Category Archives: Olympics

Valley of Dreams Walking Tour has Moved!

We’re excited to announce that with the reopening of Gateway Loop the Valley of Dreams Walking Tours will now meet at our regular location outside of the Visitor Information Centre!

Walking tours begin every day at 1 pm and run for about an hour.  All tours, as well as entry to the Whistler Museum, are by donation.  Whether you’re visiting, new to the valley or a seasoned local, you’re sure to discover something new about Whistler’s history.

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Walking Tour Season Begins

Ever found yourself lost in Whistler village? That unique flow of Whistler village was actually one man’s specific intention! This tour will help you can learn more about him and many others who have helped to shape Whistler as it is today. As we wander through Whistler village you’ll uncover the pioneer history, tales behind the mountain development, and hear Whistler’s story about the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The tour is approximately one hour long, and is for all ages, young and old. Each tour is led by a long-time local, each with their own personal knowledge of Whistler’s story to add. Whether you’re visiting, here to work for the season, or a long-time local we guarantee you’ll be sure to learn something new. Do you know why Whistler and Blackcomb mountain are named as they are? Or when the first Olympic bid was placed? This is your chance to find out the answers to these questions, and so many more!

Valley of Dreams Walking Tours occur every day in at 1pm in June, July, and August. Meeting at Armchair Books, the top of the steps at the village entrance, these daily tours are offered by donation. We are more than happy to provide private tours outside of these times or for groups. Simply contact the museum to book a private tour, preferably at least two weeks in advance. With sufficient notice we can also customize content and routes—to include public art and architecture, for example—to meet your group’s specific interests and needs.

For all tour-related inquiries please call the Whistler Museum at (604) 932-2019, 0r visit us behind the library.

 

Whistler’s Weasel Workers

Behind every major race held on Whistler Mountain is a pack of Weasels.  The volunteer organization began in the 1970s when Bob Parsons and a crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.

The term “weasel” was bestowed upon the crew due to their work on the Weasel, a section of Dave Murray Downhill that was too steep for the older snow cats to make it up.  Instead, race workers would flatten the section by treading up and down the Weasel on foot.  Though the organization was formally registered as the Coast Alpine Event Club in 1984, the name is rarely used.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

In the early years of the Weasel Workers, most of the volunteers were parents of members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club but as the races they worked on grew so too did membership in the organization.  Since the 1970s, as well as working on World Cups and other races in Whistler, the Weasels have sent volunteers to help build courses for World Cup races in Lake Louise, Alberta, and Beaver Creek, Colorado, World Championships in Europe and the Winter Olympics in Calgary and Salt Lake City.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

When the Winter Olympics were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003 the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team in preparation of the alpine events to be held on Whistler Mountain.  Working as a Weasel has always required dedication and the willingness to work hard despite the sometimes challenging conditions Whistler winters can create; hosting the Olympics in Whistler was no different, though perhaps on a slightly more tiring scale.  Weasel Workers were routinely called to be ready and up the mountain for 3 am and the long days of shoveling sometimes lasted until 10 pm after which race workers would often walk over to the Weasel House that offered beer, wine and Weasel Wear.  As a 1993 article in the Whistler Answer stated “How do you spot a Weasel Worker?  They’re the ones on race day who look like they could use a good sleep.”

Weasel Workers continue to work on races in Whistler and send volunteers to events around the world.  Most recently a group of Weasels went to Korea in advance of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics next winter.  Three long-serving members of the Weasels joined us this past Wednesday as part of our Speaker Series.

Dennis Waddingham, one of the original Weasel Workers under Bob Parsons, and Owen Carney provided an interesting history of the Weasels (aided as well by Weasels in the audience) and Colin Pitt-Taylor’s photos and stories from their trip to PyeongChang earlier in March provided a preview of some of the venues and events to come in 2018.  Thanks to all three, as well as Pat Taylor for operating the photos and keeping it all moving, and to everyone who joined us for a great evening – we’ll be announcing more details of our next Speaker Series in April soon!

Speaker Series: Weasel Workers

Our next Speaker Series will take place Wednesday, March 22.  Join long-serving Weasel Workers Owen Carney, Colin Pitt-Taylor and Dennis Waddingham for a presentation on the origin and history of Whistler’s Weasel Workers, stories of the many courses they have built, and a discussion of their (very) recent trip to Korea in advance of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics next winter.

