Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

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

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.

Livening Up the Street

On the mid-to-late 1980s, after working as the Vice-President of Marketing at Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, Mike Hurst began a new position as the acting general manager of the Whistler Resort Association (WRA), known today as Tourism Whistler. While Vancouver had drawn international attention during Expo 86, summers in the Whistler resort were still quite slow, with some businesses even shutting down for the season. According to Hurst, “People would come up to the Village, and they’d come in, and they’d go to a restaurant, and then they’d walk around wondering what to do, and there’d be very little to do.”

In an effort to change this, Hurst contacted Maureen Douglas and Laurel Darnell of Street Access and asked them to organize street entertainment in the Village for the summer of 1987. Though Douglas spent Expo 86 recovering from a broken leg, she was inspired by the “sleeper hit” street performers at the festival and wanted to ensure that talent wasn’t forgotten. She and Darnell formed Street Access Entertainment Society as a non-profit street entertainment booking and development society in September 1986. They were soon contracted to organize three days/week of entertainment in Whistler.

Some acts included combinations of acrobatics and knife juggling. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Each weekend the Village would host performances by jugglers, musicians, comedians, and character actors who roamed the Village Stroll. At the end of the summer, fifteen acts were brought together for the Whistler Street Festival Grand Finale over the Labour Day weekend to compete for a contract to perform at Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia.

The street entertainers from the very first season in 1987. Photo courtesy of Maureen Douglas.

Street Access continued to organize summer street entertainment for the WRA, increasing to four days/week in 1988 and then seven days/week in 1989. The WRA then decided to bring festival and entertainment planning in house and asked Douglas to write a job description and apply. She began working at the WRA and ran the street entertainment program through the 1990s.

The Checkerboard Guy demonstrates how to eat fire on the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1992.

According to Douglas, each year’s lineup was made of about 50% returning acts from the Lower Mainland and 50% new or touring acts. One regular act was Carolyn Sadowska, who appeared as Queen Elizabeth II and would instruct visitors on points of etiquette, provide tiaras and props, and pose for photos. Other acts included Fifi Lafluff (“the world’s worst hairdresser”), a cappella groups such as Party Fever, bands like the Mulberry Street Jazz Band, clowns, and comedic jugglers such as the Checkerboard Guy and Mike Battie (whose grand finale involved juggling pins and broccoli, which he proceeded to eat, accompanied by the William Tell Overture). Over the years Douglas also started to hire local musical acts, such as Stephen and Peter Vogler, singing group Colours on Key, and harpist Alison Hunter.

Colours on Key, a local singing group in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

By most accounts, the street entertainment program was a big success. Through the 1990s the September festival was renamed Whistler’s Really Big Street Fest and weekly showcases were added to the schedule. Acts were carefully placed throughout the Village, as some could attract audiences of 300 to 400 people. While this was alright in Village Square, in other areas those numbers created gridlock.

Performances could fill Village Square, sometimes even impeding foot traffic. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Whistler became part of the street entertainment circuit, joining other festivals across Canada in cities such as Halifax and Edmonton. While some of the other areas offered performers a chance to make a lot of money through busking, the WRA didn’t want the audience to have to pay and instead offered a “working holiday,” with a decent fee, accommodation, wine and cheese get-togethers on Fridays, and time to enjoy summer in Whistler. Douglas remembered that one of the producers of a busking festival once told her, “You know, our one beef with Whistler is that you guys are just too nice. They come here and then we don’t treat them quite as well and they’re miffed.”

Encouraging summer visitors was a large focus of the WRA and Mike Hurst in the mid-to-late 1980s and street entertainment was just one strategy to increase numbers. For many visitors and residents, however, the performers were one of the most memorable parts of their Village experience.

Building Meadow Park

In 1980, while Blackcomb Mountain was preparing to open and the Town Centre was still in early stages of construction, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was putting together a plan to build parks throughout Whistler. The Outdoor Recreation Plan they proposed suggested plans for lakeside parks, such as today’s Lost Lake Park, Wayside Park, and Alpha Lake Park, as well as calling for smaller parks within subdivisions. In Alpine Meadows, the plan proposed a park with a playground, softball field, open play area, nature area, bikeway terminus, and parking with highway access. Over the 1980s, this suggestion of a park would become Meadow Park.

Municipal trail crews cut through the brush to make the final connection between the Alpine Meadows trail and Meadow Park trail (under construction). Paving to complete the trail system will begin at the end of July. Whistler Question Collection, June 1983.

Work on Meadow Park began in the early 1980s with the building up of 11 acres of marsh. By September 1983, though still a work-in-progress, Meadow Park was connected to the Whistler Village by an early section of the Valley Trail and tennis courts had been installed. Despite this progress, the park was still a long way from finished. In May 1984, a feature article in the Whistler Question described the area as “a sorry sight,” with skunk cabbage where other parks boasted daffodils and a brown patch in place of a playing field. By the River of Golden Dreams, however, a grassy picnic site featured panoramic views of mountains.

