Category Archives: Ski-Town Stories

From Whistler to Blackcomb to Whistler Blackcomb.

Paying with Borgal Bucks

For many businesses that involve retail or food services, staff discounts are a common benefit for employees. Staff discounts can take many forms, with some offering more savings than others. In the 1980s, staff discounts on food at Whistler Mountain had a physical presence in the form of “Borgal Bucks.”

Borgal Bucks took their name from Lorne Borgal. Borgal had first come to Whistler as a teenager and spent weekends volunteering for ski patrol on Whistler Mountain. In 1980, he was hired by Hugh Smythe to work in administration at the soon-to-open Blackcomb Mountain, where he got to wire telephones and direct traffic. After three years, Borgal left Blackcomb Mountain and went to Europe for a long-awaited vacation. While on his vacation, he received a call from Mike Hurst at Whistler Mountain letting him know that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Borgal was being considered as his replacement. Borgal joined Whistler Mountain as President and CEO in 1983, a role he kept for six years.

Lorne Borgal poses outside the Blackcomb “offices” soon after his arrival in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

During his time there, Whistler Mountain replaced multiple triple chairs with the Village Express gondola, built Pika’s Restaurant at the Roundhouse, added the Peak Chair, and celebrated Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday. He also tried introducing new programs and initiatives to update and improve Whistler Mountain’s customer service and management. Members of management were required to spend one day a month during the ski season working in a frontline position, which could lead to improvements for both customers and employees as management experienced the difficulties of different jobs and were sometimes more willing to spend money or try new things to fix them.

One benefit that was introduced for employees was the “Borgal Buck” or “Dusty Dollar”. Whistler Mountain staff could pay for the physical coupons, which could then be used to purchase food from Whistler Mountain at a discounted price. On the coupon itself, the name of the coupon appears to be “Dusty Dollars,” no doubt a reference to Dusty’s at the base of Whistler Mountain where the coupons could be used. Prominent on the paper coupon, however, was also a photo of Lorne Borgal.

According to a recent interview with Janet Love Morrison, Borgal Bucks entitles staff to 40% off food from Whistler Mountain and could also be purchased against one’s next payday “if you were hungry and couldn’t make your paycheque.” It would seem that these coupons became quite popular, as Janet claimed, “Everybody had Borgal Bucks.”

Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Harder pose with Sidney Poitier, who they met while they were living on Whistler as alpine caretakers and he was filming a scene from Shoot to Kill on Whistler Mountain. Photo Courtesy of Janet Love Morrison & Gordy Harder.

Janet recalled other staff discounts offered by Whistler Mountain in the mid-1980s as well, including significant discounts on ski equipment and the offer of a payment plan spread over multiple paycheques, which Janet remembered using to purchase banana yellow Atomic downhill skis for her boyfriend Gordy Harder.

Like Lorne Borgal, Janet Love Morrison filled various roles at Whistler Mountain during her years working there, including cleaning the volunteer cabin, working at the daycare, and living at the top of the mountain with Gordy as alpine caretakers.

Today, staff discounts are still a popular way to provide benefits for employees, though they vary from organization to organization. As far as we are aware, however, there are current no discounts in Whistler that feature the face or name of the company President and CEO.

Framing Whistler

Today you are less likely to come across and A-frame in Whistler than you would have been a few decades ago. However, the once widely popular structure can still be spotted throughout Whistler’s older neighbourhoods and found in many photographs of Whistler’s mountain resort past in the Whistler Museum’s archival collections.

