to ignore everything else. If it wasn't so easy for me to get to I would never go there, though. I'd find other places which are also fantastic, but with less mega-glitz. I'm afraid I never got there before it lost its soul.
post #9 of 36
Although you may be disappointed by that website, take heart as that is not the official one. Look here: http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/
post #10 of 36

US losing its soul

"What happened in 1980?"

Seriously? Reagan became president. I could get more specific, but that's another 25 threads....

BTW: "Death of disco." Extremely funny. LOL.
post #11 of 36
Whistler - no discounts on private lessons for disabled students... Harumph to intrawest I say...

(Aspen on the other hand were very helpful)
post #12 of 36
Whistler/Blackcomb is an amazing ski area. I live in Vancouver, so I drive up, drive back, and hardly ever stay in the village (unless invited over by friends). I could care less what the town of Whistler is like, in fact I've never liked it much. The skiing is incredible and that's all that matters to me.

As a destination, I almost think it's too big - it's taken me three season passes in a row to really appreciate how huge w/b actually is, and I'm still discovering new spots. If you're only going for a week, you won't get through more than a small portion of the terrain.
post #13 of 36
The website you linked to is the central reservation page. It is not about the mountain, but aquiring accomadation. www.whistler-blackcomb.com is the site for mountain information. Intrawest is in the realestate business. The skiing and golf is what brings people to the area with the intention of buying properties. I travel frequently to most of the larger resorts in BC. Compared to everywhere I visit, $70 CDN is not much when you consider what is available in terrain and access compared to any of th Okanagon areas for $55 per day. Without the cost, there wouldn't be the lifts or the expanded terrain. Take a trip to vail, Aspen, Sun Valley, etc and see what $70 US gets you. What is 'Soul'? Old lifts, hot boxing the old tin can gondola, using rock skis for half the early season because there was no snow making? I started skiing regularly on Whistler in 1973, and have had a season's pass since 1976. I realize there have been changes, and some less good, but they have been required to bring the area to the present. No one has ever complained about the number of high speed lifts. They needed to be paid for somehow. If you don't like what Whislter has become, go some place else and take a look how it is there. Hemlock Valley near Mission is cheap. Mt Baker too. If you want a Ferrari, expect to pay for a Ferrari. If all you want to pay for is a Kia, expect only that.
post #14 of 36
The death of Disco was indeed tragic.
post #15 of 36
Did anyone mention the Winter Olympics coming soon?
post #16 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Betaracer
If you want a Ferrari, expect to pay for a Ferrari. If all you want to pay for is a Kia, expect only that.
I agree. The problem is, Whistler-Blackcomb isn't a Ferrari. Perhaps Cadillac or Lexus, but no Ferrari - not for me, at least.

You equate big with good, and development with value. You're entitled to your view of value, but I don't share it.

The terrain at WB is wonderful - steep, vast and challenging. When fog and rain are absent, the skiing can be awesome. But that's only part of the story.

You mentioned areas in the Okanagan - Sun Peaks, Silver Star and Big White, I presume. These are the areas I now go to, not because they're cheaper, but because I find them superior.

Why? Dry cold snow, lots of sunshine, excellent terrain and manageable village size.

No hoofing 1/2 mile in ski boots from the lift to the condos, or hassling with shuttle buses through throngs of people.

It's true that these areas aren't as vast as WB. But, how much of any mountain can you ski in a day anyway? In a week? Or, 3 years, according to Contec?

Since you mentioned pricing, I just returned from Silver Star where I paid $52 per day for lift tickets and lodging - based upon double occupancy - at the Chilcoot, a totally decent hotel. The same trip at Whistler would likely have been four times the price.

At my age, fifty, I can afford to ski anywhere I wish. But why further enrich Hussin's family for an experience that's unfulfilling?

What is "Soul", you ask? It's an identity. Something genuine that you connect with. The subtler aspect of a resort's personality - the feel of the place.

These days, when I go to Whistler (usually spring skiing - no rain), the mountain is wonderful - but everything else feels like Las Vegas.

You hit the nail on the head when you stated: "Intrawest is in the real estate business". So is Steve Wynn (Las Vegas, again). Perhaps that's what drives development, and drives out the essence.

