Tag Archives: 1968 Olympic bid

Celebrating Whistler’s Olympic Milestones

Over the coming weeks, there will be plenty of opportunities in Whistler to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games (including the Whistler Museum’s next temporary exhibit highlighting the volunteers of the Games, opening Friday, February 28!).  While many people may still be wondering how a decade has passed, this week we took a look even further back, to when the first Olympic bid was submitted by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) sixty years ago.

Following the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, a group from Vancouver very quickly organized a committee to explore the idea of hosting the Games in the Garibaldi Park region.  The California Games ended on February 28, and in March GODA invited Sidney Dawes, the Canadian representative to the International Olympic Committee, to assist in the search for an Olympic venue. Cliff Fenner, the Park Supervisor for Garibaldi Park, also assisted in the search, which included reconnaissance flights, snowmobile explorations, and test skiers.  London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain) was chosen as “a highly desirable area”, and by November 1960 GODA had put together a bid for the 1968 Olympic Winter Games which would have seen all events take place within the Whistler valley.

A group heads out to explore Garibaldi Park in search of an Olympic site, 1960. Cliff Fenner Collection

Creating a bid for the chosen site meant planning to build an entire Olympic site from scratch.  Alta Lake, as the area was known at the time, was comprised of a few lodges, summer cabins, and logging operations.  The valley was accessible by rail and courageous drivers could make their way up via service roads in the summer.  According to the 1968 bid book, prior to exploring possible Olympic sites, the provincial government had already spoken publicly of extended the highway that ran from North Vancouver to Squamish further north to Pemberton.

Other services we often take for granted today had also not yet reached Alta Lake.  The list of venues and facilities to be built in the valley for 1968 included not just sporting venues, but also a water supply system, sewers, sewage disposal, a substation for power supply, a fire station, and a hospital.

An official pamphlet promoting GODA’s 1968 Olympic bid.

Though the prospect of building all of this was daunting, in the bid book GODA pointed out that it had been done before, for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games that were held in Vancouver in 1954.  As they put it, “Here, too, a project was begun with nothing more than an idea, a desire to hold the event here, and an enthusiasm that made the project become a reality… Given the go-ahead, work will begin to transform the Whistler Mountain area into one of the finest sites ever developed for the Olympic Winter Games.”

This site became the gondola base, today known as Creekside, but before 1965 it was pretty bare. Wilhelmsen Collection

As we know, the 1968 Olympic Winter Games were not held on Whistler Mountain (they were held in Grenoble, France), but that did not mean that all of the work of surveying, planning, and negotiating with provincial powers was for nought.  Instead, GODA formed a sister organization, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., to develop Whistler Mountain as a ski resort, Olympics or not.

Like the bid for 1968, a tremendous amount of work was done in a relatively short time in order to open Whistler Mountain for skiing in January 1966.  The ideas and enthusiasm of GODA were finally fulfilled in 2010 and, though it took muck longer and looked very different that they had first planned, it five decades the Whistler Mountain area had been significantly transformed.

The Village that Could Have Been

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been working on our temporary exhibit Construction of Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, we’ve also been thinking about Whistler Village could have looked like if earlier proposals had gone forward.  Before development of the village we know today began in earnest in 1978, town centres for the Whistler area were proposed in various different styles and locations.  Three of the earliest of these plans predated the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and were proposed by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), purpose designed to host the Olympic Winter Games.

GODA first put forth an Olympic bid in 1963, with hopes of hosting the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  At the time, they proposed to build a town centre at the base of the lifts planned for Whistler Mountain, today’s Creekside.  This idea of a planned town centre continued to be developed by further bids.

In 1968, GODA submitted a bid to host the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.  The plans from this bid placed the town centre at the same location as today’s Whistler Village.  According to a painting currently on display at the Whistler Museum, this town centre would have included a large plaza area with a view of the proposed ski jumps on Whistler Mountain, an airport, and a landing area for helicopters, as well as lodgings and retail spaces.

The proposed town centre for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, as they imagined it would have bee seen by skiers. GODA

Neither bid was successful, in part because Whistler Mountain had not yet become firmly established as a ski resort.  By 1970, however, when GODA was putting forth a bid for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler Mountain had become better known and the available amenities had increased significantly since 1963.  Garibaldi/Vancouver was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee as Canada’s official national bid for 1976 and a full IOC bid was developed.  This has left behind lots of official material that gives insight into the Canadian Olympic organizers and their vision of the Whistler areas as an Olympic venue, including architectural drawings for a proposed town centre in the official 1976 Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book.