While A-frames have historically been used for various purposes around the world, the A-frame did not become widespread in North America until after the Second World War. It then became a popular vacation home for affluent middle class households, especially in the mountains. A-frames were relatively simple to build and were soon available in prefabricated kits. This popularity continued through the 1960s when Whistler Mountain was first being developed as a ski resort, so it is no surprise that A-frames began to appear throughout the area soon after development began.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel at the base of Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Some of the A-frames built in Whistler at the time were constructed right at the base of the Whistler Mountain lifts, including the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, the first interdenominational chapel in Canada. The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was constructed in 1966 after the first shortened season of skiing on Whistler Mountain. It was inspired by the memories of lift company president Franz Wilhelmsen who recalled small chapels in the ski villages of Norway where he had skied as a child. The lift company donated land near the gondola base and the A-frame design of the Chapel was provided free of charge of Asbjorn Gathe. Like Wilhelmsen, Gathe had been born in Norway. He studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology at the University of Zurich and then immigrated to Vancouver in 1951, where he worked as an architect. The Chapel was easily identifiable at the gondola base thanks to both its A-frame structure and its stained glass windows designed by Donald Babcock.

One of the A-frames built by the lift company to house their managers. Wallace Collection.

In 1966, the lift company also built two A-frames at the gondola base to serve as staff housing for its manager and their families (at the time, the Bright and Mathews families). The houses were situated right on the hill and Lynn Mathews, whose husband Dave was operations manager, recalled that their A-frame had seventeen steps up to the deck in the summer but only three in the winter when snow built up around them.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created. Burrows Collection.

A-frames were popular away from the gondola base as well. When Don and Isobel MacLaurin built what at the time was their holiday home in the 1960s, they chose to build an A-frame themselves with help from local residents such as Murray Coates and Ron Mackie and beams from a 1915 school in Squamish that was being torn down. Similarly, when Paul and Jane Burrows moved to Whistler full-time in the 1970s they decided to build an A-frame in Alpine Meadows. Like many of the A-frame homes in Whistler, both these A-frames and the managers’ houses at Whistler Mountain later had extensions added onto them, changing the A-frame shape.

These are just a few of the A-frames pictured in the museum’s collections and while they may no longer look quite like the classic A-frame, some of them are still standing in Whistler today.

Images of Blackcomb

If you follow the Whistler Museum on social media, you will probably have noticed more images of Blackcomb Mountain appearing over the past year or so as we’ve been working to digitize the Blackcomb Mountain Collection. We’ve been sharing some of the more eye-catching and informative images that we’ve come across while digitizing. Next week we’ll be sharing even more of the Blackcomb Mountain Collection images in the hope of adding more information to the images.

The Blackcomb Mountain Collection includes over 22,000 promotional and candid images taken by over 30 photographers between 1980s and 1998. This period covers the mountain’s opening and its years in competition with neighbouring Whistler Mountain up until the two merged under Intrawest. Some of the photographers are well known for their photography work in the area, including Greg Griffith, Chris Speedie (of Toad Hall fame), and Paul Morrison, while others are perhaps better known for their work on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Hugh Smythe (then the President of Blackcomb Mountain Ski Enterprise) and David Perry (then in Blackcomb Mountain’s marketing department).

The Suitcase Race of 1988 is just one event pictured in the collection. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Greg Griffith.

The content included in the Blackcomb Mountain Collection varies widely. There are, of course, a lot of images of people skiing and, in the later years, snowboarding. There are also many images that were created to promote Blackcomb Mountain and so show people (often hired models) happily wearing ski gear in the sun, sharing a meal at one of Blackcomb’s restaurants, or eating giant cookies outside in the snow. There are also images of mountain facilities, retail stores, and a lot of Blackcomb branded clothing.

While we do not yet have a name for the woman pictured, many people shared their fond memories of the giant cookies when this photo was posted online. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, David Stoecklein, 1988.

Not all of the images, however, are quite so obviously stages and instead seem to be promoting Blackcomb Mountain simply by capturing what was happening on and around the mountain. These images include many events that were hosted on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Freestyle World Cups, Kids Kamp events, Can Am bike races, and the well-remembered celebrity Suitcase Races. There are also images of people paragliding with Parawest Paragliding, the company that Janet and Joris Moschard operated off of Blackcomb Mountain in the early 1990s, and street entertainers organized by the Whistler Resort Association drawing crowds both at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and throughout the Whistler Village.

Amongst all of these images, there are also a few series of images of Blackcomb staff and staff events from the early 1990s. These are the images to which we are hoping to add more information (specifically names and possibly job titles) at our next Naming Night at the Museum.

