Book Review: V0N 1B0: General Delivery, Whistler, B.C. by Ian Verchère

Ian Verchère is a former Whistler resident and ski pro, and a current video game producer and friend of Douglas Coupland, who writes the introduction. All of those elements are evident in VON 1B0, an insider’s perspective on the Whistler of yesterday and today (the title is the postal code of the town). The book is being promoted as the Whistler version of Coupland’s City of Glass, which I haven’t read, but V0N 1B0 is definitely Couplandesque.

The North Vancouver native compiles humorous vignettes and a ton of photos on subjects like his first experiences at nearby Whistler, descriptions of perfect – and not-so-perfect – types of snow, the life of locals who work at the ski hill, the weather, the future, the gear.

One short but memorable chapter is on the abundance of Microsoft code names lifted from the area, like “Whistler” for Windows XP, and “Longhorn,” a local bar, for the new Vista operating system. (“It requires some restraint not to come up with a list of reciprocal code Whistler-Blackcomb code names. You know, for chairlifts that regularly freeze. Or condominiums that require frequent updates and patches.”)

Verchère evokes the town before it became BC’s only resort municipality, from the perspective of a local who’s bitter, but not so bitter that he hasn’t decided to support the upcoming 2010 Olympic Games that will further change the town of his memories – if only because there’s not much point in not supporting them now that they’re a done deal.

The birth of Whistler is a far more recent event than I would have guessed – Verchère pegs it at 1965 – and yet the changes since then are astronomical. The book is a subtle elegy for the lost Whistler, with no small amount of scorn for the new Whistler, the Disney-fied Whistler full of Alpine McMansions, the municipality that would rather turn its back on prosaic parts of the town that demonstration the need for locals to eat, or get their cars fixed, or have affordable housing.

“It was deemed that future sales of lots ‘were to remain affordable by being tied to Vancouver housing price indices.’ In retrospect, that’s like tying the cost of ski equipment to the cost of space shuttles.”

The author points out that Whistler’s attempt to hide any signs of normal life is foiled by the fact that the face of normal is visible along the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver. Yet the Alpine McMansion Whistler is all I ever knew of the place, and all I imagine many readers have known.

V0N 1B0 is not is a cohesive history of the town. It is an unexpected and vivid portrayal of a place many of think we know, written with a strong, entertaining voice that gets us uninitiated folks into the locals-only places. Or as Verchère puts it:

“Think of it this way: if I’m at Disneyland, the picture of Mickey I’m after is one of the actor who inhabits the costume, the guy making nine bucks an hour, with his mouse head off to relive heat prostration, sneaking a cigarette. Now that may not be the picture that Disneyland wants you to see, but it is authentic.”

V0N 1B0: General Delivery, Whistler, B.C. by Ian Verchère is published by Douglas & McIntyre.

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