Balanced development is necessary and good. I'm not a Ludite. However, Whistler has become something so superficial, I hardly connect with it as an alpine experience.

Give me Alta, Fernie, Solitude and the Okanagan.

P.S. Interestingly, Jackson Hole is more expensive and grand than Whistler. But, I find it has a soul. A distinct and awesome one. Jackson Hole is a Ferrari.
post #17 of 36
I guess different people have different views. I may not ski the whole mountain every day, but I have choices of where I want to ski based on the day's conditions. The Okanagon's weather is not better than Whistler. For every day I have had sunshine at Big White, Silverstar, Sun Peaks, I have had 4 days of fog, overcast, rain, etc. My experiences with the weather have not been consistently favourable. It does not make sense for me to rent a condo for a weekend when I travel to do demos and other service. I make use of restaurants so kitchens are not required. Big White is a pain and expensive. If I stay at the White Crystal for a 'deal' of $129/night I need to wear Sorels to get to the restaurants on the far side of the village, and then pay way too much for mediocre meals. Skiing at any of these resorts bores me to tears too. Because they were trying to draw the families, the three 'majors' concentrated their lift development on beginner and intermediate terrain. The advanced terrain has antiquated lift access, so instead of skiing, one waits in line or rides up. The back side on Silverstar is decent but the turn around time limits me to the front side on workday breaks. The 'villages' of big white and silverstar are just disconnected daylodges. The resorts all take a cut of the business and are the landlords. Whistler is not Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The two are not one and the same, like Jackson and Jackson Hole or Fernie and Fernie Snow Valley Resort. I've been to both these places and as far as I recall, these places are each a bit further than 1/2 mile walk from town center to ski lift. Because of costs I don't stay at Silverstar even, I prefer Vernon's accomadation and eating choices.

I don't think a resort requires cowboy hats, wine skins straight skis and snow mobile suits to have soul. Guests can use the most recent equipment and clothing and still enjoy their experience. When I'm skiing, I'm skiing. If I want to be where I want to be, then I have fun.
post #18 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Betaracer
I guess different people have different views.
At the end of the day, that says it all. I don't disrespect your views, I just have different ones.

Like you, I was there in the early days of Whistler when Jim McConkey's ski shop and two gas stations (Gulf and the 76) comprised the base area. Who knows, perhaps we even met.

I'm not adverse to development. It was badly needed. But it's been taken to such an extreme that I can't relate to the area anymore.

It appears that I'm not the only person feeling this way. The radio talk show I mentioned in the opening message included 5 or 6 Whistler merchants, all expressing dismay with a steep, extended drop in business.

They said business had declined 20% for 2 years in succession, and was worsening (and this was prior to the recent decline in the US dollar). Persumably, they have some idea of what's happening.

They accused Intrawest of pushing too hard on the consumer - demanding too much, and alienating those who used to be regulars - like me.

Perhaps because I always loved Whistler, I care about what I see.

Growth, development and expanding profits can't escalate forever. At some point, it becomes too much.

For me, that point has passed.
post #19 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote from previous message: "Who knows, perhaps we even met".

I just checked your profile, Betaracer. When I lived at Whistler ('72 to '75) after high school, you were 7 to 10 years of age. Looks like you have 11 years on me. Enjoy them.
post #20 of 36
All I know is I can ski the most incredible terrain this side of the big pond and then eat an amazing meal somewhere close to my convenient accomidations. Yeah, it's getting more and more expensive and crowded, as anything good does. That's why I only go a couple days a year now rather then spending most of my season there. And in almost 100 days skied at W/B I've maybe left early twice due to rain and skipped less then 10 days due to weather. Ride the gondolas or bubble lifts up high, rain in the village mean pow up high.