Just one of the photographs whose subjects got named at our first Naming Night back in 2018. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

If you haven’t been to a Naming Night before, the format is pretty simply. At 6 pm on Thursday, September 22, we’ll be posting about 100 images around the museum that we need more information about, including the series of Blackcomb staff. Everyone is welcome to come help us fill in the blanks, whether you recognize a face, a place, or an event, by writing the information on a post-it and sticking it to the image (paper and pens will be provided). This information will then be added to the image’s entry in our database, making it much more likely that the image will be included when someone searches for a specific person, place or event in our database or online galleries. We’ve also had hundreds of names added to our images by people across the world since moving Names Night online in 2020, so, if you’re not able to make it the museum, we will also be posting the images on our Facebook page on Friday, September 23. Whether in person or virtually, we hope to see you there!

Shaping the landscape with fire and ice

In the weekly Museum Musings column in Pique Newsmagazine, we mostly explore and share stories of the past. Rarely, however, do we go back thousands or millions of years as is required when talking about the geological history of our region. In celebration of the Sea to Sky Fire and Ice Aspiring GeoRegion, the Museum is showcasing the landscape in the new exhibition Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice.

Throughout time, fire and ice have played an important part in shaping the land. Whistler sits in the subduction zone of converging tectonic plates, where the Juan De Fuca plate is being pushed under the North American plate, creating the Coast Mountains. All of the volcanoes considered active in Canada are found in BC and the Yukon along tectonic plate boundaries, and all are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Garibaldi Provincial Park is named after Mount Garibaldi, the largest mountain in the park and a potentially active stratovolcano. While the last eruption was around 13,000 years ago, this is still relatively recent in geological time (Black Tusk, on the other hand, likely erupted approximately 170,000 years ago). Volcanoes can erupt again after being dormant for thousands of years. Thankfully, if Mount Garibaldi was to rumble back life to we would start seeing warnings such as hot springs, hot spots and seismic activity in the region from rising magma.

Fire and ice shaped this region, creating the unique mountains that are popular for recreation. Greg Griffith Collection.

While Mount Baker is instantly recognisable as a volcano, Mount Garibaldi is harder to distinguish because it is not a typical cone shaped volcano. When Mount Garibaldi erupted during the last ice age, one half of the volcanic cone formed on a rock foundation, while the west side settled on top of a glacier. As the glacier melted and receded the mountain collapsed, changing shape. Giant landslides spread the volcanic debris across the Squamish Valley.

We can thank this active volcanic region for the formation of Garibaldi Lake. Also around the end of the last glaciation, Clinker Peak on the shoulder of Mount Price erupted. The Cheakamus Valley had been full of ice over 1.3 km above sea level that was rapidly melting. Lava from the Clinker Peak eruption flowed towards the valley below where it hit the Cheakamus Valley glacier. There it cooled rapidly against the wall of ice, solidifying to create a dam across the mountain valley. As snow and ice melted from the mountains above it became trapped behind this wall, known as The Barrier, creating Garibaldi Lake.

Garibaldi Lake. Cliff Fenner Collection.

The only water that leaves Garibaldi Lake year round gushes from springs coming through the scree slope below The Barrier. This consistent flow of water lubricates the bottom of the naturally unstable dam and poses a significant geological hazard, with some scientists worried it could one day collapse. It is not uncommon to see rocks fall from The Barrier, hence the name of Rubble Creek below, and according to indigenous oral histories a major landslide occurred 1855 when a slab of rock fell from The Barrier. With approximately 1.28 trillion litres of water trapped by an unstable dam wall at 1400 metres of elevation, a collapse could be catastrophic. It is for this reason that an evacuation order of Garibaldi Townsite was issued in 1980, with the last residents leaving the town in 1986. Today the Garibaldi Townsite no longer exists. 

Hikers looking at The Barrier around the 1960s or 1970s. Cliff Fenner Collection.

Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice is on now at the Whistler Museum, open from 11am every day except Wednesday. Entry is by donation, and you can further support the Whistler Museum by becoming a Museum Member.