--> Gill Blog: A Great Canadian Tool

Gill Blog

Monday, March 08, 2004

A Great Canadian Tool

First there were mountains. Then there was snow. Then there was skiing, which was of course soon followed by après ski. Around this point, some forward looking real estate developers keyed into the fact that ski resorts weren't just places where people braved the elements to get from top to bottom, but they were actually places where people socialized, stayed a few days and had fun. Enter the era of the modern North American ski resort, and with it, Intrawest, a real estate development company (notice I didn’t say ski resort operator) that has done much more than clear some trees to create skiable mountain terrain. Intrawest has used its magic touch to transform the surrounding areas close to the areas where people actually ski into economically invigorated zones that has been repositioned to offer residents and visitors a generous mixture of amenities including ample retail and restaurants. The result is often likened to a place with the charm of a classic European ski village with the pizzazz of Vegas. In turn, this has substantially increased the value of surrounding real estate, and transformed small ski villages into vibrant places that do much more than provide great skiing - they provide a great atmosphere to conduct business.

I mention this after spending several days at British Columbia’s splendid Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort - Intrawest's signature project. After marveling at how much the ski experience had evolved (from years ago when the idea of post-skiing entertainment was grabbing a luke-warm cup of hot chocolate on a big wooden picnic bench), I realized that this place was very business-friendly. There were major conference centers that seamlessly handled a steady flow of large-scale industry get-togethers, as well as office centers nestled in the heart of the village. I got into the spirit of things and used the trip as a chance to not only to reconnect with parts of my body I was acquainted with when I did ski, but also to catch up good friends and colleagues who had gathered from all over North America. It was the perfect opportunity to exchange new ideas, get updated on new technologies and pave a path for business development on the near horizon. In the midst of all this, it occurred to me at some point that a place like this very much aligned with the broader themes of what we discuss in this blog.

In an era of shrinking distances, cheap airfares, and connectivity (wireless connectivity everywhere - can’t tell you how many folks I saw on chairlifts or rest stops working away on their blackberries, or treos), places like Whistler can indeed provide a window into the future that lies ahead. Communities such as this compellingly prove that large urban centers are not the only places where business can thrive. In fact, they can thrive in places that just a few years ago were inconceivable - a chairlift, the lobby of a well-appointed ski lodge, or adjacent to a granite facing of a peak 8,000 feet up in the air. A great Canadian tool indeed.


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