Category Archives: Whistler Blackcomb

Snow Expectations

Recently Whistler Blackcomb announced the first snowfall of the season on the mountains and it has many thinking about what the winter will look like this season.  Snow is always a major topic of conversation in Whistler, as we can see by looking back on previous years.

In 1972, Garibaldi’s Whistler News noted that the snowfall in the valley was a record high at 943 cm, and according to their Fall 1972 issue “there was snow covering the mountain tops mid-September and it looks like another year for early skiing.”  The average snowfall in the years leading up to 1972 was recorded at 12.8 m.

Unsurprising for a town built on skiing, snowfall has been the talk of the town in Whistler for decades. Benjamin Collection.

This wasn’t the case for every year, however.  In 1976, the winter ski season was off to a sluggish start.  A lot of rainfall and sunny weather in November caused the snow on the mountain to melt, thereby pushing back the opening of the mountain.  The Whistler Question reported in December that employees were let go or not hired due to the lack of snow, leaving about 25 fewer people working for Whistler Mountain.  This also affected the number of tourists that came in to town and had an impact on the economy.  Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays, but all skiers had to download using the gondola.  In February 1977, the first snow gun was obtained for Whistler Mountain to help combat the lack of snow.

Luckily, the next winter, 1977/78, was “marked with the return of good snowfalls and a good season for the ski school,” as reported by the Whistler Question.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.  Whistler Question Collection, December 1979.

Winter came early again in 1981 as Blackcomb Mountain announced it would be opening a week earlier than planned, while Whistler Mountain remained closed until the scheduled opening on November 26.

El Nino was blamed for the warmest winter of record  in 1992 by then Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe, as reported in the Blackcomb Mountain Staff News.

There was a feeling of déjà-vu in 1995/96, as rain affected the beginning of ski season and workers were laid off.  American Thanksgiving usually marks the beginning of skiing but that year Whistler Mountain’s alpine didn’t have a sufficient base of snow, while Blackcomb was pumping water out of its snow guns and hoping the freezing level would drop enough to make snow.  Blackcomb Mountain opened on the US Thanksgiving weekend, but with only a limited number of lifts and trails.

A Whistler wonderland appeared overnight Sunday, October 17 with the season’s first snow in the valley.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Once again, a slow opening was followed the next year by great snowfalls.  Meteorologist Marilyn Manso in December 1996 said, “by mid-December we’ve had more snow on the ground than at any time since records were kept.”  There was 74 cm of snow on the ground in the valley at this time in December, compared with the previous year of 34 cm.

The first week in December 2001 brought about 1.2 m of snow on the mountains, which allowed for half of Whistler Blackcomb terrain to be open.  This was more than any other ski resort in North America at that time, and allowed for the snow guns to be moved lower on the mountain and provide ski-out access.

Last winter also got off to a slow start, so let’s hope that this season brings great snowfalls.

Legends of Whistler… tell the stories

We are incredibly excited to announce a three part speaker series cohosted with the Whistler Public Library and the RMOW!

Over three days, twelve very special guests will be sharing their own stories and knowledge of Whistler’s history, including the development of the mountains and the creation of Whistler Village.  Each event is free to attend.

Building Glacier Park

Earlier this month, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) began a rezoning process with the goal of constructing a new six-storey building with 60 units of employee housing to join the seven existing staff housing buildings on the Glacier Lane site.  Consisting of two-bedroom units, each about 40 square metres in size, this proposed housing will be very similar, if a bit newer than, the first four buildings originally built by Blackcomb Ski Enterprise and Canadian Pacific (CP) Hotels in 1988.

The first hint of the project came at the beginning of January 1988, when Blackcomb received permission to convert the administration offices of its old daylodge into temporary employee housing.  To assuage concerns from council that the housing might not remain temporary, Gary Raymond, Blackcomb’s vice-president of finance, mentioned that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, the owners of the then-under-construction Chateau Whistler Resort, would be bringing a joint proposal for permanent employee housing to council in the next few weeks.