Of course, if you're looking for dry, fluffy pow head inland (I suggest the Monashees if you're looking for coastal size dumps). You'll have to either cat or heli ski or earn your own turns though.
post #21 of 36
My wife is not a skier and refuses to go to Whistler precisely because the village is, in her words, "soul-sucking". I agree but am willing to overlook it for the hills. The village is monumentally fake. If Disney were to create a ski village, the outcome would be Whistler -- there isn't an ounce of authenticity to the place. I'd prefer if they'd created a new, modern "village" experience. The faux-chateau thing drives me nuts. A place like Telluride has historical roots, which it left behind years ago I'm sure - yet you can still feel the DNA of the place.
post #22 of 36
I'll be going to WB in a couple weeks for 8 days. Being and eastern skier, I'm looking forward to snow... any kind of snow. Eastern ice is okay. It builds strong legs and teaches to use those edges, but I just want something a little more quiet. Actually, we do see some snow but never enough.

We shouldn't be surprised at what's going on at Whistler. Why is that happening? Because we buy it. We're one hell of a demographic. We have money. You gotta have disposable income to outfit yourself for upwards of $2000 or more, take a trek to a ski resort, eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and party the nights away (I don't actually do much of that last thing... typically I'm in bed by 9 or so after a day of skiing).

It's unfortunate that those with less means but a love of the sport are so negatively impacted by the wealthy demographic resort developers target. Plus, those who are there for the sport and not the glitz seem to be the best skiers. Still, could it be any other way? It's a great sport and it's expensive... even if you live locally and only buy equipment and a seasons pass. Many people could not afford that at all. It takes a lot of money to run a ski operation. Market forces require that they get as much money out of every patron possible. That's much easier to do when you have people with a lot of cash in their pocket.

I'm curious to compare WB with Stratton, VT where I ski most often. The lift tickets there are $73 and they have a lot of people around to help you out (Vail is like that, too). But Stratton, which appeals to rich folks from NYC, is so snobby! I can do without that. Let's hope WB is populated with a few more regular folks.

The only ski resort I've been to that wasn't focused on selling million dollar condos is Whiteface in NY (though I'm sure there are many others). Now there's a mountain. A real skiers mountain. Lots of steep, decent vertical, and no glitz. You'll see the best skiers there. What's the difference? It's state owned. The nearby town of Lake Placid is real nice, too. Whiteface is my favorite eatern area (I think I've been to most). I wish it weren't so far away (8 or 9 hour drive).
post #23 of 36
Captain Stratto,

It sounds like you are just being a bit nostalgic. We always want things the way they were, because they bring back good memories. But using your own definition of soul: "having an identitiy", W/B definitely does have a sould. Maybe not the one you are being nostalgic for, but it is, most certainly, there. And personally, I sort of like it. About 5 years ago, I stayed in the Holiday Inn at the top of the village, and loved the fact that we had about a 1 minute walk to either gondola. I've also stayed at the bottom of the village, which was okay too, and at the Marriott up on Blackcomb, which, although a nice place, I prefered the village better, especially after skiing and having a few beers, then having to go back to the village for dinner, then back up (in a bus) afterward.

As for the 2 years of lower turnout, I have to wonder if that was due to two years of great snow in the east? This year will probably answer that question.

Speaking of expensive lift tickets, I was at Killington a few weeks ago, and they said that once everything got opened up this year, they'd be charging $76 for a day ticket : . Has anyone hit $80 yet, or will we have to wait for next year?
post #24 of 36
Originally Posted by Mr. Crab
The death of Disco was indeed tragic.
bring on the rock
post #25 of 36
To be honest if you look at any of Intrawests ski resorts none have any soul. Granted I live in Tremblant, but everybody is not very positive about the future with Intrawest, and the mtn is for sale for 120 million. They have fired most of the middle management and some dept heads. Basically they are cleaning house for a new buyer.

They did no lift maintenence over the summer. This has resulted in 2 of the new HS quads to be evacuated twice. You see paint peeling off. And here is how pathetic the locals and tourist's feel about them.

We had a 24hr charity race 2 weeks ago that got fixed so the Ski Presse team won it. It was basically the straw that broke the camels back, because a local ski team "SkiMax" really won that race. The local channel 4 was covering the event. Michele Aubin the President of the mtn was calling all his peeps up on stage for them to be recognised before the awards were given. The camera panned back at what would be the crowd watching. There wasn't one person in the stands watching the self glorifying hand job that was taking place. Basically Intrawest is hated here.
post #26 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by JohnH
Captain Stratto, It sounds like you are just being a bit nostalgic?

