Category Archives: Olympics

A dream from the very beginning of Whistler.

Volunteers of 2010: The Weasel Workers

This past month, the Whistler Museum opened a temporary exhibit on the Sea to Sky volunteers of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The exhibit will run through March as Whistler continues to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Paralympic Games.  One of the groups included in this exhibit is a group that formed well before the Games ever came to Whistler.

The Weasel Workers formed in the 1970s when Bob Parsons bad his crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.  Most of the early volunteers were parents of Whistler Mountain Ski Club members, but membership grew over the years as Weasels continued to work on the courses for large races on Whistler and began sending volunteers to help build courses for World Cups, World Championships, and Winter Olympics on other mountains.  When the Games were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003, the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team well in advance of the alpine events held on Whistler Mountain.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

During the 2010 Games, the number of Weasel Workers swelled to about 1,500 volunteers.  Volunteers came from across Canada and other nations to join a core group of 400 to 500 volunteers from Vancouver and the Sea to Sky area.  About 300 volunteers worked specifically for the Paralympics, and a couple hundred Weasel Workers volunteered to work for both the Olympics and Paralympics.  Weasel volunteers began their work for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on Whistler Mountain as early as mid-November 2008 and continued to clean the courses well after the Games had left town.

Even during the Games, the Weasels continued to be a family affair.  Bunny Hume, who began volunteering the with Weasels with her husband Dick in the early 1980s when their grandsons began ski racing, volunteered alongside multiple family members.  She handed out and collected race bibs, her son Rick was the Chief of Course for the women’s course, and her grandsons Jeff and Scott worked on the dye crew.  Rick’s wife Lynne also worked as a Weasel during the Paralympics.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

Some of the Weasel Workers who began volunteering as ski club parents even had children competing in the Games.  Long-time Weasel Andrée Janyk, who could often be found working on a course with a smile, saw two of her children, Britt and Mike, race in the Olympics in their hometown.

Karl Ricker, also a long-time dedicated Weasel Worker, was on the mountain trying to prevent people from crossing where the winch-cats were working when he received the news that Maëlle Ricker, his daughter, had won a gold medal in snowboard-cross on Cypress Mountain and become the first Canadian woman to claim an Olympic gold on home soil.  He went down to Vancouver to attend her medal ceremony, but was back at work on the course early the next morning.

Despite rain, wet snow, and warm weather over the first few days of the Games, and the postponement of three races, the Weasel Workers created and maintained courses for the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic alpine races that were seen around the world in 2010, and those who came to Whistler to work with the Weasels became just as much a part of the team as the long-time volunteers.  Patrick Maloney, then the Weasel president, told The Whistler Question that, “Anybody that’s on that track is a Weasel Worker.”  This sentiment was echoed by Weasel Worker Colin Pitt-Taylor, who claimed that, “as soon as you started working on an alpine course, you became a Weasel Worker, whether you like it or not.”

“Ask Me! I’m a Local” and the 2010 Games

It is well established that Whistler residents have a strong history of volunteering, both for major events and more regularly within the community.

Perhaps the largest event put on in Whistler with the help of volunteers was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which required hundreds of volunteers each day.  One specific volunteer program that was in place during the 2010 Games was Ask Me! I’m a Local.

The Ask Me! program was conceived by Whistler resident Janis McKenzie and her visiting friend Dan Perdue over a cup of coffee in January 2009.

The idea was simple: connect friendly, button-wearing locals to visitors who might need some help.  Local residents would sign up to wear an Ask Me! button while in the Whistler Village, and the button would identify them as someone visitors could approach to ask directions of, make recommendations, or even take a photo (though selfies were becoming increasingly popular, front-facing cameras on phones were not as common as they are today).

Ask Me! I’m a Local program creators stand with Sumi, the 2010 Paralympic Games mascot. Photo courtesy of Janis McKenzie.

McKenzie approached the RMOW, which agreed to fund the program, and got to work developing it so it would be in place by 2010.  According to the Ask Me! strategic plan, “[Whistler is] a community that prides itself on being friendly and reaching out to help our visitors in their native tongue.  We do this because we genuinely care and know that the experience our guests have will define our future.”  Unlike official Olympic volunteers with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC), this program did not require a set number of shifts often lasting eight to ten hours.  This meant that residents could volunteer and act as ambassadors for Whistler simply by walking through town wearing their button.

