Scoop’s Whistler-stop tour of Canada

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Familiar issues: Philip 'Scoop' Chandler at Whistler Olympic Plaza

Spending a week in Whistler this month, I felt at home.

Like Queenstown, the Canadian town, in British Columbia, is a stunning four-season alpine resort – in this case, purpose-built just over 40 years ago.

Best known for snow sports – it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics – it’s also huge for mountain biking.

My visit coincided with the world’s largest mountain biking event, Crankworx.

Ex-Queenstowner Jordan Bell

Perhaps the biggest differences between the resorts are that Whistler’s CBD, the Village, is a huge pedestrian-only thorough-fare, and it’s adjacent to the main gondola-serviced skifield/bike park, Whistler Mountain.

The local papers lay out familiar problems – high commercial rents threatening small business owners, the mess left by illegal campers and the high cost of housing, exacerbated by Airbnb.

Guess what, they’ve also got a mayoral housing taskforce.

Former Queenstowner Laura Woerlee

An editorial in the local Question newspaper says Whistler’s culture is arguably getting lost in a place that “feels like it’s solely for vacationers and wealthy second-home owners”.

The town might end up comprising “extremely wealthy people, struggling young people and those in between who are considering moving elsewhere”.

I asked two Queenstowners-turned-Whistlerites – Wakatipu High contemporaries – to compare the resorts.

Jordan Bell, who’s lived there five-and-a-half years and manages a bike rental/ski rental shop, says: “I tell tourists it’s the Queenstown of the northern hemisphere.

“As in Queenstown, there’s not many people here that are locals, and even the Canadians are from the other side.”

Bell says the major difference is the length of the Whistler winter – up to five months.

“Everyone that holidays in Whistler in the winter skis [or boards] – like, 95 per cent.”

Jessie Lee Irvine (right) with fellow ex-Queenstowner Rachelle Comeau

Other differences are the tipping culture and the availability of staff accommodation.

Of the latter, Bell notes: “There’s still too many staff for the accommodation that’s around.”

On the downside, Bell has to travel 60 kilometres to buy bed sheets or underwear.

Queenstown also has a better summer beach culture, he says.

Laura Woerlee, who owns a skate and snowboard shop with her Canadian husband, first discovered Whistler while she was a competitive snowboarder.

She settled there 10 years ago, two years after her sister Christa, and has a three-year-old daughter and a son on the way.

“I like that it’s like home. It’s a smaller community – it feels like Queenstown 15 years ago.

“I feel like maybe Queenstown doesn’t have as much of a shoulder season as we do.”

Woerlee says their business’ two staff suites help retain workers.

She’s not a fan of tipping.

“You’re tipping somebody to put a drink on your table but I’m fitting your child’s shoes and there’s no tipping in retail.”

Canadian Jessie Lee Irvine, who moved to Whistler in March following four years in Queenstown, sees a lot of similarities.

Irvine says a major difference is far more emphasis on recycling and composting in Whistler’s hospo sector.

Buses are cheap, too, and free at weekends.

“They try to discourage people from driving.”

scoop@scene.co.nz