Have you ever been told something wouldn’t work, and then tried it anyway? Luckily for everyone who enjoys Whistler, that is exactly what the early council and planners did when they were told that Whistler would never be a destination resort.
Before the development of Whistler Village, when the lifts only went from Creekside, a moratorium on development was put in place to prevent haphazard development across the region until a community plan could be completed. By 1973 speculators and developers had started to buy land throughout the valley with plans for hotels and commercial developments, individuals hoping to strike it rich by personally creating a destination resort on private land. With a background in community planning, Bob Williams, then Minister of Lands, placed the moratorium on commercial development until further studies could be completed.
Initial investigations in 1974 recommended the development of a community with a single town centre on crown land near the then-garbage dump. This site was recommended due to the close proximity to both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and because it was crown land, thus providing more control over the development than if the town centre was developed on private land. Absolutely critical for the success of Whistler, the report prepared by James Gilmour also recommended that a special form of local administration govern Whistler, with more planning control than a typical municipality to ensure that the resort met the expectations and needs of the province. Following this, the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was introduced in 1975, and the first local council elected and sworn in that same year.
Continuing as per provincial government recommendations, the community plan was developed and shared for community consultation in L’Après in January 1976. After much friction and to-and-fro, the community plan was approved and the council could get on with planning the Whistler Town Centre. In 1977/78 consultants were brought in from around North America, including Stacy Stanley, SnoEngineering and others, to examine trends within the snow industry. The team of expert consultants examined trends, tracking baby boomers and came to the conclusion that “one of the sad things about skiing, is that it is a sunset industry”.
According to Jim Moodie, one of the project managers from Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, there were some other big strikes against Whistler that they were warned about. “Some of the reports looked at Whistler and said ‘as a destination resort you’re in trouble because Vancouver isn’t an International Airport. You’re at the end of a really crappy road. And you’re in a coastal climate zone where it rains most of the time’. We said ‘yeah, that’s cool, but we’re going to have a ski resort’.”
Despite these reports, the council was unfazed. On the 21st of August, 1978 over a hundred locals and visiting members of the press celebrated the beginning of construction for the new Whistler Village Town Centre. As well as driving the bulldozer to turn the first soil, Mayor Pat Carleton chaired a conference for media personnel where he noted that “one of the best ski area resorts in North America isn’t good enough for me…To be number one just takes a little longer.” And so it did. Whistler was voted number one ski resort in North America in 1992 by Snow Country Magazine, starting a flow of accolades and number one rankings.
Even the experts could not predict the future, with snowboarding, freestyle skiing and mountain biking all adding to the numbers and allure of our destination resort. Today the tourism challenges facing Whistler are very different to the days when we worried that no one would visit.