Some of the elements envisioned in the architectural drawings done for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games. GODA

According to the bid book, a prominent selling point for this proposal was the idea of a single-host area, with all events held within four kilometres of the town centre at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

The town centre envisioned in the bid book is not too different from the 1972 bid.  Ski Jump Plaza provided views of the ski jumps on Whistler Mountain and was accessible through a pedestrian concourse.  The concourse was to be lined on either side by tall, angular buildings and lifts beginning at the concourse would carry skiers and spectators up the hill.  Close by would be an ice rink, biathlon course and other Olympic venues.

The ski jump planned for the base of Whistler Museum. GODA

The proposed town site for the 1976 Games was very different from the village that was designed just eight years later, but certain elements, such as a focus on pedestrians and lift access to Whistler Mountain are defining features of the village we know today.

We’ll be learning more about how Whistler Village came to be this Thursday (October 24) during the first of a three-part storytelling event on Whistler’s history.  You can find more information about the Legends of Whistler event here.

A Clean Slate

Every autumn the mountains are born-again, baptised by a blanket of frozen water whose crystalline forms are revered for their meteorological, rather than priestly blessings. But imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like to encounter these mountains for the first time, before our impressions had been shaped by chairlifts, lift-lines, and Instagram…

That’s precisely the circumstances in which representatives from the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency found themselves in the early 1960s as they pursued their plans to develop an Olympic-ready ski resort in BC’s Coast Mountains.

After evaluating a few options, by 1962 they had more or less decided upon Whistler Mountain (still officially named London Mountain at the time). The mountain was essentially a clean slate (aside from some rather intensive logging around the mountain’s base) from which they had to design a world-class ski area. 

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Today, most skiers’ understanding of the terrain develops through multiple seasons of exploring the mountains guided by trail markers, instructors,  more experienced friends, and pure instinct, leading them to have a virtual trail map etched into their minds. When a big powder day hits, they already know exactly where they want to be.

But without these aids, identifying the best terrain and chairlift configuration was a completely different challenge.  The group of Vancouver and Montreal-based businessmen knew enough to admit that they didn’t know much about ski area-design, so they hired German-American ski champion, coach, and resort-design consultant Willy Schaeffler to offer his insights.

Schaefller was born in the Bavarian Alps and was skiing by the age of 2. Injuries, then World War 2 prevented him from representing Germany at the Winter Olympics, but he eventually moved to North America where he became a renowned skier, coach, and resort planner. It was his design work at Squaw Valley, host of the highly successful 1960 Winter Olympics, that secured him the consultancy gig at Whistler Mountain.

Schaeffler made several trips up to Whistler in the early 1960s, each leaving him more impressed by the mountain’s terrain and resort potential.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

His 1962 report is prescient, if fairly straightforward from today’s perspective. He foresaw the mountain’s potential to revolutionize North America ski resorts with its deep, consistent snowpack, massive vertical and acreage, high-alpine skiing, and plenty of suitable terrain for all ability levels. Add in the accessibility to a large market, and Schaeffler considered it a no-brainer.

We’ll go into more details about Schaeffler’s report next week. For now, we want to focus on some of the photos in our archives from early on in this planning and design phase. Franz Wilhelmsen and Willy toured Whistler Mountain by helicopter and on foot in July 1962, and you can see the first traces of a plan to develop the mountain coming together through these images.

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While it was clear that they had found a special ski mountain, their initial vision wasn’t exactly how things turned out.  A central aspect of their plan was a lower shoulder of Whistler Peak which they found to be an excellent viewpoint and a suitable location for the top-station of an alpine chairlift.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #1” better known today as Glacier Bowl.

Coincidentally, the viewpoint is pretty much right on top of the infamous “Air Jordan” double cliff, which drew headlines last winter with Julian Carr’s massive front flip down the entire face. That wasn’t part of Schaeffler’s plan, but we think he would approve whole-heartedly of such boundary-pushing endeavours.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #2” better known today as Whister Bowl.

These images provide some pretty remarkable insights into this initial encounter, when Whistler Mountain made its first impressions on these passionate skiers and developers. In a few weeks we will look at the written report in more detail, as these first impressions developed into a comprehensive plan.

Ghosts of Olympic Bids Past.

1 year from today the seaside resort of Sochi Village will be a rocking celebration of winter sport on a scale the world has not seen since, well, n3 years ago, right here. Since we’re feeling the Olympic spirit we feel it’s apt to look back into Whistler’s Olympic past.

The initial bid for the 1968 Olympics that started this whole thing called Whistler is fairly well known, but fewer are aware that a total of 5 unsuccessful bids for the Olympics had already been made before the IOC finally announced on July 2nd 2003 that the joint Vancouver-Whistler 2010 bid had been chosen. All of these prior bids, despite their failure, played an integral role in the continued development of Whistler until it was finally ready to host the 2010 Games.