To recruit volunteers and raise awareness of the program, a launch party was planned for October 1, 2009.  While McKenzie said they hoped to have 80 to 100 people attend and sign up, over 200 people lined up to attend the party at the GLC.  Those who signed up for a button at the party were entered into a draw prize and were eligible to win a season pass donated by Whistler Blackcomb, who also covered all of the costs for the party.

According to McKenzie, over 600 people had registered for buttons by the time of the Games.  The buttons were available in five languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese), and businesses could also take part by displaying a decal in their window.

Joan Richoz poses proudly with her Ask Me! I’m a Local button during the 2010 Games. Photo courtesy of Claire Johnson.

Though organizers originally thought that few participants would want extra training, over 80 per cent of participants registered for in-person training and over 90 per cent registered to receive a monthly newsletter in order to learn more about Whistler.

The success of the simple grassroots program was recognized in the media and the idea spread, with Vancouver introducing its own version of the program for the Games, and Russian representatives asking about it ahead of their own Games.

Though the Ask Me! buttons can no longer be seen, many of its duties are now carried out by the Village Host program.  McKenzie described the program as “an incredible journey” that exceeded all expectations.  Throughout the Games locals could be found in Whistler proudly wearing their buttons, answering questions, and giving directions to the thousands of visitors and participants of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  The main idea behind the program remains relevant in Whistler today: “It’s the smallest things we do that will make the biggest difference for our guests’ experience.”

Building the Spirit: Whistler’s Volunteers of the 2010 Games

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Whistler Museum presents our latest temporary exhibit, featuring stories and artefacts of the volunteers and community members who made the Games a unique experience in Whistler.  Join us opening night to share your own tales of 2010 and show off your Olympic memorabilia (we’re betting a lot of you still have those red mitts and blue coats)!

Doors open at 6:30 pm, Friday, February 28.  Free admission.

Catering (cash bar and complimentary snacks) provided by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre with the support of the RMOW.

Exhibit closes April 19.

Celebrating Whistler’s Olympic Milestones

Over the coming weeks, there will be plenty of opportunities in Whistler to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games (including the Whistler Museum’s next temporary exhibit highlighting the volunteers of the Games, opening Friday, February 28!).  While many people may still be wondering how a decade has passed, this week we took a look even further back, to when the first Olympic bid was submitted by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) sixty years ago.

Following the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, a group from Vancouver very quickly organized a committee to explore the idea of hosting the Games in the Garibaldi Park region.  The California Games ended on February 28, and in March GODA invited Sidney Dawes, the Canadian representative to the International Olympic Committee, to assist in the search for an Olympic venue. Cliff Fenner, the Park Supervisor for Garibaldi Park, also assisted in the search, which included reconnaissance flights, snowmobile explorations, and test skiers.  London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain) was chosen as “a highly desirable area”, and by November 1960 GODA had put together a bid for the 1968 Olympic Winter Games which would have seen all events take place within the Whistler valley.

A group heads out to explore Garibaldi Park in search of an Olympic site, 1960. Cliff Fenner Collection

Creating a bid for the chosen site meant planning to build an entire Olympic site from scratch.  Alta Lake, as the area was known at the time, was comprised of a few lodges, summer cabins, and logging operations.  The valley was accessible by rail and courageous drivers could make their way up via service roads in the summer.  According to the 1968 bid book, prior to exploring possible Olympic sites, the provincial government had already spoken publicly of extended the highway that ran from North Vancouver to Squamish further north to Pemberton.

Other services we often take for granted today had also not yet reached Alta Lake.  The list of venues and facilities to be built in the valley for 1968 included not just sporting venues, but also a water supply system, sewers, sewage disposal, a substation for power supply, a fire station, and a hospital.

An official pamphlet promoting GODA’s 1968 Olympic bid.

