Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

As well as being a resort, Whistler is town (kind of) like any other.

News from the Whistler Museum

Back in September 2020 we posted photos on our social media of exploratory trips taken by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in 1964 and the construction of the VOC Cabin from 1965.  The photos were donated by Karl Ricker, a VOC member who had substantial involvement in the VOC Cabin.  Recently, Ricker brought in copies of the VOC Journal from 1964 to 1968 to add to our research collection and, though we’ve only taken a quick look so far (and are looking forward to examining the journals more closely), they appear to be a very valuable addition.

One of the photos posted on our social media, showing the construction of the Cabin by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The journals cover a period during which the VOC was exploring the possibility of a cabin in Whistler, constructing the cabin in Whistler, and beginning to put the cabin in Whistler to use.  According to the VOC Journal of 1964, the VOC Cabin on Mount Seymour was rarely being used as a ski cabin, as members could drive right up to the lifts, and skiing on Seymour was becoming increasingly crowded.  They also found that Seymour was “inadequate as an area for ski touring, for hiking, or for mountaineering,” the “most important activities of an outdoor club.”  Building a cabin in the Whistler area was thought to be an improvement as the long drive from Vancouver ensured most skiers would stay overnight, there was a proposal to develop lifts on Whistler Mountain, and the surrounding mountains would “present spectacular opportunities for touring and hiking.”  Members of the VOC made their first reconnaissance trips to the area throughout 1964 and began construction of the cabin in 1965.

Skimming the journals, mention of progress on the VOC Cabin are frequent and, as far as we’ve seen, optimistic.  In 1967 then VOC President Paul Sims wrote in his report of the upcoming completion of the cabin, saying: “When the last shake is nailed to the wall, and the last stone mortared into the fireplace, the construction at Whistler will be of a different nature.  The shaking will continue but from dances, pots and pans, sing-songs, laughter and conversation.  The building will bulge with eager and exhausted outdoor groups instead of construction crews.”

Karl Ricker in the midst of a socially distanced recording session (anyone not in front of the camera is also masked at all times).

The journals were brought in by Ricker when he came to the museum to record an interview for an upcoming exhibition by the Museum of North Vancouver.  We were excited to help facilitate the recording as it gave us a chance to try out equipment we’ve now been using in our virtual events.  This past weekend marked our first BC Family Day Kids Après: At Home Edition.  Rather than invite families to the museum, we created Kids Après Packs that brought parts of the museum to you.  Packs were picked up for free at the museum and included materials for two crafts and a Kids Après Activity Book, which combines stories from our exhibits with colouring pages, mazes, trivia and more.  We released craft videos online so that participants could craft along from home, creating their own skiing snowpeople and a (non-edible) mug of hot chocolate, a staple of Kids Après.

The same equipment was also used to create the craft videos as part of BC Family Day Kids Après: Home Edition.

Tomorrow evening we’ll be hosting our first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021, kicking off the series with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson.  Though the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival was not able to go ahead this year, you could still see the spirit of the festival in the flags along Village Gate Boulevard – we’ll be learning more about how the festival started and how it has grown and become more visible with one of its long-time organizers.  You can register for the free event here.  Find out more about the rest of our Speaker Series line up for 2021 at our website here.

2021 Virtual Speaker Series begins this week!

Our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series kicks off this Wednesday, February 17 with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson!

The Whistler Pride and Ski Festival has been taking place in Whistler for almost 30 years but it hasn’t always been as visible as it is now.  Beginning as a small weekend gathering in 1992, the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival has since become one of the largest queer-focused ski weeks in the world.  We’ll be taking a look back at how it started and how it has grown with one of its long-time organizers Dean Nelson, followed by a Q&A with Dean and the audience.

Register for the event for free here or contact us at the Whistler Museum.

