‘Skiing is a Sunset Industry’

Have you ever been told something wouldn’t work, and then tried it anyway? Luckily for everyone who enjoys Whistler, that is exactly what the early council and planners did when they were told that Whistler would never be a destination resort.

Before the development of Whistler Village, when the lifts only went from Creekside, a moratorium on development was put in place to prevent haphazard development across the region until a community plan could be completed. By 1973 speculators and developers had started to buy land throughout the valley with plans for hotels and commercial developments, individuals hoping to strike it rich by personally creating a destination resort on private land. With a background in community planning, Bob Williams, then Minister of Lands, placed the moratorium on commercial development until further studies could be completed.

Initial investigations in 1974 recommended the development of a community with a single town centre on crown land near the then-garbage dump. This site was recommended due to the close proximity to both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and because it was crown land, thus providing more control over the development than if the town centre was developed on private land. Absolutely critical for the success of Whistler, the report prepared by James Gilmour also recommended that a special form of local administration govern Whistler, with more planning control than a typical municipality to ensure that the resort met the expectations and needs of the province. Following this, the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was introduced in 1975, and the first local council elected and sworn in that same year.

The site of Whistler Village in 1979. The incredible growth of Whistler has certainly gone against the opinions of many experts who believed the conditions were wrong for a destination resort. Whistler Question Collection.

Continuing as per provincial government recommendations, the community plan was developed and shared for community consultation in L’Après in January 1976. After much friction and to-and-fro, the community plan was approved and the council could get on with planning the Whistler Town Centre. In 1977/78 consultants were brought in from around North America, including Stacy Stanley, SnoEngineering and others, to examine trends within the snow industry. The team of expert consultants examined trends, tracking baby boomers and came to the conclusion that “one of the sad things about skiing, is that it is a sunset industry”.

According to Jim Moodie, one of the project managers from Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, there were some other big strikes against Whistler that they were warned about. “Some of the reports looked at Whistler and said ‘as a destination resort you’re in trouble because Vancouver isn’t an International Airport. You’re at the end of a really crappy road. And you’re in a coastal climate zone where it rains most of the time’. We said ‘yeah, that’s cool, but we’re going to have a ski resort’.”

Skiing on Whistler Mountain when there were two t-bars at the top. Expert consultants in the 1970s predicted that the popularity of skiing would only decrease in the future as the population aged. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Despite these reports, the council was unfazed. On the 21st of August, 1978 over a hundred locals and visiting members of the press celebrated the beginning of construction for the new Whistler Village Town Centre. As well as driving the bulldozer to turn the first soil, Mayor Pat Carleton chaired a conference for media personnel where he noted that “one of the best ski area resorts in North America isn’t good enough for me…To be number one just takes a little longer.” And so it did. Whistler was voted number one ski resort in North America in 1992 by Snow Country Magazine, starting a flow of accolades and number one rankings.

Even the experts could not predict the future, with snowboarding, freestyle skiing and mountain biking all adding to the numbers and allure of our destination resort. Today the tourism challenges facing Whistler are very different to the days when we worried that no one would visit.

Pat Carleton and Whistler’s movers and shakers showing the BC Provincial Government around the village under construction in September 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler’s Answers: December 1, 1983

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1983.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: As businesses began opening in the Whistler Village in the early 1980s, restaurants, bars, and even a few nightclubs began offering live music, themed nights, and various deals and specials. Previously, entertainment had been found at the various lodges around the Gondola base and throughout the valley on certain nights during the ski season.

Question: What do you think of Whistler’s apres-ski/night life scene?

Mark Stevens – Manufacturer’s Rep – Seattle, Wash.

Well, it’s really come a long way. There’s enough clubs, and there seems to be a pretty good mix – there’s something for everyone. There’s a lot of crazy people here now. I guess the people from the States have really let loose. We noticed the beer is pretty expensive. It was $7 a pitcher. There could have been more girls – as always.

Susan Whitfield – Student – Bellevue, Wash.

I thought it was great. I liked the bands at the Longhorn and the Brass Rail. Whistler is better than any ski resort that way. Everything is within walking distance, everyone is really, really friendly. We asked for a (song) request at the Longhorn and they played it right away. It makes you just want to come back. It couldn’t be better.

Yves Therrien – Canadian Forces Pilot – Moose Jaw, Sask.

We just got here, so we don’t know too much about it. Compared to ski resorts around Montreal it’s much better. They’re more centred around discos. We’re looking for a relaxing time, and this looks pretty promising. People are dancing and having a carefree time.