Over the summer of 1984, the brown patch would be seeded and transformed into a field complete with baseball diamond and backstop, the Valley Trail would be paved and extended to the highway, and a playground would be installed near the tennis courts. According to Parks Planner Tom Barratt, the RMOW’s plan with these facilities was “to make the park as much a community park as it is a local, subdivision park.”

Meadow Park mom’s gathered on a Tuesday afternoon. The pre-nap strategy: “Get them out and let them run wild.” Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

The next major addition to Meadow Park was made in 1988 with the installation of the water park. The water park was partially funded by a grant from BC Lotteries and was built by L.A. Systems, who had just finished installing a similar park in Horseshoe Bay. According to municipal parks director Bill Barratt, the water park would offer a safer alternative to lakes for small children during hot weather.

The water park was completed by August 1988, featuring water cannons, sprinklers, geyser, water slide, and “a fish that blows wherever the wind does.” A community event, referred to by some as the “Big Splash,” was put together by the Alta Lake Community Club to celebrate the water park’s opening. Dandelion Daycare sponsored a bicycle-decorating contest, the Rotary Club provided ice cream, the Lions Club brought hot dogs and drinks, and local businesses provided prizes. Children and parents “flocked” to the new facility.

The water park being well used during the summer months. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

The water park continued to be well used by residents and visitors alike and Meadow Park was soon established as a neighbourhood park. In a 2016 post for the Whistler Insider (the blog hosted by whistler.com) author Feet Banks wrote that, “The water park was an integral part of childhood for Whistler kids who licked in the north end of town. With no public transit, this was the closest cool-down option and we made almost daily pilgrimages to splash down the slide, run the spray tunnel, refresh and play Frisbee on the massive grass fields.”

The Valley Trail system has been extended and public transit introduced making it easier to access other parks and lakes, but Meadow Park continues to be a popular park for those who live in Alpine Meadows and many others. Picnickers can still be found next to the River of Golden Dreams and, especially when the temperatures rise, children and adults alike can be seen splashing in the water park.

A Disco Comes to Whistler

For decades, many of Whistler’s businesses, including late-night establishments, have been concentrated within the Village. The first nightclub (or, as it was called at the time, disco) to open in the Village was Club 10 forty years ago.

Club 10 opened beneath Stoney’s on Friday, March 6, 1981 in the space most recently occupied by Maxx Fish. The venture was a new one for the owners, Michel Segur and Jean-Jacques Aaron, both of whom operated restaurants in the Lower Mainland (Segur’s Chez Michel continues to operate in West Vancouver today). Club 10 offered music, dancing, some limited food such as cheese plates and quiches, and drinks in Whistler’s “normal, pricy range,” and, by all accounts, was an almost instant success.

The crowd gets out onto the dance floor at Club 10. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

As Club 10 was described as Whistler’s first “real disco,” it’s no surprise that the owners invested in their sound equipment and design, though it appears their aim was not to deafen their patrons. Guy O’Hazza, who installed the club’s sound system, said that, “The sound was not made to be loud, it was made to be clean. It’s directed at the dance floor, so you can still sit at a table and talk.” The system was installed with the capacity to use turntables, but at the time of Club 10’s opening the music relied entirely on cassette tapes. The music itself was varied, ranging from New Wave to swing to country and more.

Mayor Pat Carleton (centre) congratulates Michel Segur (left) and Jean-Jacques Aaron on the opening of their new club. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The interior of Club 10 was designed by Gilbert Konqui, who had also designed Stoney’s and, later that year, would design the interior of The Longhorn. According to Konqui, the design was “ultra modern mixed with funk,” a combination of “funky, fun and relaxed.” From the ceiling hung a combination of art nouveau lights and disco balls, reflecting red and blue lights throughout the space. Decorations included two plaster angels, an eagle above the bar, a wall of books, and a large image of Humphrey Bogart.

The only part of Club 10’s opening that was not a success was the entrance, which was described by the Whistler Question as “a bit disconcerting” and reminiscent of a “somewhat sterile” entry to a warehouse. This problem was quickly solved by hiring Raymond Clements, and artist from Horseshoe Bay, to paint a mural in the stairwell. After three days, the plan walls were covered by mountains, chairlifts, ferries, and palm trees.

The walls of the entrance to Club 10, decorated by Ray Clements. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Through the 1980s, Club 10 hosted themed parties, fashion shows, and more before being sold, rebought, and then sold to Mitch Garfinkel in 1990. Garfinkel, an attorney from Florida, had plans to open similar bars in various ski resorts under the same name, Garfinkel’s Club 10’s space was redone, replacing painted walls with wood panelling, updating the sound system to play compact discs, and adding a large bar with a fish tank in the centre. In June 1990 Garfinkel’s was ready to open to the public, complete with its logo featuring a moose holding a draft beer.

Garfinkel’s operated for nine years before locating to its current location in 1999. Though the business occupying the space may have changed, its purpose has been the same since it first opened as Club 10 four decades ago.