Turning 40 in the Whistler Village

The past few months have seen various businesses reach 40 years, including Whistler Magazine, Blackcomb Mountain, and even The Grocery Store just last week.  This is not surprising, as at the beginning of the 1980s Whistler was undergoing huge changes and growth.  The first buildings of the Whistler Village were being completed and, in turn, the first Whistler Village businesses were beginning to open to the public.

While many of the original Village businesses have changed over the past four decades, some have been constant fixtures, like Tapley’s Pub.

Tapley’s Pub during its first week of operations.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The Windwhistle Building was one of the first lots to be completed in the Whistler Village, along with the Hearthstone Lodge, the Rainbow Building, and Blackcomb Lodge.  The plans for the building included a somewhat semi-circular shaped space just off Village Square that would house the Village’s first bar.  During construction, one of the more notable features of the building was the copper pillars that, on a clear day, reflected the sun.

An artistic view of Tapley’s under construction. George Benjamin Collection.

Tapley’s original opening date of January 23, 1981, was delayed when a section of Highway 99 at Culliton Creek was washed out on January 21.  The road reopened on January 26 and, on January 29, Tapley’s Pub opened for business.

The Tapley’s crowd enjoy a few brews in the sun on Sunday, March 1. Photo by Greg D’Amico.  Whistler Question Collection.

Opening day was presided over by John (J.R.) Reynolds, Tapley’s first proprietor, who reportedly looked “relieved that it had all finally come into place.”  All staff were on hand to welcome both local residents and visitors.  According to the Whistler Question, staff included Roland Kentel, Geoff Fisher, Ross Morben, Al Mattson, Rod MacLeod, Steve McGowan, Sheryl, Nancy, Kim, Heather, and Janet (we are not sure why reports of the opening did not include last names for female staff, but would appreciate anyone who could help us fill them in).  The day got off to a quiet start at 11 am but steadily filled as people came for beer, snacks, and darts, leading to a packed house by closing time.

Tapley’s was one of many businesses to open in the Whistler Village in 1981.  Just a couple of weeks later, Stoney’s opened on February 14, occupying the space now home to La Bocca.  Co-owned by Dick Gibbons, Jack Cram, and Lance Fletcher, Stoney’s was the first business of Gibbons’ to open in the Village.  The Longhorn Saloon, his second, would open by the end of the year.  Like Tapley’s the Longhorn is still operating in the Village today, though it looks a little different.  The two businesses are now connected, as Tapley’s Pub was taken over by Gibbons Hospitality in 2004.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The last forty years have certainly seen some changes at Tapley’s.  Looking at early photos from 1981, the many windows provided views straight to Sproatt and Whistler Mountain, views that have since been blocked by further construction of the Village and the Whistler Conference Centre.  While the copper pillars are still there, other parts of the decor and furniture have changed along with the view and a smoking lounge built in 2000 has evolved into a large patio area.  Keep an eye out over the next few months and years as more and more of Whistler’s businesses and organizations, founded during a decade of incredible changes, reach new milestones.

A Rainy End to the Holidays

Discussions of weather in Whistler have been going on for decades, as is apparent from past editions of the Whistler Question.  In the early months of winter the conversations usually focus on snow.  Reports from January 1981, however, show that rain, rather than snow, was the topic of discussion in town that year.

While there had been snow in early December 1980, it began to rain in earnest in Whistler and the surrounding areas on December 24.  The rain had not stopped by noon on December 26 and flooding was occurring in places from Squamish to D’Arcy, as well as in the Fraser Valley and other areas of British Columbia.

One of two destroyed power lines when flood waters washed out footings south of the Tisdale Hydro Station.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Whistler and Pemberton were cut off from the rest of the Sea to Sky by both road and rail, as Highway 99 was washed out around Culliton Creek (today the site of the Culliton Creek Bridge, also known as the Big Orange Bridge) and north of the Rutherford Creek junction.  A rail bridge over Rutherford Creek was left handing by the rails when its supports were washed away and other sections of rail were obstructed by small slides and washouts.

