Tag Archives: 1980s

A Look Back at Whistler in 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four.  No, I’m not referring to George Orwell’s seminal work of fiction, nor am I referring to the album released by Van Halen with songs like “Jump”.  1984 was a significant year in the development of Whistler as a year-round resort destination.

In 1982, Whistler Mountain successfully hosted a World Cup Downhill race after several early attempts were thwarted due to bad weather and poor snow conditions.  Two years later, in March 1984, the second successfully held World Cup race would draw thousands to Whistler Village.  It was one of the most successful promotions to date and would help solidify Whistler as a host for future World Cup events throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Spectators at the 1984 World Cup in Whistler Village.

Whistler and the nascent Blackcomb were four years into their competition to attract skiers to the resort and this was reflected in the advertising for both mountains.

The Whistler Golf Course and Club designed by Arnold Palmer opened to much fanfare in 1983.  It had a successful first year in operation, but would the second year draw the same number of visitors to Whistler?

Since the completion of Whistler Village, it had been a struggle to attract visitors to Whistler outside of the ski season.  A key component was on hold due to the economics of the early 1980s with high interest rates and lending institutions not willing to broker terms.  In 1984, however, the construction of the Sports and Convention Centre was back underway.

Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor had been used in many ski and outdoor adventure films, but had started to catch the eye of Hollywood and Japanese TV productions.  This led to a Japanese TV company filming a yogurt commercial here starring Sean Connery.

Sean Connery seen filming a Japanese commercial for Biogurt on the Whistler Golf Course in September, 1984.

“They need a strong, healthy, clean image, and 007 fit the part,” said production coordinator Martin Yokata.

The sport of mountain biking had grown to include officially sponsored events and would begin to attract more events to Whistler that would draw competitors from across Canada and the United States,  As has been detailed in other articles, the Great Earth, Snow and Water race was in its heyday and a number of other festivals and events attempted to draw visitors to Whistler in the spring, summer and fall.

Over the next few weeks, stay tuned for more stories detailing the importance of 1984 and the impact it had on determining Whistler as a year-round resort destination.

Speaker Series – Whistler’s Amazing Eighties!

Every decade of Whistler’s history has a unique story to tell. The 1960s saw the optimistic launch of a brand new ski resort, the 70s were the free-spirited days of squatters and ski bums, and the 80s were when Whistler really got down to business.

The construction of Whistler Village and the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980 were instrumental to Whistler’s ascendance on the world stage. Intrawest’s mid-decade arrival and Rob Boyd’s heroic hometown victory in 1989, not to mention the arrival of alpine chairlifts, an influx of Japanese powderhounds, and a new era in resort-oriented marketing count among other major milestones.

griffith2037-l

Of the 1980s numerous noteworthy developments, many would argue that ski fashion was not one of them

Despite the grand vision of Whistler’s earliest boosters, it was during the 1980s that Whistler developed from a regional ski hill to a global destination resort.

The Whistler Museum is excited to announce the launch of our 2015/16 Speaker Series on Sunday December 13th with an evening discussion featuring key figures who oversaw Whistler’s transformation during this pivotal decade.

poster_Dec13_2015.jpg

Lorne Borgal ski photo

Lorne Borgal, 1980s.

The evening’s presenters are as follows:

Lorne Borgal -Lorne’s Whistler career began in the 1970’s on the Volunteer Ski Patrol, and accelerated in June 1980 when, with a fresh Stanford MBA, he was hired to manage the business side of a nascent Blackcomb Mountain. Three years later he succeeded Franz Wilhelmsen as the second ever CEO of Whistler Mountain, and soon after that he took over as Chair of the Whistler Resort Association (predecessor to Tourism Whistler).

Mike Hurst – Mike’s first taste of Whistler came in 1971 while working as a marketing executive for Labatt’s Brewing. He quickly established a strong business relationship with the resort, but clearly it wasn’t enough. In the early 1980s he made the move to Whistler full-time, accepting a position in Whistler Mountain’s marketing department. He stayed with the resort through the decade, spearheading many groundbreaking promotional campaigns, and even running the Whistler Resort Association at one point, before returning to the iconic Canadian brewery in 1989.

