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Whistler: On the inside looking out
We've all heard it before. Spoken in commercials, printed in brochures and even told to us by friends when describing a place: "There's something for everyone." Sure, many places live up to that incredibly broad statement. Certainly diverse cities like New York, Barcelona and Tokyo truly do have something for every type of person and traveler. However, some places fill very specific niches. They specialize and their offerings to tourists reflect that. What happens, however, when you end up in a place that wasn't really intended for someone like you? That's what I experienced when I was a square peg in Whistler's round hole.
Almost everything about Whistler looks new. This is not surprising, considering that most of the buildings are, in fact, new, relatively speaking. Most of Whistler's development has occurred in the last 30 years or so. While that has created an excellent example of urban planning with an pedestrian friendly, no-cars-allowed village, it has also left it lacks personality. The true beauty and spirit of Whistler can be found on the mountains and on the trails meandering through the foothills. That's where Whistler shines and where it defines itself.
My attention was constantly drawn back to the mountains. There's brilliance all around Whistler and activity surrounds the village on all sides as people attack challenging bike trails, hop onto the gondolas and share tales of epic snowboard runs during the winter. In the heart of the village, however, I felt a void, as if all the energy had flowed into the landscape around it.
Meandering around the village, I couldn't help but feel as if I was in a Disney replica of ski resort town with a series is strip malls featuring souvenir shops and rather generic-looking restaurants.
Ironically, what I wanted to find in Whistler I found instead just outside of the village, where I came across a skatepark riddled with graffiti and a beautiful mural painted under a bridge. It was here that the town of Whistler felt lived-in. Otherwise, the real action is on the mountains.
That's not to say that nothing for tourists exists in the town. History seekers will enjoy a few hours at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which hosts a collection artifacts from local First Nations Peoples and does an admirable job of telling the story of British Columbia before colonial settlement. There are also plenty of places to spend your money and fill your belly. The village is not lacking for retail.
After a single day, however, I was left shrugging my shoulders and looking wistfully at the mountains, wondering what my impressions of this place would be if I was the kind of person who enjoyed hurtling down hills at breakneck speeds. Instead, my feet remained planted firmly on level ground.
The people are friendly in Whistler and the food and beer taste pure. But what defines Whistler is its geography, topography and the infrastructure that has been built to serve people who have come to enjoy the landscape. If you're not going to venture into those mountain trails and just happen to be passing through British Columbia on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Whistler might flummox you as it did me.
This trip was sponsored by Tourism British Columbia and Tourism Whistler. However, my opinions are my own and sometimes I'm just a square peg.