BCR Rutherford Creek crossing hangs by its rails after the December 26 flood washed away all supports and girders.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

19 Mile Creek overflowed at the entrance to Alpine Meadows, cutting it off from the rest of town.  The bridge on Valley Drive was also washed out, taking with it part of the main water supply.  In other parts of Whistler sewer lines, water systems, bridges, road and parking lots were damaged, though employees of Whistler Mountain worked quickly to divert water at its gondola base as Whistler Creek rose.  Helicopters were used to ferry residents and visitors in and out of the valley, including Mayor Pat Carleton who was in Vancouver at the time of the flood.

A creative approach to entering Alpine Meadows. George Benjamin Collection.

At the Garibaldi townsite south of Whistler, rising waters caused one house to be swept into the Cheakamus River and another to tip precariously while others were left unaccessible.

The flooding was partly caused by the unseasonable rise in temperature and freezing levels, meaning most of the early snow melted and added to the rain, as well as washing gravel, logs and debris down to the valley.

By the beginning of 1981, the roads to Whistler and Pemberton had reopened and repairs were underway.  Unfortunately, the temperatures were still warm and the rain was not over.  On January 21 the detour built around the previous wash out at Culliton Creek was washed out, again cutting off access on Highway 99.  At first it was believed that the closure would be quite brief, but Highway 99 remained closed until January 26.

Two of many skiers that made use of BCR (BC Rail) passenger service last week.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Luckily, at the time there was still passenger rail service to Whistler.  The two-car passenger train from Prince George to North Vancouver was already full by the time it reached Whistler that day, but skiers trying to get back to the Lower Mainland were able to fill the baggage car and stand in the aisles.  While helicopters and float planes were also used, trains became the most popular means of transport for five days, introducing many travellers to an option they had not considered before.

Rail was also used to transport goods, including delivering the Whistler Question on January 21 and supplying restaurants and food stores.  Due to the limited freight space available, Whistler was limited to ten cases of milk per day and, by the time the road reopened, the stores were out of milk and fresh produce while the gas tanks at the gas station were running low.  The Whistler Grocery Store, which was set to open on January 22, considered delaying but ultimately decided to proceed with its opening as planned when it became apparent that many families in the cut off communities were in danger of running out of certain food stuffs.

On January 26, as the road reopened, snow finally reached the valley again in Whistler.  By January 31 sunshine and new snow had brought crowds of skiers back to Whistler Mountain.  Further Questions continued to report on the weather and snow, but it would appear that after a dramatic start to the winter the 1981 season ended without further mishap.

Directing Ski Traffic

As many people who have worked at small or relatively new organizations (and even some larger, more established ones) know, it is not unusual for one’s job to include many duties that would not necessarily be found in the job description.  Sill, you generally wouldn’t expect to see a company’s president and administrative manage, along with another organization’s general manager, out directing traffic in the dark.  That, however, is exactly what happened in 1980 when Blackcomb Mountain experienced its first traffic jam.

Go-carts and formula cars demonstrate the turns of a freshly paved Blackcomb Way, which experienced solid lines of traffic on Blackcomb’s first busy weekend.  Whistler Question Collection.

According to Lorne Borgal, Blackcomb’s administrative manager, the issue occurred when Blackcomb had one of its first “big weekend days.”  Skiers spent the day on the snow, had a great time, and then all tried to leave.  While in his office at Base II about 4 o’clock, he realized that it had been a while since a car had left the parking lot.  They were all lined up, idling and waiting to go, but traffic was not moving.

Borgal, Blackcomb’s president Hugh Smythe, and Al Raine (then the general manager of the Whistler Resort Association) jumped in a pickup truck and drove the wrong way down Blackcomb Way to find the source of the gridlock.  Unfortunately, some of the cars saw this and followed them down, creating two lines of cars and no way back up the road.

The location of the administrative offices provided a great view of the parking lot and Blackcomb Way. Greg Griffith Collection.