References to the “Financial Wizard” in the Blackcomb newsletter usually included a drawing of said wizard. Blabcomb

The proposal was for four buildings, each with 48 two-bedroom units, to be built over two years.  When finished the buildings would house almost 400 people; at the time, Blackcomb had roughly 500 employees and the Chateau was expected to employ about 350.  Due to a severe shortage of housing, the plan changed, and all four buildings were to be constructed over the summer of 1988 in time for employees to arrive in October.

The Blackcomb/CP Hotels Glacier Lane project was not the only employee housing project underway.  That summer projects with the Whistler Valley Housing Society (WVHS) were also being constructed or proposed at Nordic Court and Eva Lake Road.

An architect’s drawing of the proposed housing. Look familiar? Blabcomb

All of these projects hit some snags over the summer, though the Glacier Lane project may have been the most visible.  The buildings were higher and more visible than expected and Letters to the Editor were published in The Whistler Question referring to the construction as a “massive box” that could be seen from any point in the valley north of the Village.  In July, Mayor Drew Meredith even called the visibility of the project “a worthwhile mistake,” while pointing out that the developers were trying to mitigate the visibility of the buildings through landscaping.

Before the buildings could officially open on September 19, 1988, they first had to be named.  A contest was announced in the Blabcomb newsletter and employees were invited to name both the development as a whole and the individual buildings.  The contest was won by David Small, who proposed to call the development Glacier Park, with each building named for a glacier: Horstman, Overlord, Spearhead and Decker.

The early blueprints for the building. Blabcomb

At the grand opening, Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe recalled his own years spent living in employee housing while working for Whistler Mountain, saying “I remember sleeping on the floor, on tables and in trailers,” including one trailer, known by many as “the ghetto.”  According to Smythe, the new units compared quite favourably to his own experiences, and certainly had a better view.

The first residents began moving in October 1.  They were reportedly a mix of Blackcomb employees, including employees of Alta Lake Foods who provided food services for the mountain, and CP Hotel construction workers.  Most of the CP Hotel employees would not move in until the Chateau Whistler Resort opened in late 1989.

By the end of November, the Blabcomb reported that all units had been filled, with people either already moved in or with rooms committed to incoming employees, and a waiting list had already been started.  They were also able to report that, partly due to his work managing the housing project, Gary Raymond had been awarded one of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s first “Business Person of the Year” awards, along with Lorne Borgal of Whistler Mountain.  According to the Blabcomb, the project had been a great success.

Blackcomb Mountain’s Blabcomb

We love newsletters at the museum.  They’re a great way of keeping interested parties up to date and sharing information and, when donated to the archives, are an interesting record of changes to an organization over time.  Recently, some of the museum’s resource binders were digitized to make them text-searchable to help with our own and others’ research projects.  One of these binders housed a collection of newsletters published by Blackcomb Mountain over the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Blabcomb.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980.  By the time the Blabcomb began publishing the mountain had been open for skiing for only seven seasons.  Whistler Question Collection.

When the first edition of the Blabcomb came out on March 17, 1988 the newsletter was only four pages of news and updates related to Blackcomb operations; the last issue that the museum has a copy of, from July 12, 1991, had grown to twelve.

Early issues of the Blabcomb came out with payroll every two weeks, then switched to monthly publication for the summer months.

The issues included lists of birthdays, staff changes, discounts, meetings and recognition of the latest ICE (Inspire Continued Excellence) Awards.  Even birth announcements made it in,

Thought the newsletter included frequent calls for volunteers and contributions, it would seem Blabcomb was spearheaded by Eric Sinclair of Blackcomb’s accounting department.  The name “Blabcomb” was the product of Wayne “Chookhead” Burt, who won out against competing submissions such as “Snow News” (Bart Parsons), “Seventh Heaven Express” (Peter Bacholtz), and “Blackcomb Briefs” (Gerhard Reimer).

Considering the chatty (and, at times, perhaps gossipy) tone of the newsletter, Blabcomb seems like a perfect fit.