The 1976 was an especially strong bid, receiving endorsement from the Canadian Olympic Committee as our official national bid. By 1970, when the bid was being put forth, Whistler Mountain had become an established, high profile ski resort, and Vancouver was an increasingly cosmopolitan city with growing international appeal. One of the most important boosters of the West Coast, and Whistler in particular, was none other than then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau–a frequent visitor to Whistler who even took his honeymoon here with Margaret Sinclair in 1971.

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Pierre Trudeau and Franz Wilhelmsen meet to discuss Olympic bids on Whistler Mountain, 1969.

Although the 1976 games ended up in Innsbruck, Austria, the fact that a full IOC bid was made has left behind a lot of official material that gives insight into the Canadian Olympic organizers and their vision of Whistler as a future Olympic venue. The official 1976 Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book, printed in 1970 and on display in the Olympic section of our permanent exhibit is a perfect example of this.

The Bid Book' which has a beautiful cloth-bound hardcover, and is about the size of a vinyl LP cover.

The Bid Book, which has a beautiful cloth-bound hardcover and is about the size of a vinyl LP cover.

The book is a very polished looking production, meant to showcase the bid and everything the Vancouver-Garibaldi region had to offer. A prominent selling point for this bid was the compact, single host area. All of the events would be held in what is today Whistler, they even advertised that all facilities would be within a 2.5 mile radius of where the village is today.

The master plan, 1/2.

The master plan, 1/2.

The master plan, 2/2.

The master plan, 2/2.

Probably the coolest element from the bid book are the architectural drawings, which offers an alternate-universe version of Whistler Village from the one designed by Eldon Beck and constructed nearly a decade later. Notably, although there was still very little there at the time, and there were no plans to develop Blackcomb yet, the village was still located more or less where it is today.

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The architecture is very grand, especially with all the elements considered as a whole. The buildings are angular, almost modular looking (the athlete’s village, not shown here, resembles very closely the Whiskey Jack neighbourhood in Nordic/Highlands).

Overall, this Olympic Village would have had a more purpose-built feel than today’s actual village; you’d never be more than a stone’s throw from the ski-jumping arena, the the ice rink, or the biathlon course. Despite such differences,  you can still see the influential role it played in leading to the Whistler we have today: the village location, elements of architectural design, perhaps more.

Whether you prefer the designs or today’s village,  and whether the reality would have actually matched these preliminary sketches, are matters for debate. Regardless, these drawings offer endless opportunity for pondering what could have been.

Olympic (pre)Vision

One of the most difficult, but fascinating aspects of history is trying to look back on past events without your view being completely skewed by hindsight. An obvious example, “Of course Whistler developed into an internationally renowned mega resort, look how amazing the [insert mountains/snow/forests/your preferred factor here] are!”

Nothing builds itself (except cranes, of course). So discerning those characters who foresaw the future and then helped make it happen is always rewarding. One such discovery was made while digging through our Cliff Fenner files.

Fenner climbing in Garibaldi Park.

Fenner climbing in Garibaldi Park.

In March of 1960, Fenner, along with interested “press, radio and board of trade representatives” participated in a helicopter survey of Garibaldi Park in search of potential Olympic venues. Based out of Diamond Head Chalet (near today’s Elfin Lakes Hut), they even had skiers sampling specific runs to test their suitability.

Although the ski terrain was fantastic, it was during these reconnaissance flights that Sidney Dawes, Canadian representative with the International Olympic Committee, decided that it was not suitable as an Olympic venue because access was complex and the terrain even moreso.  A valley bottom development was preferred. Famously, Dawes selected London Mountain as the site for Olympic and ski area development.

Dawes rightfully deserves credit for the decision to develop Whistler rather than Diamond Head, but it is clear from Fenner’s reports that he shared Dawes sentiments. As the person on these flights with the most first-hand knowledge of Garibaldi Park’s extensive terrain, it is not unlikely that he helped inform Dawes’ decision.

A few weeks after the initial helicopter flights Fenner embarked on more ground- level observations of the Cheakamus Lake and London Mountain area. His snow measurements indicated similar depths to the Diamond Head region—more than two meters deep at 4800 feet (1460 meters) on March 19, a poor snow year according to Fenner—but with a more favourable climate that was slightly colder and drier than areas closer to the coast.

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Fenner taking a rest from one of his many mountain explorations.

Moreover, he suggested that just west of Cheakamus Lake (that is, the Cheakamus Crossing and Function Junction area) would make an ideal base area development that provided great access to both the mountain and any potential highway linking Alta Lake to Vancouver. With the expected ski lifts Fenner described “immediate access to high level ski touring and summer hiking areas of tremendous potential, [especially] London Mountain to Singing Pass.” Clearly, there was some profound foresight at work here, no doubt the product of Cliff’s keen analytic mind and intimate knowledge of the south Coast Mountains environment.