Why families are moving to Whistler

No longer simply a ski resort, Whistler is attracting an increasing number of residents with its year-round allure

March 16, 2016

By Mike Berard / Photo: Whistler Canadian Tourism Commission

Whether it’s a favourite powder stash or the rowdiest après spot, Whistler locals rarely share the secrets of their utopia. The most shocking secret of all? Whistler’s summer actually trumps its winter. While the alpine peaks of Whistler have always been a lure for the Pacific Northwest’s recreation class, the mountain town born from a 1968 Winter Olympic bid is a summer paradise, and it’s often the reason people decide to live there year-round—a trend that’s on the rise.

“Fifteen years ago, people looking for real estate were still mostly asking questions about how close they could be to the chairlifts,” says Whistler Real Estate Company agent Rob Palm. “Now, it’s questions about community, good schools, and summer activities. People want to know how close they are to the lake and the mountain-bike trails.”

Take the Crawford family, who moved to Whistler from the Lower Mainland last year shortly after coming up for Tough Mudder, a summer obstacle race. “We looked around, got excited, and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” says Erin Crawford. “We bought our place within two weeks, sold everything in our old house, and moved up. We wish we did it 10 years ago.”

Erin’s husband, John, works with the City of Vancouver, commuting to the city for four-day-on/four-day-off shifts. With everything they can do on his days off, the family has found their decision to move to Whistler to be worth every minute of his lengthier commute. “It works out amazingly well,” Erin says. “We have the same sort of work schedule, but we have this incredible new lifestyle.” That includes everything from mountain biking to spending time at the lake to listening to music in the village. “We’re meeting fabulous, like-minded people.”

That doesn’t surprise Whistler Real Estate Company agent Dave Burch, who helped the Crawford family find their home. “More people are moving to Whistler to live permanently,” he says. Burch recently sold first homes to people from Toronto, New Zealand, the U.S., and the U.K. “We’ve always had that, but the numbers are increasing.”

According to Patricia Westerholm of Tourism Whistler, the summer of 2015 was Whistler’s busiest on record. Large conferences played a role in that, as did events like Wanderlust, the Whistler Beer Festival, and Crankworx. But cultural attractions like the new Audain Art Museum and a bounty of amazing restaurants could help court a new, less outdoorsy breed of visitor as well—and, potentially, more year-round residents.

Of course, moving to Whistler comes with sacrifices. Not everyone can work remotely, commuting to the city can be arduous, and the size of townhomes in the mountains tends to be smaller than in the suburbs. But another secret that locals know is that life can be better with less.

“Some of our furniture didn’t fit into the layout of the new place, so we downsized,” Crawford says. “It was actually quite freeing. My husband used to mow the lawn, clean the gutters. Now we pay a strata, but we also spend way more time outdoors doing the things we love.” When asked about Whistler’s reputation for being expensive, Crawford comes to its defence. “Where isn’t it expensive in the Lower Mainland? We have to be mindful of finances because I’m not working, but you choose what’s important and what matters to you. For us, it’s less about acquiring things and more about acquiring experiences.”

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