ACCESS WMA_P89_0388_WMSC

Mike Hurst, 2nd from right, presenting the grand prize for an unknown promotion, early 1980s.

archive20wma_p89_0963_wmsc-s

A young Bob Dufour poses for his official Ski School portrait, 1970s.

Bob Dufour – As a ski instructor from Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, Bob Dufour came west to work for the legendary Jim McConkey in 1972. Nearly 44 years later, Bob continues with Whistler-Blackcomb having worked under every president from Franz Wilhelmsen to Dave Brownlie and witnessing firsthand an incredible amount of change. He currently holds the position of Vice President – Mountain Operations.

With the panel’s wealth of knowledge and experience, this evening promises to be a compelling and enlightening look at an often overlooked period in Whistler’s history.

When: Sunday December 13th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

About Whistler Museum’s Speaker Series:

More than mere repositories of old stuff, museums are institutions of ideas, venues where communities share, debate, and explore their thoughts on the world at large. To that end the Whistler Museum hosts regular Speaker Series events featuring presentations on a diversity of subjects: from the usual suspects of mountain culture and adventure travel, to the environment, design, current events, and beyond.

The 2015/16 season will run monthly, December-May. In celebration of Whistler-Blackcomb’s 50th anniversary, all of this year’s events will focus on ski and snowboard history.

These events offer the perfect opportunity for locals and visitors alike to encounter compelling stories in a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. All Speaker Series events have a cash bar and non-alcoholic refreshments. Coffee provided courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company. 

whistler roasting co banner layout 2005 R1

Suitcase Race (Part Two)

The suitcase race discussed in last week’s blog post was co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987. The organizer of this event, Bruce Portner, stated in the article Hundreds pull together for publicity event by Larry McCallum, that many celebrity events do not succeed which is why “the two and one half days will have to be packed with eye-catching, unusual activities to appeal both to the celebrities and the media”. Flinging yourself down a ski hill on top of a suitcase certainly fits into that category. CP Air sponsored the suitcase race and the Star dinner event raised $30,000 for helping to immunize children against polio.

Many stars attended this event including Richard Roundtree who played John Shaft in the Shaft movies, and TV series. He also made appearances on shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Heros. Olivia Barash known for her roles in Fame (1987), Out of the Blue (1979), and Patty Hearst (1988) also attended the events.

suitcase_race028

Richard Roundtree getting ready for the race. Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988 

The next year (1988), the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational Act II took place in the middle of April. The Black Tie Ball promised “A full Hollywood-style variety show” with Dynasty’s own Emma Samms as host, and performances by Platinum Blonde and Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

suitcase_race031

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

The Pepsi Celebrity Act III took place on April 13th to the 16th, 1989. On April 13th, 1989 the Whistler Question published an article stating that the goal of this year’s Suitcase Race, which was sponsored by American Airlines, was for two teams of two racers to sit in a suitcase and “speed down the slope above the Solar Coaster quad chair.” The object was not only to be the first across the finish line but also to “make it down the slope without falling out or flipping over the plastic luggage case.”

suitcase_race035

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Emma Samms returned to Whistler for the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational of 1989. The proceeds of the weekend were once again donated to the Starlight Foundation,  founded in 1982 by Samms and her cousin Peter Samuelson, which grants wishes to chronically ill children.

The 1989 event boasts stories of Tommy Lee of Motley Crue getting a Ski Esprit instructor to help find gloves that he dropped from the chairlift, as well as Lee nearly taking out the race shack at the bottom of the Orange race course on Whistler Mountain. Another story from the event describes Gil Gerard (who played Buck Rogers in the Buck Rogers TV show) accidentally stabbing Sean Vancour with his ski pole.

racebringstarsdown

The Whistler Question April 20th, 1989

After Act III had concluded there was a lot of talk about the event not continuing. As far as I can find, from digging through the Whistler Question archive, there were no more Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational’s or suitcase races held on Blackcomb Mountain.

suitcase_race022

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Suitcase Race (Part One)