The suitcase races on Blackcomb were a popular event, and would have made for great television. Blackcomb Collection.

In some ways the resort described in the Blabcomb is very different from the Whistler Blackcomb operations of today.  Events such as the Celebrity Challenge Suitcase Race (you can learn more about that event here) no longer run and with the merger between Whistler and Blackcomb guest numbers are no longer a competition.  Other parts of their spring 1988 newsletters, however, could almost be published today.

The Blabcomb reportedly began “in order to maintain the Blackcomb spirit,” which some feared was being lost as the company grew (a feeling not unknown in Whistler).  In early March 1988 the Blackcomb staff (combining both employees of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises and of Alta Lake Foods, which ran the food and beverage operations for the mountain) surpassed the 600 employees mark.  The creation of the Blabcomb recognized that it could be “difficult to maintain that feeling of ‘family’ among such a large employee base.”

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Museum.

With expanded food service and five new lifts added in 1987 (Magic Chair, Wizard Express, Solar Coaster Express, 7th Heaven Express and Horstman Glacier T-Bar) the 1987-88 season was a big year for Blackcomb Mountain.  By early April it had exceeded 512,000 visits (to put the number is perspective, the previous record of 508,000 had been set by Whistler Mountain in the 1984/85 season) and looked on track to exceed 600,000 by the time the season ended.

Employees asked by the Blabcomb described the season as “exciting, exhausting, wild and, of course, magical” but the newsletter also acknowledged the toll the season had taken.

As they put it, “Not only did Blackcomb employees have to adjust to a massive expansion project that included new lifts, buildings and added responsibilities, they were overwhelmed by the number of skiers we received in Whistler Resort this year… A shortage of employees, cramped, and sometimes marginal living conditions made these ‘adjustments’ even more difficult.”

Over the next few years the Blabcomb continued to update employees about changes in operations and events on the mountain, while also covering topics that we still discuss in Whistler today, such as the construction of employee housing (it was during this period that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, later the Chateau, built some of the housing currently in use).

Though newsletters are often written thinking of the present and future, they can be really useful resources when examining our past.

Remembering Whistler’s Downhill World Cups

This year marks a few important anniversaries for ski racing on Whistler Mountain: it has been 40 years since the ski hill almost hosted the World Cup in 1979 before it was cancelled due to weather and safety concerns, and it is 30 years since Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup downhill event on Canadian soil.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Whistler Mountain also held other successful World Cup events in the 1980s and ’90s starting with a World Cup downhill in 1982.

By the last week of February 1982, Whistler had undergone some major changes since a World Cup was last attempted in 1979.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, giving Whistler Mountain nearby competition, and the first phase of Whistler Village construction was, for the most part, wrapped up.

The course for this World Cup downhill was changed as well.  Rather than follow the traditional route that used what is now known as Dave Murray Downhill ending in Creekside, the 1982 course ended in Whistler Village.

The Molson World Downhill came to Whistler, bringing thousands of spectators along with it.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The new 3,810-metre course was expected to result in a winning time in the two-minutes-and-15-seconds range.  Racers began near the top of the Black and Orange Chairs and then headed down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft, across Crabapple Creek and to the finish line in view of the spectators waiting in the village.

There was more to Whistler’s 1982 World Cup than raceday on Saturday.  The opening ceremonies began the festivities on Wednesday, February 24 and included a parade of nations complete with flags and local dignitaries.  The following evening was Western Night.  The scheduled events included a display of logger sports such as axe-throwing and chainsaw demonstrations and a square-dancing demonstration for the national teams.  The Lil’wat Nation also hosted an outdoor salmon barbecue.  The Friday evening before the race was a more casual affair with a torchlight ski parade and fireworks display.

