Tag Archives: 1980s

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

“Last person leaving Whistler, please turn out the lights.”

Spring in Whistler is so full of distractions (skiing, biking, golfing, climbing, WSSF, Dine In Whistler…) you might be excused if you hadn’t noticed that a provincial election campaign is well underway.

Regardless of your level of awareness, the election is happening May 14th, and it matters. Want proof? Well if it weren’t for some very heavy involvement by our provincial government three decades ago, Whistler as we know it simply would not exist.

By 1980 the highway from Vancouver had finally been paved, the RMOW had been formed, Blackcomb Mountain was shaking up the ski scene, and construction was well underway turning Eldon Beck’s vision for Whistler Village into reality.

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But what should have been a time to rejoice was quickly turning into a nightmare scenario.

A major recession hit North America in late 1981. The economy was failing, real estate sales plummetted, interest rates were in the %20-%25 range, and the Whistler Village Land Company (the provincial crown corporation set up to oversee the development of Whistler Village) was on the verge of bankruptcy. As long-time Whistlerite and ski-resort-management guru Peter Alder recalls, the mood was so pessimistic that a common catchphrase around town was “Last person leaving Whistler, please turn out the lights.”

At this point construction was very much  underway on the original village plan (which spans from Skier’s Plaza to the pedestrian bridge over Village Gate boulevard), but several buildings remained in varying states of construction:  exposed re-bar, concrete foundations, and boarded-up windows were everywhere. There was a serious risk that the original design for the village would be abandoned, undeveloped lots would be sold off to recover debts, and these properties would then be developed without any over-arching design.

Thankfully, the provincial government, then led by Bill Bennett Jr.’s Social Credit Party, began investigations to see whether saving Whistler was even worthwhile. Satisfied that Whistler wasn’t a lost cause, accomplished and well-connected BC businessman Chester Johnson was put in charge of a restructured Whistler Land Company, with $21 million of provincial funds to kickstart the reboot.

Mr. Johnson’s determined leadership was just what the doctor ordered. He oversaw the reconstruction of the conference centre so that it better suited the resort’s needs, fought off calls to bring in a casino, while respecting the architectural sensibilities of the original Whistler Village design. By 1984 some normalcy was returning to the situation, and Whistler was once again set upon a successful bearing.

It’s hard to say what exactly would have happened had the BC government chosen not to intervene (a politically expedient decision at the time; recall the wide-ranging calls for austerity following the 2008 recession) is impossible to predict, but it was clear at the time, and perhaps even moreso in hindsight, that the decision would have a huge influence on Whistler’s future.

All that to say: those who think that provincial politics  have no impact inside our cozy little Whistler bubbles… you’re wrong. There are many more examples than the above story, but probably none so dramatic.

From bitumen pipelines, natural gas plants, and IPP hydro facilities, to tourism promotion, post-secondary education, healthcare funding, our rising deficit, arts & culture and more, there are many contentious issues at play in the upcoming election. Make sure to come out to Monday’s all-candidates meeting at the Whistler Public Library, where you’ll have a chance to ask pointed questions and get informed on the issues that matter most to you.

Then make sure you’re registered, and show up to vote on May 14th at the Whistler Conference Center, courtesy of Chester Johnson.

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For more stories from Whistler’s past check the Whistler Museum’s blog!

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.