Category Archives: Ski-Town Stories

From Whistler to Blackcomb to Whistler Blackcomb.

W is for Whistler

For some visitors to the museum, the most recognizable images of Whistler’s past are not photographs or objects, but logos and company branding. Just seeing Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.’s green and blue “G” can instantly remind a former lift operator of their company-issued jacket and the months they spend loading the Red Chair sometime between 1965 and 1980. Some logos and branding initiatives have lasted for decades while others were only in use for a few years and then forgotten, though traces of them can still be found around the Whistler valley long after they were first introduced.

Jim McConkey is his Ski School uniform, including a small blue and green G on the label. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) introduced their “W” logo in their newsletter in December 1978. It was designed by Robert McIlhargey, an architectural illustrator who, with his wife Lori Brown, created much of the concept rendering work for Expo 86. McIlhargey was hired by the WVLC along with David Clifford as design consultants, helping plan elements of the Whistler Village like the logo and even directional signs. According to McIlhargey, the “W” logo and uniform branding and signage throughout the resort were meant to “reinforce the image of Whistler.”

The “W” logo consisted of a circle of Ws, often with the words Whistler Village written underneath. It was designed to be easily adapted to different settings through the use of different text and background colours (the logo was first introduced in green). Shortly after its introduction, the Ws were visible on signs at the entrance to the Whistler Village site and into the 1980s the Ws could be found on wooden signs, pamphlets, advertisements, and even turtlenecks. In 1979, Don Willoughby and Geoff Power of Willpower Enterprises were given permission to use the “W’ logo to produce 1,000 t-shirts as souvenirs of the World Cup race that was meant to have run on Whistler Mountain.

New signs recently put up in the area of the new Whistler Village by the Whistler Village Land Company. Whistler Question Collection.

Not all marketing and branding initiatives in Whistler have been as seemingly well received as WVLC’s “W” logo. The reception to the memorable Big Old Softie initiative wasn’t exactly what the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had hoped for.

According to WMSC’s then Vice-President of Marketing Mike Hurst, Whistler Mountain began to be perceived as “the big ol’ tough ol’ mountain from way back” after Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, while Blackcomb built a reputation as a beginner-friendly mountain. Hurst described Blackcomb’s reputation as “this big, friendly family mountain, nice and soft, everything’s good.” Whistler Mountain did not yet have the same on-mountain amenities of family-focused programs that Blackcomb did, but after fifteen years without local competition Whistler Mountain was working to change its image.

The Big Old Softie sticker, showing a friendly image of Whistler Mountain.

Hurst and his team began trying to show that Whistler Mountain was “every bit as friendly and family oriented” as Blackcomb with lots of easy beginner terrain. Working with Ron Woodall (the person behind the A&W Root Bear and the creative director of Expo 86), the Big Old Softie initiative was created. Featuring a rounded, smiling mountain, the Big Old Softie was not a universal hit. On rainy days, some changed the name to the “Big Old Soggy” and, according to Hurst, he and the Whistler Mountain team “got raked over the coals pretty good by pretty much everybody” about the campaign. Despite this, the Big Old Softie has proven memorable, and Hurst thought that it did bring attention to Whistler Mountain’s softer side and developing programs.

While you are unlikely to come across an image of the Big Old Softie walking through Whistler today, there are still circles of Ws and even some Garibaldi Lifts Gs that can be spotted around town.

A Different Olympic Dream

Since the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) first dreamed of hosting the Olympics on Whistler Mountain, there have been a lot of plans for developments in the Whistler area, both big and small. Some, such as building lifts or creating the Whistler Village, have been fulfilled, but there are many others that never came to fruition. Most of these, including Norm Patterson’s “Whistler Junction” around Green Lake, GODA’s various early plans for an Olympic village, and Ben Wosk’s proposed $10 million development at the Gondola base, remained concept drawings and scale models. Also on the long list of developments that were never fully developed are the plans the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had for Olympic Meadows on Whistler Mountain.

In January 1987, WMSC ran a nation-wide ad campaign courting developers. The ad included drawings of Whistler Mountain’s existing lifts, plans for mountain and real estate development, and an architect’s drawing of a large hotel at the Gondola base. When WMSC unveiled their development plans to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in February, however, their plans centred not on the Gondola base but on Olympic Meadows, an area at the base of the Black Chair (today the top of the Olympic Chair).