Though the prospect of building all of this was daunting, in the bid book GODA pointed out that it had been done before, for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games that were held in Vancouver in 1954.  As they put it, “Here, too, a project was begun with nothing more than an idea, a desire to hold the event here, and an enthusiasm that made the project become a reality… Given the go-ahead, work will begin to transform the Whistler Mountain area into one of the finest sites ever developed for the Olympic Winter Games.”

This site became the gondola base, today known as Creekside, but before 1965 it was pretty bare. Wilhelmsen Collection

As we know, the 1968 Olympic Winter Games were not held on Whistler Mountain (they were held in Grenoble, France), but that did not mean that all of the work of surveying, planning, and negotiating with provincial powers was for nought.  Instead, GODA formed a sister organization, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., to develop Whistler Mountain as a ski resort, Olympics or not.

Like the bid for 1968, a tremendous amount of work was done in a relatively short time in order to open Whistler Mountain for skiing in January 1966.  The ideas and enthusiasm of GODA were finally fulfilled in 2010 and, though it took muck longer and looked very different that they had first planned, it five decades the Whistler Mountain area had been significantly transformed.

The Village that Could Have Been

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been working on our temporary exhibit Construction of Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, we’ve also been thinking about Whistler Village could have looked like if earlier proposals had gone forward.  Before development of the village we know today began in earnest in 1978, town centres for the Whistler area were proposed in various different styles and locations.  Three of the earliest of these plans predated the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and were proposed by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), purpose designed to host the Olympic Winter Games.

GODA first put forth an Olympic bid in 1963, with hopes of hosting the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  At the time, they proposed to build a town centre at the base of the lifts planned for Whistler Mountain, today’s Creekside.  This idea of a planned town centre continued to be developed by further bids.

In 1968, GODA submitted a bid to host the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.  The plans from this bid placed the town centre at the same location as today’s Whistler Village.  According to a painting currently on display at the Whistler Museum, this town centre would have included a large plaza area with a view of the proposed ski jumps on Whistler Mountain, an airport, and a landing area for helicopters, as well as lodgings and retail spaces.

The proposed town centre for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, as they imagined it would have bee seen by skiers. GODA

Neither bid was successful, in part because Whistler Mountain had not yet become firmly established as a ski resort.  By 1970, however, when GODA was putting forth a bid for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler Mountain had become better known and the available amenities had increased significantly since 1963.  Garibaldi/Vancouver was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee as Canada’s official national bid for 1976 and a full IOC bid was developed.  This has left behind lots of official material that gives insight into the Canadian Olympic organizers and their vision of the Whistler areas as an Olympic venue, including architectural drawings for a proposed town centre in the official 1976 Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book.

Some of the elements envisioned in the architectural drawings done for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games. GODA

According to the bid book, a prominent selling point for this proposal was the idea of a single-host area, with all events held within four kilometres of the town centre at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

The town centre envisioned in the bid book is not too different from the 1972 bid.  Ski Jump Plaza provided views of the ski jumps on Whistler Mountain and was accessible through a pedestrian concourse.  The concourse was to be lined on either side by tall, angular buildings and lifts beginning at the concourse would carry skiers and spectators up the hill.  Close by would be an ice rink, biathlon course and other Olympic venues.

The ski jump planned for the base of Whistler Museum. GODA

The proposed town site for the 1976 Games was very different from the village that was designed just eight years later, but certain elements, such as a focus on pedestrians and lift access to Whistler Mountain are defining features of the village we know today.

We’ll be learning more about how Whistler Village came to be this Thursday (October 24) during the first of a three-part storytelling event on Whistler’s history.  You can find more information about the Legends of Whistler event here.

Best Laid Plans…

On Thursday, February 15, the museum was thrilled to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson (KR) as our speakers for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.

The three began the evening with a look at the years of planning, partnerships and collaborations that went into creating not only the Olympic Bid but also the Games themselves.  Hosting the Olympics is a huge undertaking and, like anything you plan for, it seems some of the best stories are the ones that you don’t expect.

KR, Mo Douglas and John Rae at February’s Speaker Series.

