Tag Archives: Blackcomb Mountain Collection

Dining on the Mile High Mountain

The smell of fresh doughnuts, french fries made from scratch, and fine dining on the mountain top. Baked goods, including those giant cookies, sandwiches and hot food worth freezing for; Blackcomb Mountain took on-mountain dining in the 1980s and stepped it up a notch.

When they opened in 1980, Blackcomb had a real focus on hospitality, making guests comfortable to encourage return visits. Before Merlin’s or Crystal or Glacier Lodge, you may remember dining at the cafeteria at Base 2, the original base of Blackcomb, or the Rendezvous Lodge.

The original daylodge on Blackcomb was located in the area now known as Base 2. Whistler Question Collection.

The Parsons family were the first concessionaires on Blackcomb, opening these venues with the opening of the new mountain. Chris Leighton (née Parsons), her brother Steve, and their mum Lee were the brains and brawn behind the impressive operation. The Parsons family had the food business in their blood. In 1929, Chris’ grandfather had opened Jimmy’s Lunch at the PNE, which is still run by the family to this day. Christine’s father, Bob Parsons, also had a food stall that travelled the carnival circuit every year from May to October. He would be on the road all summer, then could spend the winter in the mountains, skiing with family and volunteering with Whistler Mountain Ski Club. Sadly Bob passed away in 1979, one year before his family opened the food services on Blackcomb.

The top of Blackcomb looked a little different when Rendezvous Lodge first opened. Whistler Question Collection.

When the cafeteria and Rendezvous opened, the cafeteria had a large preparation space and much of the food was made at the base and then transported up the mountain either by snowcat or by foot based on the amount of snow at the base. Unfortunately for Blackcomb, the first year of operation was a terrible snow year. There were three lifts to get up the mountain and they did not line up exactly, so food and supplies had to be skied from one lift to the next until they reached the snowcat. Inevitably, food would spill along the way.

Blackcomb hospitality staff. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Once there was enough snow, success was still not a given. Visitor numbers would come in at 11am and when there was not a single guest on the mountain they closed for the day.

According to Chris, the direction from Aspen Ski Company and Huge Smythe were, “’We don’t want to be like Whistler. We want to be better.’ Hugh would come through everyday and make sure the music wasn’t too loud and that it was expected that we were going to be bigger and better.”

Customer service training for Blackcomb staff. Whistler Question Collection.

When Blackcomb opened there were caretakers that lived at the top who were responsible for starting the doughnuts and fresh baking so wonderful smells welcomed the guests. The caretakers also put soups and chilli on to heat because regular staff could only upload 30 minutes before the mountain opened to the public.

While it is common to find vegetarian options on most menus today, in the 1980s it was quite unusual to have the choice of vegetarian or beef chilli which Blackcomb offered. Food was served on real crockery with real cutlery. They even flew a ‘fry guy’ over from England to train everyone in how to make french fries from scratch using a chipper.

Blackcomb food service staff, May 1983. Whistler Question Collection.

The food up Blackcomb during the Parsons’ reign is still raved about today. They went on to open Christine’s Restaurant, fine dining on top of the mountain named after Chris herself (much to her chagrin; Chris thought Wildflower or Lupin were better names but Hugh Smythe was adamant). Horstman Hut, Crystal Hut and Merlin’s were also opened during their time as concessionaires. After 10 years, and growing the staff from a daily requirement of around 10 to 100, the Parsons decided it was time for the next adventure and Blackcomb took over.

Some local faces enjoying Christine’s in the 1980s. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Images of Blackcomb

If you follow the Whistler Museum on social media, you will probably have noticed more images of Blackcomb Mountain appearing over the past year or so as we’ve been working to digitize the Blackcomb Mountain Collection. We’ve been sharing some of the more eye-catching and informative images that we’ve come across while digitizing. Next week we’ll be sharing even more of the Blackcomb Mountain Collection images in the hope of adding more information to the images.

The Blackcomb Mountain Collection includes over 22,000 promotional and candid images taken by over 30 photographers between 1980s and 1998. This period covers the mountain’s opening and its years in competition with neighbouring Whistler Mountain up until the two merged under Intrawest. Some of the photographers are well known for their photography work in the area, including Greg Griffith, Chris Speedie (of Toad Hall fame), and Paul Morrison, while others are perhaps better known for their work on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Hugh Smythe (then the President of Blackcomb Mountain Ski Enterprise) and David Perry (then in Blackcomb Mountain’s marketing department).

The Suitcase Race of 1988 is just one event pictured in the collection. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Greg Griffith.

The content included in the Blackcomb Mountain Collection varies widely. There are, of course, a lot of images of people skiing and, in the later years, snowboarding. There are also many images that were created to promote Blackcomb Mountain and so show people (often hired models) happily wearing ski gear in the sun, sharing a meal at one of Blackcomb’s restaurants, or eating giant cookies outside in the snow. There are also images of mountain facilities, retail stores, and a lot of Blackcomb branded clothing.

While we do not yet have a name for the woman pictured, many people shared their fond memories of the giant cookies when this photo was posted online. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, David Stoecklein, 1988.

Not all of the images, however, are quite so obviously stages and instead seem to be promoting Blackcomb Mountain simply by capturing what was happening on and around the mountain. These images include many events that were hosted on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Freestyle World Cups, Kids Kamp events, Can Am bike races, and the well-remembered celebrity Suitcase Races. There are also images of people paragliding with Parawest Paragliding, the company that Janet and Joris Moschard operated off of Blackcomb Mountain in the early 1990s, and street entertainers organized by the Whistler Resort Association drawing crowds both at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and throughout the Whistler Village.

Amongst all of these images, there are also a few series of images of Blackcomb staff and staff events from the early 1990s. These are the images to which we are hoping to add more information (specifically names and possibly job titles) at our next Naming Night at the Museum.

Just one of the photographs whose subjects got named at our first Naming Night back in 2018. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

If you haven’t been to a Naming Night before, the format is pretty simply. At 6 pm on Thursday, September 22, we’ll be posting about 100 images around the museum that we need more information about, including the series of Blackcomb staff. Everyone is welcome to come help us fill in the blanks, whether you recognize a face, a place, or an event, by writing the information on a post-it and sticking it to the image (paper and pens will be provided). This information will then be added to the image’s entry in our database, making it much more likely that the image will be included when someone searches for a specific person, place or event in our database or online galleries. We’ve also had hundreds of names added to our images by people across the world since moving Names Night online in 2020, so, if you’re not able to make it the museum, we will also be posting the images on our Facebook page on Friday, September 23. Whether in person or virtually, we hope to see you there!