The top of the Black Chair and base of Olympic Chair, around the area where Whistler 1000 would have been located. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Early ideas for Olympic Meadows included moving the office and maintenance facilities up from the Gondola base and building hotel rooms and parking, serviced by a 4.1 km road which could eventually be lined with residential development. There were a few different options for hotel developments on the site, ranging from a 340-room “lodge-style hotel” with 500 day parking stalls to two terraced hotel blocks up to nine stories high with a total of 1,200 rooms.

Over the next months, WMSC’s plans for Olympic Meadows were refined and WMSC president Lorne Borgal brought in landscape architect Eldon Beck (which is why he was in town to talk with Kevin Murphy about Village North). By the fall, development plans were referred to as “Whistler 1000” and “Whistler 900.” Whistler 1000 featured lodges, townhouses, some commercial services, tennis courts, and 1,000 stalls of day skier parking at the top of the Village Chair (today’s Olympic Station), which was set to be replaced by a high-speed gondola in the next couple of years. Whistler 900 would be located nearby above Brio with future plans for a chairlift from Whistler 900 to the base of the Orange Chair. Both Whistler 1000 and 900 would be accessed by a winding road off of Panorama Ridge.

The view to the valley that the hotels of Whistler 1000 would have featured. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

WMSC’s plans depended on development rights recognized by the ski area agreement with the province but not included in the RMOW’s official community plan (OCP). The RMOW was in the process of reviewing the OCP but timing was tight. WMSC needed the development rights in place before placing their order for new lifts and ski-related development, which needed to go in by February 1988. The earliest date for possible amendments to the OCP was that January. At one time, there was even talk of Whistler Mountain trying to legally separate from the RMOW, though it was not thought likely.

While WMSC was developing its plans for Olympic Meadows and waiting to hear about amendments to the OCP, their competition Intrawest was presenting big plans for the Benchlands and Blackcomb Mountain.

WMSC came close to getting the amendments they needed in January 1988, when Council began drafting bylaws to amend the OCP, but community concerns about the scale and elevation of the proposed development, as well as the pace of development in Whistler more broadly, meant these amendments were not ultimately approved and the WMSC plans were stalled.

Blackcomb Mountain and the Benchlands experienced massive development that year, but Whistler 1000 and Whistler 900 never did break ground. However, at least one of the WMSC’s plans did materialize: the Village Chair was replaced in 1988 by the Village Express gondola.

Summer Skiing On (and Off) the Mountain

In the late 1970s, there were two very different ways to ski in Whistler during the summertime: on the snow of the Whistler Glacier with the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps (TSSSC) and into the water off of the Lost Lake ski jump. Both got their start as a way for skiers to train through the summer months, though they also attracted recreational skiers looking to learn something new.

The first TSSSC was held in 19966, headed by Austrian alpine ski racer Toni Sailer. At the time, Whistler’s Glacier Bowl was one of the only year-round snowfields in Canada that was easily accessible by lifts, meaning camp participants didn’t have to rely on helicopters or hiking at the beginning and end of each day with their ski gear on their backs.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp. Whistler Question Collection.

The programming was largely driven by the need for competitive alpine racers to stay in shape and improve their techniques between competition seasons, but the camps were popular with both competitive and recreational skiers. Over the years they expanded to include camps for kids and instruction in novice and intermediate racing, recreational skiing, and, in 1973, freestyle skiing under the tutelage of Wayne Wong, George Askevold, and Floyd Wilkie.

Three well-known hot dog skiers show off their style in 1973 at the Tony Sailer Summer Ski Camp. Left to right: George Oskwold, Wayne Wong and Floyd Wilkie. Murphy Collection.

By 1977, however, freestyle skiers in Whistler had grown frustrated at the lack of summer aerial opportunities offered by the Whistler Mountain camps and began planning for their ski jump in the valley. This ski jump was given no development permit nor any official permission from the newly created Resort Municipality of Whistler or the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and therefore an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site was required. The group selected a spot on the shores of Lost Lake.