A torchlight parade makes its way down Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to The Vancouver Sun, prior to Saturday the weather was “the most-discussed element of the whole affair.”  Days of fog and fresh snow leading up to the race meant great conditions for those skiing on the rest of Whistler Mountain but these conditions weren’t great for training runs, causing delays and cancelled practices.  Luckily, on Saturday and weather cooperated and, for the first time on Whistler, the World Cup downhill could go ahead.

Going into the race, the two racers to watch were thought to be Steve Podborski of the Crazy Canucks and Austrian Harti Weirather, the 1981 World Cup downhill champion.  The race was, however, won by Swiss skier Peter Mueller, a two-time World Cup downhill champion (the 1982 season ended with a tie for the title between Mueller and Podborski).

At the awards ceremony after the race on Saturday, the cheers for Mueller were reported to be just as loud as those for the Crazy Canucks.  Mueller appeared to enjoy his second trip to Whistler, having first come to the valley one a five-week camping tour of Western Canada in the 1970s.  When speaking of the area’s hospitality, he told reporters that, “The people here are so friendly.  They come up to me and say, ‘Hi Pete,’ even if they don’t know me.  I would really like to come back here.”

Whistler’s 1982 World Cup was not an unqualified success to everyone.  According to Doug Sack in Whistler Magazine some teams “loathed the new course.”  It ended too slowly, passing over the flats of Lower Olympic, and one Austrian was even heard to say “I should have brought my cross-country skis with me.”

Whistler Mountain hosted more World Cup downhills after 1982, using the Dave Murray Downhill course.  If you’re interested in learning more about Whistler’s World Cups and what it takes to organize and pull off such an event, join us at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series on Thursday, March 29 with guests Rob Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

Growing Whistler (quickly)

We get asked a lot of questions at the museum, such as “Where did the name Whistler come from?”, “When was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola built?” and “Is this the Audain Art Museum?”  One question that people are often surprised to learn the answer to is “When did people start skiing down Whistler Mountain?”

Visitors to Whistler and to the museum come from all over the world, as flipping through our guest books quickly show, and to many the development of Whistler seems incredibly recent.  After all, when Kitzbühel, Austria hosted its first ski race in 1884 the individuals who would spearhead the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s hadn’t even been born.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Looking back at the Whistler described in Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) of February 1969, only three years after lifts had opened on the mountain, it’s very easy to see that the area has changed a lot in only fifty years.

The winter of 1968-69 was an exciting time in the area.  Though the Resort Municipality of Whistler had not yet been formed, that September Whistler Mountain had been named the Canadian site for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and members of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) were actively campaigning in the lead up to the International Olympic Committee’s site selection vote in May.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Lorne O’Connor, the Executive Director of GODA, and Tadec Barnowski, a former member of the Polish National Ski Team, were even marking the final routes for alpine events before officials from the FIS were to visit in March.  We know now, of course, that it would be another three failed bids and 41 years before Whistler would host the Olympics, but in 1969 and 1976 bid was looking very promising.

That season also saw the introduction of the Green Chair to Whistler Mountain and the opening of new trails that we know well today, including Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant.  With the cutting of a new trail running all the way down to what the GWN referred to as the “gravel pit” (now Whistler Village), the lift company also began running a bus service back to the gondola terminal.  As well as new trails and Whistler’s sixth lift, a service called “Park-A-Tot” was introduced as the company’s first foray into childcare.  For $3/day, skiers could drop off their children in the morning and collect them again after their last run.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The area around the gondola terminal was not yet known as Creekside though one article in GWN claimed that it was “gradually becoming a village.”  It already had a gas station and ten lodges alongside older cabins and newly built condominiums.  With more condo projects underway and plans for a grocery store, the Creekside of five decades ago was growing quickly.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Today, the lifts that were announced with such fanfare in Garibaldi’s Whistler News have been replaced by bigger and faster models; the “gravel pit” has become an established town centre and “Park-A-Tot” has evolved to include various programs for all ages.  Though many visitors may be surprised at learning Whistler Mountain only opened in 1966, after perusing the museum’s exhibits these same visitors are often amazed at how quickly Whistler has grown.

Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  The roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).