Tickets are $10 each ($5 for Museum and/or Club Shred members) and can be purchased at the Museum or by calling as at 604-932-2019.

A Clean Slate

Every autumn the mountains are born-again, baptised by a blanket of frozen water whose crystalline forms are revered for their meteorological, rather than priestly blessings. But imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like to encounter these mountains for the first time, before our impressions had been shaped by chairlifts, lift-lines, and Instagram…

That’s precisely the circumstances in which representatives from the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency found themselves in the early 1960s as they pursued their plans to develop an Olympic-ready ski resort in BC’s Coast Mountains.

After evaluating a few options, by 1962 they had more or less decided upon Whistler Mountain (still officially named London Mountain at the time). The mountain was essentially a clean slate (aside from some rather intensive logging around the mountain’s base) from which they had to design a world-class ski area. 

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Today, most skiers’ understanding of the terrain develops through multiple seasons of exploring the mountains guided by trail markers, instructors,  more experienced friends, and pure instinct, leading them to have a virtual trail map etched into their minds. When a big powder day hits, they already know exactly where they want to be.

But without these aids, identifying the best terrain and chairlift configuration was a completely different challenge.  The group of Vancouver and Montreal-based businessmen knew enough to admit that they didn’t know much about ski area-design, so they hired German-American ski champion, coach, and resort-design consultant Willy Schaeffler to offer his insights.

Schaefller was born in the Bavarian Alps and was skiing by the age of 2. Injuries, then World War 2 prevented him from representing Germany at the Winter Olympics, but he eventually moved to North America where he became a renowned skier, coach, and resort planner. It was his design work at Squaw Valley, host of the highly successful 1960 Winter Olympics, that secured him the consultancy gig at Whistler Mountain.

Schaeffler made several trips up to Whistler in the early 1960s, each leaving him more impressed by the mountain’s terrain and resort potential.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

His 1962 report is prescient, if fairly straightforward from today’s perspective. He foresaw the mountain’s potential to revolutionize North America ski resorts with its deep, consistent snowpack, massive vertical and acreage, high-alpine skiing, and plenty of suitable terrain for all ability levels. Add in the accessibility to a large market, and Schaeffler considered it a no-brainer.

We’ll go into more details about Schaeffler’s report next week. For now, we want to focus on some of the photos in our archives from early on in this planning and design phase. Franz Wilhelmsen and Willy toured Whistler Mountain by helicopter and on foot in July 1962, and you can see the first traces of a plan to develop the mountain coming together through these images.

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While it was clear that they had found a special ski mountain, their initial vision wasn’t exactly how things turned out.  A central aspect of their plan was a lower shoulder of Whistler Peak which they found to be an excellent viewpoint and a suitable location for the top-station of an alpine chairlift.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #1” better known today as Glacier Bowl.

Coincidentally, the viewpoint is pretty much right on top of the infamous “Air Jordan” double cliff, which drew headlines last winter with Julian Carr’s massive front flip down the entire face. That wasn’t part of Schaeffler’s plan, but we think he would approve whole-heartedly of such boundary-pushing endeavours.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #2” better known today as Whister Bowl.

These images provide some pretty remarkable insights into this initial encounter, when Whistler Mountain made its first impressions on these passionate skiers and developers. In a few weeks we will look at the written report in more detail, as these first impressions developed into a comprehensive plan.

Ghosts of Olympic Bids Past.

1 year from today the seaside resort of Sochi Village will be a rocking celebration of winter sport on a scale the world has not seen since, well, n3 years ago, right here. Since we’re feeling the Olympic spirit we feel it’s apt to look back into Whistler’s Olympic past.

The initial bid for the 1968 Olympics that started this whole thing called Whistler is fairly well known, but fewer are aware that a total of 5 unsuccessful bids for the Olympics had already been made before the IOC finally announced on July 2nd 2003 that the joint Vancouver-Whistler 2010 bid had been chosen. All of these prior bids, despite their failure, played an integral role in the continued development of Whistler until it was finally ready to host the 2010 Games.

The 1976 was an especially strong bid, receiving endorsement from the Canadian Olympic Committee as our official national bid. By 1970, when the bid was being put forth, Whistler Mountain had become an established, high profile ski resort, and Vancouver was an increasingly cosmopolitan city with growing international appeal. One of the most important boosters of the West Coast, and Whistler in particular, was none other than then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau–a frequent visitor to Whistler who even took his honeymoon here with Margaret Sinclair in 1971.

