Tami Knight: Blawg #5, Dirtbags and Mountain Towns

Posted on: January 16, 2008


Mountain towns are the point on Sunday, 20 January. In a special 2 p.m. screening at the Center for the Arts, ($5 suggested donation; all proceeds go to SurfAid International) Jonathan Schecter, founder of 1 Percent for the Tetons, will MC a special afternoon of mountain town films that explore the intersection of a community at play and development.

I've never been to Jackson Hole. I've never been to Wyoming. Good ol' GoogleEarth finds me the towns of Teton Village, Moose, Kelly, Wilson and Jackson. It's like the names of redneck triplets, their pet ungulate and the Village of Tits. I need to qualify that last comment I suppose. In the province of Quebec, "Titons" ( say it with a fffffffrrrrensshhh h'acsent ) means tits. Okay so you've heard that before. Yeah, yeah, yeah and snicker guffaw haha.

Before you get huffy-puffy about my jokes about names of places around the Tetons, Canada has goofy place names too. Medicine Hat, Moosejaw, Salmon Arm and, last time I checked salmon don't have arms. Hey, I've discovered Beaver Creek near Teton Village. Excellent! How can there be problems with Jackson Hole when you have beaver near boobs?

Okay, I'm screaming with laffter for no real reason and, moreover, sadly, names aside, I do understand the Resort Town Thing. My hometown is a two- and- a- quarter- and- trying -to- get- shorter- drive- to- Whistler. And, in two years and about one month this area hosts the fucking Winter Olympic Games.

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Whistler was first populated with white folks in the 1880's; the Lil'wat and Squamish First Nations had been in the area since Creation. My folks started going to the area in the 1940's when I was still an egg. Most memorable from my first trip to Whistler, around 1966,was the Squamish Chief. My brother and I asked if we could butt-slide the low-angle rock sprawling from the base of the Chief. Mum assured us you needed climbing hardware to climb those rocks and indeed you could butt-slide it but you'd only do it once.

When I started skiing at Whistler in the early '70's, it had evolved from the 1880's but only somewhat. Despite some of the folks in Whistler having money, there was still a rustic culture of rugged dirtbaggishness. People were there to ski or to head into the mountains - it was during these years that John Clarke was pioneering multi-week excursions into the deep wilderness of the lower Coast Range. In the mid-70's the paved road at "Whistler" included a Husky Station and attendant store where you could buy chains or Cheerios, and a handful of chairlifts with highly original names like "Green Chair" and "Red Chair". Whistler had fucking great snow, a garbage dump full of bears, and zero reputation.

That sorta snow and that sorta terrain wazzn't gonna remain secret forever. While it might be admirable to say the development reflected a wish to share this skiing largesse with a greater community, I believe avarice was the jet fuel B powering the juggernaut. Culture? That's somethin' in yogurt. The rush to develop Whistler wasn't about sharin' the love, it was about shakin' down a fat fat profit.

The big money was now there to hobnob in the Year Round Destination Resort. Dirtbag culture did endure among the proles - those who didn't want to go back to school or work for Dad. They made videos of their exploits. Future plans included a grow-op, work for G3, Arc'Teryx, or Mountain Coop. More likely all four. Evolution lost many of those folks in the last decade to the Kootenays. Whistler is just too expensive to live and the closest towns, Squamish and Pemberton also have ridiculous housing prices.

In the delis and hotels you are just as likely to hear South Asian languages spoken as you are English, Quebecois, or 'Strine. New Canadians who don't mind min-wage jobs and cramped housing are the new labour. They don't ski, board, hike, climb, golf, or even own a bike.

But maybe their children will. My hope for Whistler is it does develop a middle-class of people who settle into the area for generations to come and, as they grow roots there, vibrant culture will follow. But, with the big coming O in two years, I don't hold out hope for Whistler to evolve real culture in anything other then yogurts you can buy at the IGA.

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