The problem, they discovered, was that the northbound traffic on the highway form the Whistler Mountain gondola base was not allowing any car to leave the Village area.  At the time, there was no traffic light and only one entrance onto the highway, controlled by a stop sign.  It was also dark and snowing.

Smythe, Raine and Borgal began directing traffic.  As Borgal recalled, “We had all the parking lots in the valley merging onto the one little road out… There was no flashing lights or anything, there was just the little glow there, […] and I was the idiot who stood out on the road.  You’re out in the road, in the dark, flashing a little flashlight, trying to get these guys to stop to get some people out of the valley.”  The fact that gondola traffic had never had to stop before didn’t make the situation any easier.

Traffic attempts to merge onto Highway 99 from Village Gate in the snow, still a problem spot at times. Whistler Question Collection.

At one point, the local RCMP did come by, putting on his lights and asking what was going on.  When told about the problem, however, he decided that the Blackcomb staff had it in hand and left.  Directing traffic became another of the many “amazing things to do” that marked the early operations of Blackcomb Mountain.

Though this season has certainly been different, it has not been uncommon in past years to see lines of cars backed up through the Village at the end of a good snow day, much as they would have been forty years ago.  Directing traffic, however, in included in job descriptions now and those who do it get proper lights and signage.  Next week, we’ll be taking another look at mountain employees (temporarily) taking on duties outside their given roles, this time on Whistler Mountain.

Looking Back at Whistler: 1970

Last week we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Blackcomb Mountain’s official opening in 1980, so this week we thought we’d look further back at a few of the things that were new on Whistler Mountain and the Whistler area in 1970, when the area was constantly growing and changing.

Though they weren’t having to finish new lifts or set up mountain operations from scratch, the summer and fall of 1970 were still a hive of activity on Whistler Mountain, with changes being made to runs, lifts, and facilities for the upcoming season.  Many of the runs had grooming work done such as flattening some steep pitches and clearing trees, stumps, and boulders.  The lengthening of the Green Chair was accompanied by the cutting of a new run and the widening of both Jolly Green Giant and Ego Bowl.

This photo was used as the cover for the Garibaldi’s Whistler News of Winter 1970/71. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

While the Green Chair was extended, the Valley T-bar, described as “the forgotten lift at Whistler,” was being moved up the mountain to run parallel to the Alpine T-bar.  The Alpine T-bar provided access to some of Whistler’s most popular terrain: Harmony Bowl, T-Bar Bowl, and (with a bit of traversing) Whistler Bowl.  It was hoped that the addition of a parallel lift would shorten the lift lines.

Another lift, the Blue Chair, gained a “high-speed” loading ramp and a few new trails, with one being cut from the bottom of Harmony Bowl, another from the base of Blue Chair over to the Green Chair, and Dad’s Run (now Ratfink) cut adjacent to Mum’s Run (now Marmot).

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.  Whistler Question Collection.

Indoors, the Roundhouse received some substantial upgrades, most notably electricity.  Propane heaters were replaced by diesel-powered electric heaters.  A “new modern electric food preparation” area was installed alongside increased seating capacity, which opened up new hot food options at the top of the mountain that winter, such as French fries, chili, stews, soups, hot dogs, and even “shake and bake” chicken.  For the first time, the Roundhouse offered breakfast as well, from a continental breakfast to cold cereal to hot porridge.  While it may not have been considered gourmet cuisine, these new offerings greatly increased the on-mountain dining options.

Rudi Hoffmann prepares the steak at a Rotary luncheon.  Whistler Question Collection.

