It took me well into my twenties before planning my first trip to Whistler, a world class ski resort off the coast of British Columbia. Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is Canada’s favorite ski destination. With a 1500m vertical drop and a world renowned nightlife, Whistler is the place to go if you’re looking for both good powder, and a good party.
Take just a quick stroll through its pedestrian village, and you’ll be hooked.
Surrounded by endless mountains, friendly locals, and North-America’s best ski terrain, it’s extremely difficult not to love Whistler. The town itself is mostly pedestrian, making it incredibly cozy and easy to get around. Restaurants, bars, and shops line the coble stone streets all the way to the foot of the mountain, where the gondola’s run between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm.
It’s easy to see how some people get stuck here. Most locals you meet either came here travelling and never left, or came back shortly after. I mean, how you you not come back to what National Geographic names one the worlds best ski towns.
Whistler prides itself on the hustle and bustle of its après ski scene. Fresh off the mountain, skiers and riders rendezvous at the nearest bar for a well deserved drink. Après skis begin at 4, and most bars are busy well into the evening.
But Whistler is much more than great skiing and drinking, it is actually one of the worlds most sustainable ski resorts. What most people don’t realise when they come here, is that on top of being the coolest ski resort in North America, Whistler’s on an active journey to reduce the impact of tourism on its mountain environment.
Since 2000, Whistler’s followed the principles of ‘The Natural Step’ framework, which was rooted in the municipalities highest level of policy. Basically, the TNS framework aims to reduce both waste and natural degradation, and make sure the community is able to meet their human needs.
Here are 5 ways Whistler’s helped reduce the impact of tourism on both the mountain’s natural environment, and the local community.
A free shuttle bus can take you just about anywhere you need to go throughout the town. It passes by practically every hotel and holiday resort, and brings you all the way to the foot of the mountain. In the summer, it’ll take you all the way around the mountain to enjoy hiking trails, and even glacier lakes.
A micro hydroelectricity power station supplies the ski resort with all of its power. This includes chair lifts, alpine restaurant lodges, and the welcome center at the bottom of the mountain. If used at its full potential, it can also supply power to between 3000 and 4000 homes.
Community participation has been a central theme of Whistler’s plan to go green. By getting everyone involved, residents and businesses feel compelled to participate in the initiative and help push sustainability foreword.
The 2010 Olympic Village and facilities were built using a ‘greener’ kind of concrete, are all LEED certified, and use up to 90% less power than normal buildings. After the Games, these facilities and athlete residences were transformed into 100% affordable housing. This helps keep Whistler’s workforce within the municipality boundaries, leading to less traffic and a happier community.
Whistler2020 is perhaps the most daring of sustainability initiatives. The document studies at every aspect of Whistler’s community, economy, and environment, and has devised a plan to make it better, more efficient, and less environmentally damaging by 2020.
Whistler is on a roll. The resort is already being praised for its daring initiatives and by the looks of its 2020 plan, things seem to have only begun. But Whistler’s not the only mountain that’s changing its ways.
Some European ski towns have started banning vehicle traffic all together, building huge underground parking lots outside of the city, or offering all-in-one transportation tickets all the way from people’s homes to the mountain.
In Vail, Colorado, local employees are being educated on sustainability given different targets to work towards. Getting staff actively involved in the greening process of their municipality gives them pride, making them more likely to stick around.
While Whistler’s initiatives are bold, they still have a long way to go in reducing the negative effects of tourism. The next few years will see the mountain continue its journey towards sustainability, and hopefully inspire other alpine resorts to follow in its path.
As a Canadian, its important for me to know that Whistler is doing its due diligence. Not only does this make me feel privileged to come back each and every year, it makes me proud to live in a country that values sustainability enough to make Whistler’s initiatives a reality.