John H: There is validity to your comment. I'm guilty as any in harkening back to the days of yore to recall moments of youthful glory.

It's true that "old" Whistler represents a special era in my youth, which I recall with fondness (through the haze).

However, I've tried to NOT make this discussion about nostalgia. Old Whistler, charming as was - laden with real hippies and Gonzo locals - was not ideal. Lifts were ancient, and poorly laid out. The "Roundhouse" was bare-bones and amenities were virtually non-existent. Development WAS needed.

My issue is that Intrawest's primary focus on real-estate development, while beneficial to the ski area, drives the need for more condos, more time-shares and more memberships in order to keep cash pumping. The bucks are in time-shares, not lift tickets.

Reservations for virtually all privately-owned Whistler properties are made through Intrawest, with a 40% surcharge (the cost for central reservations plus house-keeping). Intrawest's Mantra: each bed must have a warm body.

Most resorts follow this model to some extent, and they need to.

My complaint with Whistler is that it's been done too well, or, too much. If one aspirin is good, is a whole bottle better?

The base area is now so spread that unless you're situated slopeside, logistics can be a headache (crowds, parking, shuttles, ski-boot treks, etc.)

The min. 5 to 7 day requirements during high season are also off-putting. What if you only want to ski 2 or 4 days? "Try Permberton or Squamish".

I'm not a poor man. I can afford what it takes. But when I see condos I rented last year, leap 30% in price the following year, what message does this send? "We do it because we can".

As I mentioned at the outset, the www.whistler.com page is the most revealing symptom: to me is says, "lets not waste time on selling, just give us your credit card and dates".

To me, a professional marketing manager, this message smacks of presumption and arrogance - taking the customer for granted. The moment this attitude emerges, with any company, it's a sign of decline.

The grumbly downside expressed in concert, by the very merchants who live in and survive off Whistler, is telling.

It tells me that the Golden Goose is getting tired.

Declining cash flows send a message: there's a limit to how much the consumer can be "pumped". If you want them back, go for less.

I'm one of those consumers who finally concluded: it's not worth it. Other offerings becken, with dryer snow, clear skies, and better value.
post #27 of 36
Originally Posted by Captain_Strato

As I mentioned at the outset, the www.whistler.com page is the most revealing symptom: to me is says, "lets not waste time on selling, just give us your credit card and dates".
I'm in marketing too, and this looks like a classic scam site to me. whistler.com is a travel agency not affiliated with WhistlerBlackcomb, even though some crafty copy writers would like viewers to think the site is an official W/B site. Most telling... there are no Intrawest or W/B logos on the site, which would violate copywrite and trademark laws. There are also no links to any official W/B or Intrawest pages.

From the about us on whistler.com:
"whistler.com Systems Inc. was incorporated and has been operating as a central reservations company for Whistler Resort since December 2000."

Whistler-Blackcomb, like all megasorts, has changed, but can't build a case that W/B has no soul based upon the actions of another company trying to cash in on the Whistler name. Shame on the Intrawest marketing team for not reserving whistler.com. Looks like someone did wake up and reserve blackcomb.com, which does open the official Intrawest site. Intrawest may have tried to buy the whistler.com name, but more than likely the company either wouldn't sell or asked for an unreasonable amount.

whistler.com could be a carefully crafted Intrawest consipracy, but I doubt it.
post #28 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by medmarkco
I'm in marketing too, and this looks like a classic scam site to me. whistler.com is a travel agency not affiliated with WhistlerBlackcomb, even though some crafty copy writers would like viewers to think the site is an official W/B site.
Hmmmm. Interesting point, which could be totally valid.

If so, your point takes some steam out of my hot-air baloon, but not all of it.

I appreciate the observation.
post #29 of 36
This of course begs the question? What is soul?

On another related topic. Some people say Whistler is no longer truly a "mountain town". What does this mean?
post #30 of 36

I find it at Bridger Bowl, Kicking Horse, Sugar Bowl and Marmot Basin.

Resorts that have soul are my favorite, and I visit them often.

I ski WB every year or two, but not for the soul. They are great mountains.
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