British Columbia

Whistler mayor not keen about day trippers from Lower Mainland

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says if people from the Lower Mainland are planning to visit Whistler, they should stay for more than a day, and come with an appreciation of their surroundings.

'It's infuriating cleaning up after people who just don't seem to get it,' says Nancy Wilhelm-Morden

Some Whistler citizens complain that day visitors have marred the region's landscape, leaving litter and garbage. (Whistler Blackcomb)

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden has a message for people visiting from the Lower Mainland: stay for more than a day, and take better care of the world-famous destination.

"We want to attract those people who enjoy and appreciate our community culture," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"We don't necessarily want people who are coming up for a day, packing a bag with their lunch in it, and not really appreciating the mountain culture that we have."

The mayor's message reflects a growing frustration by Whistler citizens who complain that some day visitors have marred the landscape, leaving litter and garbage. It's sparked a debate about whether the resort town has become too popular.

"We have a significant machine that has to be fed, and if people are driving up to Whistler for the day ... that's not going to sustain our economy, not by a long shot," she said.

From ski resort to year-round destination

Wilhelm-Morden's comments came during an interview with CBC on the topic of whether Whistler is experiencing too much tourism as it changes its emphasis from a winter ski resort to a year-round destination.

Many tourist hot spots, especially in Europe, were at a breaking point after massive influxes of visitors this year — with residents taking to the streets in demonstrations.

Wilhelm-Morden said that while the town is clearly in the midst of a boom, with year-over-year increases in visitors, she doesn't think Whistler has too many tourists yet.

"There's no question that there are challenges within the community … we do have limitations on growth which are specifically aimed at over-tourism," she said.

Recent changes like restrictions on illegal short-term rentals, expanded pay parking and free weekend bus service in the summer are all aimed at easing those tensions.

Whistler currently attracts roughly three million tourists a year. And the summer months have become busier than ski season, with 60 per cent of tourists arriving in the summer months compared to 40 per cent who come in winter.

Total consumer spending is close to $1.5 billion a year.

Whistler's summer tourist season has become more popular that its ski season. (Whistler Blackcomb)

Tourism debate grows

But the debate about over tourism in Whistler has grown louder and more public of late, spilling into opinion pieces and letters to the editor in local publications, with residents and business owners debating if the resort town is at a tipping point. 

Tourism Whistler's president and CEO Barrett Fisher penned a letter to the editor of Pique Magazine, where she wrote that the level of angst among local residents is in lockstep with Whistler's growth.

"We are understandably feeling real pressure from back-to-back years of record visits," Fisher wrote.

CBC made several requests for an interview with Fisher, but did not hear back.

Day trippers leave garbage behind

Whistler's mayor says attracting visitors who enjoy and appreciate the town's natural beauty and mountain culture is as important as multi-day stays are to its economy.

Wilhelm-Morden expressed frustration with warm weather day trippers, who she says carelessly leave "heaps of garbage behind," leaving parks crews and volunteers to deal with the cleanup.

"We've seen it at some of our places like the Train Wreck site [a hike to a decades-old train derailment], which had been a hidden gem until we built a bridge to it, and until it became publicized in the Lower Mainland as the thing to do when you are in Whistler," she said.

'It's littering a pristine river'

Wilhelm-Morden also cited Whistler's tourist magnet River of Golden Dreams, where visitors float down a picturesque waterway on inner tubes between glacier-fed Alta Lake and Green Lake, often showing surprisingly little regard for the environment.

"People drive up for the day, they buy the cheap plastic float devices and they just discard them, they leave the deflated plastic at the bottom of the river along with empty beer bottles. It's littering a pristine river," she said.

"It's infuriating cleaning up after people who just don't seem to get it."

David Karn with the Ministry of Environment said the province is taking measures to deal with the growing problem of garbage left by visitors in the Sea-to-Sky region.

"B.C. Parks has hired new full-time senior park rangers who will carry out back country patrols," said Karn.

"Leaving food, garbage or other wildlife attractants is an offence … and subject to a $345 fine."

Whistler's double-edged sword

Whistler's road to success has become something of a double-edged sword: develop and market a world class, year-round destination — while continuing to find lasting ways to manage the influx.

Are guests from the Lower Mainland welcome in Whistler? Yes, said the mayor, but with a few conditions.

"Just come up — and really enjoy this place," she said. "And do so over several days." 


Cathy Kearney is a digital journalist with CBC News Vancouver.