Dusty’s Infamous Opening and Closing Parties

The events at Dusty’s are legendary; staff parties with the band playing from the roof, the celebration after Rob Boyd’s World Cup win in 1989, end of season parties, dressing up for theme nights, and scavenger hunts. Even amongst these events the opening and closing parties at Dusty’s stand out.

Dusty’s opened in 1983, after Whistler Mountain took over food and beverage on the mountain and redeveloped and rebranded L’Après. The massive opening celebration aimed to show off the new facility to the community, with a guest list stacked with ‘local dignitaries’ including Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain management, the RMOW, and local clergy.

Sue Clark serving cold drinks at Dusty’s. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Throughout the night the celebration ended up showing off a lot more than just the facility. As one version of this now-infamous event goes, right as the Reverend was blessing the new venue, Lady Godiva jumped ‘bareback’ onto the stuffed Dusty’s horse, shirt waving in the air like a lasso. With that, a legend was born and the new Whistler was open for business.

Dusty’s went on to become a popular spot for live music and a testing ground for up and coming entertainment, including the Poppy Family, and Doug and the Slugs. In 2000 it was announced that Creekside was to be redeveloped, including the demolition of Dusty’s. In honour of the incredible music scene, live music played each night in the week leading up to ‘Dusty’s Last Stand’ in April 2000.

Local rock band Foot in the Door at Dusty’s in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

The final weekend brought with it a disco party, retro fashion show, a prize for the person with the most Whistler Mountain passes, and of course, more live music. Local favourites who took the Dusty’s stage ‘one last time’ included Guitar Doug, Steve Wright, Dark Star, Pete and Chad and the Whole Damn County, and the Hounds of Buskerville.

Starting early in the afternoon, the crowds built until servers were required to walk a hundred metres up the base of Whistler Mountain to deliver orders. Once the sun set, the eager crowd dispersed or relocated inside. With the saloon packed with over 2000 people it was a sight to be seen, the mosh pit and stage diving like no other. The crowd was so wild that management nearly stopped the last band from taking the stage. Even with the twenty additional security personnel brought in specifically for the event, it was still difficult to manage the crowd intent on sending Dusty’s out in style.

Crowds also spilled out of Dusty’s during Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. Local legend Seppo can be seen on the far left. Whistler Question Collection.

With so much of Whistler’s history made in L’Après and Dusty’s, everyone was encouraged to record their memories before and during the event. Those with particularly fond memories were stealing tables and chairs as souvenirs, and there were some arrests in the afternoon and evening, including a snowboarder carrying on the local tradition of celebrating sans clothing. Rumours had been swirling that people were planning on burning the building down before it could be demolished but thankfully the gas canisters were found outside before anything happened.

Despite these few hiccups, according to David Perry, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Whistler Blackcomb, “It was probably the best party this valley has ever seen”. For a party town like Whistler, that is a big call. Within hours of the party ending the area was fenced off for demolition.

The story of Dusty’s does not end there. Only eight months later the modern Dusty’s had it’s ‘grand re-opening’ and playing on the new stage was none other than Guitar Doug’s band, the Hairfarmers.

Now that Dusty’s has reopened for the winter season the Hairfarmers will again be gracing the stage on Tuesday and Saturday each week, continuing the live music tradition.

Do you have any photos of L’Après or Dusty’s? We would love to add to our archives!

Whistler’s Answers: November 24, 1983

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1983.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: It’s no surprise that conditions on Highway 99 have been a topic of conversation and concern since the road to Whistler opened in 1965. The highway was not infrequently closed or rerouted due to washouts, floods, and accidents, at times leaving communities cut off from the Lower Mainland for multiple days. On Tuesday, November 15, 1983, highway officials closed Highway 99 between Squamish and Horseshoe Bay after over 52mm of rain fell in the area within 24 hours.

Question: How should driving conditions on Highway 99 be made less hazardous?

Peter Kirk – General Manager – Burnaby

My main concern is that a road to Squamish should never have been built; the houses along the route should never have been built. It should be on the watershed route. Maybe the secret is to get the Olympics. Then the focus would be on Whistler and the government might be forced into action.

Jim Klement – Corporate Pilot – Coquitlam

I’ve been coming up here since 1966, and I’ve seen a great improvement. The highway has gotten a tremendous boost, and gets a greater share of revenue than any other highway in BC. It’s not true they haven’t done anything for it; you have to consider the severity of the problem. You have to give them credit.

Chuck Cook – Dentist – Whistler Village

From here to Squamish I think the driving conditions are fine with the exception of Brohm Ridge, but that’s under construction. Our problem’s between Squamish and Horseshoe Bay. The depth of the creeks seems to be a problem. They should place the bridge abuttments further apart and move the whole bridge further up.