The ski jump also had no funding. The timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a new life as the ski jump’s surface. Construction progressed quickly once the materials were gathered, taking over a couple of weeks.

The ski jump emerges from the forest onto Lost Lake. Whistler Question Collection.

When finished, the ramp projected out 6 m over the lake and willing skiers could launch themselves into the air up to 12 m above the water. According to Dave Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

Spectators were common, often watching from the water. In 1981, the ski jump began hosting competitions and the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake was held in 1982, drawing freestyle skiing to Whistler to train with the national team coach Peter Judge. Far from remaining an inconspicuous site, the Lost Lake Ski Jump could be seen in television broadcasts ad film crews arrived to record events.

A skier flies over Lost Lake. Photo courtesy of Dave Lalik.

Neither Whistler Mountain nor Lost Lake offer opportunities for summer skiing today. Summer ski camps ended on Whistler Mountain in the late 1990s due to the receding glacier and low summer snow levels and, as Lost Lake became less and less lost and more developed, the ski jump was taken down and the site was incorporated as part of Lost Lake Park.

Cooking at Mons

While a disused logging camp may not seem like the most likely place to find a great meal, that is exactly what could be found at Mons Crossing from 1978 to 1981. The Cookhouse, described as a “little hut by the tracks,” opened in June 1978 to provide breakfast and lunch to local contractors, workers, and any residents or visitors who chose to stop by.

The Cookhouse at Mons. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Everett Valleau moved Valleau Logging Ltd. to the Alta Lake and Green Lake areas in 1955. The company was a family affair, with Everett’s sons Laurance, Eugene, Bob, Howard, Ron and Lindsay all working there; over the years, at least ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren would also work for Valleau Logging Ltd. As Whistler Mountain, and then the Resort Municipality of Whistler, grew, the Valleaus expanded their business to include excavation work, road building, and more. They established a logging camp at Mons near the railway and offered space to the community to build a firehall, operate a post office, play horseshoes, and even pave an area for ice stock sliding. The logging camp was in use until the Valleaus decided to move their business to Pemberton in the 1970s.

In 1978, the RMOW granted Jan Systad and Helene Allen temporary permission to operate the camp’s cookhouse as a home-made breakfast and lunch food service. Before they could open, however, the building needed some work done. The building inspector reported that the interior of the building required a thorough cleaning, the installation of two fire extinguishers and a new sink, and repairs for the rear porch in order to make it the main entrance instead of having customers enter through the kitchen. Given these changes, the health inspector gave the business the go ahead.

The Cookhouse had separate entrances for those doing the cooking and those doing the eating. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

From accounts we’ve seen, the Cookhouse was a big success with Whistler residents. In August 1978 the Whistler Question food column called the Cookhouse’s pancakes “a dream” and “a perfect cure for the Monday morning blues,” describing them as “light and fluffy with a deep, rich flavour… served last week with a pinch of raspberry and maple syrup.”

The Cookhouse operated as a seasonal restaurant, opening in the spring and then closing in November. With no social media, opening and closing dates traveled partially by word of mouth. In 1979, Question staff and other hungry customers arrived at the Cookhouse only to find that it had been closed for the season since the Friday before. When the Cookhouse opened back up in April 1980, it reportedly opened “with an air of secrecy about the operation.” Systad and her assistant Donna (if anyone knows Donna’s last name, please let us know!) told the Question that they “didn’t want to get overwhelmed on a Monday morning by a crowd whipped into a home-cooking frenzy due to advertising,” instead opting for a slower start as word of its opening was passed around Whistler. Despite the lack of formal advertising, there was a steady stream of customers at the Cookhouse, a testament to the quality of the food.

Jan Systad serves Christoper Systad at the final closing of the Cookhouse in November. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The Cookhouse only operated for four years before closing permanently in November 1981. Beginning in January 1982, however, Systad continued to serve her “much-sought after home-cooked goodies” from the Husky in today’s Creekside. She also took over the operation of the deli, grocery store, and laundry facilities at the Husky. The buildings from the Valleau logging camp, including the Cookhouse, were removed from Mons and the area grew into the industrial centre it is today.