Down in the valley, a new dining option opened up that, though now closed, is still talked about in Whistler today: Rudi and Merrilyn Hoffmann’s Mountain Holm Steakhouse.  Rudi Hoffmann, who had completed his three year apprenticeship in Germany, had worked as the head chef at the Christiana Inn on Alta Lake during the 1969/70 season before opening his own restaurant at Nesters late in 1970.  The Mountain Holm Steakhouse invited guests to “relax in an European atmosphere with good food at moderate prices” and, by the holiday season, were busy enough that reservations were recommended.  They even offered a traditional European Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, featuring goose, dumplings, and a homemade Christmas pudding.

All these changes would have made the 1970 season rather different from winters that came before.  While each season may not bring new runs or changed lifts, the Whistler valley and the mountains continue to change fifty years later.

Blackcomb’s 40

Over the past few months we’ve been sharing stories about Blackcomb Mountain and its early days of operations.  Last Thursday (December 4) marked 40 years since Mayor Pat Carleton cut through the ribbon on Lift Two using a chainsaw and officially opened Blackcomb Mountain to the skiing public.

The opening ceremonies at Lift Two on Blackcomb Mountain. Greg Griffith Collection.

This did not technically mark the beginning of organized skiing on Blackcomb Mountain.  The day before, on December 3, a limited opening had welcomed Whistler residents to test out Blackcomb’s operating systems.  The previous winter Blackcomb had offered Snowcat tours for twelve skiers at a time, promising fresh powder and a hot lunch on the mountain.  December 4, however, was the culmination of a lot of hard work in a very short time.

Jerry Blan and Hugh Smythe from Fortress Mountain Resorts present the Blackcomb development to the public.  Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

In 1978 the Province of British Columbia put out a call for development proposals for Blackcomb under the direction of Al Raine, then a consultant for the British Columbia Ministry of Lands, Provincial Ski Area Coordination.  Two companies expressed interest: one led by Paul Mathews, who later founded Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners Ltd., and the other put forward by Hugh Smythe and Fortress Mountain Resorts Ltd. (FMR).  As Smythe recalls, it was on October 12, 1978 that they were told they won the bid, only just over two years before opening day.

Opening day, when it arrived, was accompanied by 18 feet of cake from Gourmet Bakery.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Smythe had previously worked for Whistler Mountain, first on the ski patrol and then as mountain manager.  In 1974 he left Whistler to run Fortress Mountain in Alberta, which was owned by the Federal Business Development Bank (FBDB) (today known as the Business Development Bank of Canada) after going into bankruptcy in 1971.  When the FBDB asked Smythe to find a buyer for Fortress Mountain, Aspen Skiing Corporation was brought in and FMR was formed, jointly owned by the FBDB and Aspen Ski Co.

After the success of Star Wars in 1977, 20th Century Fox began diversifying under the direction of Dennis Stanfill and, in 1978, bought Aspen Ski Co.  Before FMR could begin work, Smythe had to go to Hollywood to make the case for spending $11 million developing Blackcomb Mountain.  According to him, his watch was “It doesn’t cost as much as a movie, so you guys should do it.”  Luckily, they did.

The Blackcomb snowcat tours promised skiers fresh snow and a hot lunch. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Along with the many practicalities of starting a new venture, the winter of 1978/79 was spent exploring the mountain and designing trails.  Smythe set up in a house at the end of Fitzsimmons Drive in White Gold and kept a fuel tank and a Tucker Sno-Cat in the front year.  The trails were cut in 1979 and the winter of 1979/80 introduced skiers to Blackcomb through their snowcat tours.  The summer and fall of 1980 saw lifts installed on the mountains.  In what appears to be an incredibly short time, Blackcomb Mountain was ready to open.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain.

The original target date set in 1978 was December 1, 1980.  Blackcomb Mountain opened just three days later, a feat described by the management as “not bad.”  Lift One from the (still under construction) Whistler Village was not yet open and capacity was limited to those who could find parking at the daylodge base (now known as Base II) or get dropped off with their equipment but, by all accounts, the first day of skiing was a success.

Mayor Pat Carleton and Hugh Smythe load the first chair to head up Blackcomb. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Happy 40th Blackcomb!