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Pierre Trudeau and Franz Wilhelmsen meet to discuss Olympic bids on Whistler Mountain, 1969.

Although the 1976 games ended up in Innsbruck, Austria, the fact that a full IOC bid was made has left behind a lot of official material that gives insight into the Canadian Olympic organizers and their vision of Whistler as a future Olympic venue. The official 1976 Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book, printed in 1970 and on display in the Olympic section of our permanent exhibit is a perfect example of this.

The Bid Book' which has a beautiful cloth-bound hardcover, and is about the size of a vinyl LP cover.

The Bid Book, which has a beautiful cloth-bound hardcover and is about the size of a vinyl LP cover.

The book is a very polished looking production, meant to showcase the bid and everything the Vancouver-Garibaldi region had to offer. A prominent selling point for this bid was the compact, single host area. All of the events would be held in what is today Whistler, they even advertised that all facilities would be within a 2.5 mile radius of where the village is today.

The master plan, 1/2.

The master plan, 1/2.

The master plan, 2/2.

The master plan, 2/2.

Probably the coolest element from the bid book are the architectural drawings, which offers an alternate-universe version of Whistler Village from the one designed by Eldon Beck and constructed nearly a decade later. Notably, although there was still very little there at the time, and there were no plans to develop Blackcomb yet, the village was still located more or less where it is today.

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The architecture is very grand, especially with all the elements considered as a whole. The buildings are angular, almost modular looking (the athlete’s village, not shown here, resembles very closely the Whiskey Jack neighbourhood in Nordic/Highlands).

Overall, this Olympic Village would have had a more purpose-built feel than today’s actual village; you’d never be more than a stone’s throw from the ski-jumping arena, the the ice rink, or the biathlon course. Despite such differences,  you can still see the influential role it played in leading to the Whistler we have today: the village location, elements of architectural design, perhaps more.

Whether you prefer the designs or today’s village,  and whether the reality would have actually matched these preliminary sketches, are matters for debate. Regardless, these drawings offer endless opportunity for pondering what could have been.

Olympic (pre)Vision

One of the most difficult, but fascinating aspects of history is trying to look back on past events without your view being completely skewed by hindsight. An obvious example, “Of course Whistler developed into an internationally renowned mega resort, look how amazing the [insert mountains/snow/forests/your preferred factor here] are!”

Nothing builds itself (except cranes, of course). So discerning those characters who foresaw the future and then helped make it happen is always rewarding. One such discovery was made while digging through our Cliff Fenner files.

Fenner climbing in Garibaldi Park.

Fenner climbing in Garibaldi Park.

In March of 1960, Fenner, along with interested “press, radio and board of trade representatives” participated in a helicopter survey of Garibaldi Park in search of potential Olympic venues. Based out of Diamond Head Chalet (near today’s Elfin Lakes Hut), they even had skiers sampling specific runs to test their suitability.

Although the ski terrain was fantastic, it was during these reconnaissance flights that Sidney Dawes, Canadian representative with the International Olympic Committee, decided that it was not suitable as an Olympic venue because access was complex and the terrain even moreso.  A valley bottom development was preferred. Famously, Dawes selected London Mountain as the site for Olympic and ski area development.

Dawes rightfully deserves credit for the decision to develop Whistler rather than Diamond Head, but it is clear from Fenner’s reports that he shared Dawes sentiments. As the person on these flights with the most first-hand knowledge of Garibaldi Park’s extensive terrain, it is not unlikely that he helped inform Dawes’ decision.

A few weeks after the initial helicopter flights Fenner embarked on more ground- level observations of the Cheakamus Lake and London Mountain area. His snow measurements indicated similar depths to the Diamond Head region—more than two meters deep at 4800 feet (1460 meters) on March 19, a poor snow year according to Fenner—but with a more favourable climate that was slightly colder and drier than areas closer to the coast.

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Fenner taking a rest from one of his many mountain explorations.

Moreover, he suggested that just west of Cheakamus Lake (that is, the Cheakamus Crossing and Function Junction area) would make an ideal base area development that provided great access to both the mountain and any potential highway linking Alta Lake to Vancouver. With the expected ski lifts Fenner described “immediate access to high level ski touring and summer hiking areas of tremendous potential, [especially] London Mountain to Singing Pass.” Clearly, there was some profound foresight at work here, no doubt the product of Cliff’s keen analytic mind and intimate knowledge of the south Coast Mountains environment.