For those of us at the Museum who have not worked, or lived, in Whistler for long, it is always great when people who had lived around Alta Lake in the early days drop in and say hello. It is wonderful to get firsthand experiences of Whistler’s history and to take our eyes out of the archives. This is what happened last week when a couple came in to see if the Museum had a book they were looking for. Through our discussion they told me about a suitcase race that was held on Blackcomb Mountain in the 1980s. This peaked my interest, as anyone traveling down a ski hill in a suitcase sounds amazing. I went to the Whistler Library to dig through old copies of The Whistler Question to see what I could find. There was surprisingly little information to be found about what I assumed would be a hilarious event to bring athletics and non-athletics together.

suitcase_race027

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

 

It seems that the first one took place on March 10th, 1984 and was called the Samsonite Media Celebrity Race. The event description in the Whistler Question went as following:

To be held on Blackcomb Mountain, possibly the downhill of the decade ­– a definite “photo opportunity.” Celebrities and press alike compete on a treacherous two-part course. The course is a downhill designed for racers piloting the latest in Samsonite’s Nagahide bobsled. Only Samsonite could take this beating. Definitely a spectator’s event. Free admission, refreshments available.

My favorite part of this is that there are very little clues as to what is going to take place but that “Only Samsonite could take this beating.” On March 15th, 1984 there is a small mention of how the event went in The Whistler Question’s Notes from All Over section. Stating that the MC of the event, Greg Lee, did a great job announcing the race in both French and English and that Dennis Waddingham’s racing helmet was a good idea.

suitcase_race034

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

A year later, on March 14th, 1985, an article was published in The Whistler Question about the event now called the Chillers Suitcase Slalom.

Sliding down a mountain on pieces of metal and fiberglass is one thing. But how about doing that in a suitcase? For a slightly different downhill experience, the Chillers Suitcase Slalom on Blackcomb is the prefect solution. Organizers are calling it a soapbox derby on snow. The jury’s still out on what the competitors will call it. The suitcase slalom will take place on a specially prepared 100 m course on Chair 2 Sunday March 31 at 2 p.m. Teams of two with each participant sitting in one half of an open suitcase race head-to-head against another team. Blackcomb provides the suitcases. The race is designed for anyone working for a Whistler business…“It will be the best laugh of the spring,” say organizers.

In the April 4th 1986 The Sports Column by Mike Youds, Youds pokes fun at the National Ski team stating that the team “ought to bypass summer training camps and enlist team members in hotel and restaurant jobs to get them in shape.” He goes on to report that the teams in the hospitality trades performed much better than any profession or trade in the race. “Even the airline industry, with two of the Murray brothers on the team (no on could boast as much air time as these guys have) couldn’t catch up with the likes of the Creek House Canines and the Highland Highballs.”

This event was then co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987, which I will discuss in Part two of the Suitcase Race Blog next week.

suitcase_race036

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme.

Saudan Couloir Extreme was an infamous ski race that was held on Blackcomb Mountain starting in the spring of [1987]. With the race dropping 2500 vertical feet from the top of Saudan Couloir, down to the bottom of Jersey Cream Chair, it went on to gain an international reputation as a classic extreme race.

Radical Super-G course indeed.

Radical Super-G course indeed.

After the development of 7th Heaven, which opened up a vast area of mostly alpine and glacier skiing, Blackcomb Ski Resort began to develop an event that would profile its unique terrain. The Saudan Couloir run was chosen, as it was the only black diamond run in the area at the time.

Andrea Marchland. Fastest woman at the Saudan Couloir Race in 1992

Andrea Marchland. Fastest woman at the Saudan Couloir Race in 1992

The first 2 years the event was held, major snowstorms covered the run days before the race, and because grooming equipment couldn’t get down the 42 degree slope of the couloir there were major ruts on the course.

Chris Kent, a former member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, became the inaugural champion of the event, and held the title until Graham Swann ended his four year reign as king of the Saudan Couloir in 1991.

 One of the amazing Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme posters designed by Brent Lynch. These retro classics can be found in hardcore homes throughout the valley

One of the amazing Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme posters designed by Brent Lynch. These retro classics can be found in hardcore homes throughout the valley

The Saudan Couloir became such a popular event during this period that TSN (The Sports Network), a popular Canadian sports channel, began filming the event to be broadcast as a 30-minute special.

Blackcomb Ski Resort produced TV Spots and highlight reels to help promote the event. The video below contains footage from the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme held in 1988. With Mono Skis, on the fly tune ups, full spandex onesies, and a few yard sales, this was a race event that was not to be missed.