From the volunteer staying in Birken who was determined to come work the Olympics despite a recent kidney transplant to the absurdity of asking the RCMP to please pull over and ticket speeding VANOC cars who were enjoying being the only ones on the road to knocking on the doors of the National Japanese Olympic Committee to borrow mittens for a medal ceremony, the stories of the three speakers demonstrated that some things cannot be planned for.

KR was the festival director for Whistler Live. The Whistler Live team had the task of planning, creating and broadcasting programming for 8 to 15 hours every day of the Olympics in six different venues, all controlled from one studio.  This included live performances, interviews, street entertainment, photography, films and, of course, the Olympic sports.  According the John Rae and KR, scheduling the programming began with the sports which included trying to find a way to show all Sea to Sky athletes.  Other content was slotted in around the sporting events.  As competitions and other events could be postponed and rescheduled without too much notice, running Whistler Live was a delicate balancing act, one John Rae described as “a chess game that was being played every day.”

The Whistler Live stage and screens in crowded Village Square. Photo: Anastasia Chomlack/RMOW

The first day of Whistler Live didn’t entirely go smoothly.  First, the horses that were supposed to lead the parade of Canadian athletes into Village Square went home sick.  The rest is best put in KR’s words.

We’re just trying to get this group back and we’re learning how to switch out the CTV feed and the Hairfarmers were playing, and that was great, and then all of a sudden, we’re kind of getting into our groove, and this big [notice] on the screens comes up and it’s like ‘I’m sorry, Bell Expressvu is no longer in service.’

After running to the studio, where people were running to fix the problem, KR was told by the director “I want you to run to the stage, and I want you to start talking, and I don’t want you to stop until we fix this.”  Thankfully the Whistler Live team was able to return the feeds just as the Canadian team rounded the corner into Village Square.  The next day it was discovered someone at Bell in Toronto had noticed Whistler Live had multiple accounts on the system and were consolidating them, taking away the feeds.

We’d like to thank everyone who came out on Thursday, especially our speakers.  Keep an eye out for more untold stories of the Whistler 2010 Olympics.

The 1976 Winter Olympics: A Dream Almost Realized

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gathered in Amsterdam to choose the winning bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver/Garibaldi, Denver (USA), Sion (Switzerland) and Tampere (Finland) were all in the running to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

However, Vancouver/Garibaldi ended up being taken out of the running because the IOC chose Montreal to host the Summer Olympics in 1976.  The Winter Games were awarded to Denver, Colorado instead.

The logo for the 1976 bid drew heavily on the design of the relatively new Canadian flag.

But the political climate the changing in the 1970s and in the face of growing environmentalist movements and concerns over the expenditures made to host an Olympic Games, Denver decided to hold a referendum on hosting the mega-event.  The “No Games” side won the referendum – and to this day, it is the only city and state to reject the Olympic Winter Games after successfully winning a bid.

The referendum was held on November 15, 1972.  It left the IOC in a lurch and the Olympic Committee, thinking it easier to have the Games remain in North America, offered them to Vancouver/Garibaldi.

The Government of Canada was willing to chip in $10 million to help Vancouver and Garibaldi host the 1976 Winter Olympics, as long as the provincial government provided matching funding.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.

Dave Barrett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the first NDP government in British Columbia, had been in office for two months when the issue of hosting the Games came up.  He felt the money would be better spent on other priorities as opposed to hosting the Olympics.

W.A.C. Bennett, who had just lost to Barrett and was the leader of the Social Credit Party, claimed he would have given the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee the money.

John Fraser, President of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) at the time, felt that, because of the recent government change and as local support for the Games was at an all-time low following the initial bid rejection, it wasn’t the best time to host the Winter Games.  They too passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Whistler today would look very different if the 1976 bid had been successful.

Other commentators were disappointed, but at the same time relieved that the Garibaldi area and Whistler would be able to develop at a more leisurely pace.

John Jerome wrote an article in Skiing in 1971 titled, “I’m Glad Whistler lost the Olympic Bid – Glad, do you hear?”  In it he said “… I felt their immense disappointment keenly; I knew how bloody hard and long they had worked for that award; I loved them for their effort.  But deep down inside I was glad they failed.”

The IOC ended up reusing a past host site to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.  This was the first time in the modern Olympic Games that a site hosted the Olympics twice.