Tag Archives: Blackcomb Mountain

Speaker Series: 30 Years of Flying Over Whistler

If the idea of soaring above Whistler held aloft by a polyester or nylon canopy and a harness appeals to you, paragliding might be just the sport for you.

Described as a cross between hang gliding and parachuting, paragliding evolved through the 2950s and 60s before first being marketed as a sport and recreational activity in 1965 and gaining popularity through the 70s and 80s.  Unlike hang gliders, paragliders have no rigid structure, using instead a wing or canopy made of fabric and forming cells which are inflated by the incoming air.  Suspension lines from the wing are attached to the harness in which the pilot sits and the pilot steer using brakes attached to each side of the wing.

A paraglider flies over Whistler Village.

Though invented by an American, the sport of paragliding was quickly adopted by Europeans while gaining far fewer early converts in North America.  Like most sports, however, it was only a matter of time before paragliding was introduced in Whistler.

A paraglider with Blackcomb Mountain in the background.

Janet and Joris Moschard, already accomplished paragliders, moved to Whistler in 1987 and began flying in the valley.  A year later Janet and Joris opened Parawest Paragliding and in December of 1988 they began teaching the sport on Blackcomb Mountain, the only mountain resort in North America to offer lessons on this “exciting new aeronautical sport”.  If you skied Blackcomb in the late 1980s and 90s, you may have seen the brightly coloured paragliders spread out on a run and watched as beginners and experienced pilots took off on their skis and soared down the mountain above you.

Operating in both the summer and winter months, Parawest Paragliding offered tandem flights for those wishing to simply experience flight and one-day beginner courses for those looking to fly themselves.  Students began at base-camp with an introduction to the harness, described by one as sitting in a Jolly Jumper®, before gradually learning the steps to flying on the hill and ending the day having taken two or three short flights.

Janet and Joris recently donated several videotapes of media coverage of Parawest Paragliding and local paragliding events to our archives.  Including media interviews with Whistler locals, stunning views of the Whistler valley in the 80s and 90s and coverage of Parawest’s Annual meet and Costume Events, these tapes are currently being digitized and will provide a great visual aid when discussing paragliding in Whistler.

A paraglider comes down to land near Whistler Village.

Wednesday, April 19 the Museum will be welcoming Janet and Joris Moschard, as well as other paragliding pioneers in the area, to share tales, knowledge and footage from their thirty years of flying over Whistler as part of our Speaker Series.  Doors will open for the event at 6 pm and their talk will begin at 7 pm.  Tickets are available at the Whistler Museum.

The Lone Bagel

The Eighties are often remembered, fairly or unfairly, for questionable fashion and pop culture aesthetics, but here in Whistler it was a transformative era that saw the resort reach brand new heights. One of the key figures in Whistler’s rise during this period is Lorne Borgal, and we were lucky enough to have him participate in our recent Speaker Series soiree, plus he recorded an oral history interview with us, which help us outline some of his many contributions to Whistler.

Lorne Borgal, 1980s.

Lorne Borgal, 1980s.

Lorne arrived in Whistler in June 1980 with a fresh MBA from Stanford University, driving up from California within days of graduating. He had been hired by Hugh Smythe to help manage a nascent Blackcomb Mountain. As he recalls, “from accounting, marketing, sales, to any of the operating entities, ski patrol, lift operations or anything to be ready for opening day, on the operating side fell to me.” Needless to say, the days were long and the learning curve was steep.

All the business school in the world couldn’t have prepared him for having to wire the telephone lines himself when BC-Tel was on strike, or having to play traffic cop to help skiers get home to Vancouver after a busy day on the slopes. As is the case with so many of our resort’s leaders over the years, Lorne had an ingrained determination to get the job done by whatever means necessary.

As the following audio clip demonstrates, recorded during our December 2015 Speaker Series event, there was no shortage of challenges during Blackcomb Mountain’s early days:

After three seasons Lorne was ready to move on, but fate had other plans. While on vacation in Europe (his first vacation in three years), he received a phone call from Whistler Mountain marketing executive Mike Hurst (who, coincidentally, sat beside Lorne at the Speaker Series), informing Lorne that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Lorne was being considered as his replacement as Whistler Mountain President. Lorne happily accepted the new job, but not before completing his Mediterranean tour.

Here he is at the the December 10 1983 ceremony dedicating the newly named Franz’s Run in honour of outgoing President Franz Wilhelmsen.

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For the next six years Lorne oversaw the mountain during a period of intense competition with the upstart Blackcomb. He was at the helm of major projects such as the construction of Pika’s Restaurant – Whistler’s first proper on-mountain eatery, the visionary installatios of the original Peak Chair and the Village Gondola, leading international trade missions to expand the resort’s global reach, and updating Whistler Mountain’s management and customer service to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

Since leaving Whistler Mountain Lorne has served as an executive for a global software company, President of two other resorts, and continues to consult globally for upstart ski resorts around the world. His contributions to Whistler are most notably recognized up in the Whistler alpine, where Bagel Bowl refers to a playful nickname of his, “the Lone Bagel.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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. 

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Al Raine – Ski Industry Legend, Visionary, and a Pretty Cool Dude

When ski racing legend Al Raine made the move to Whistler in 1973, he had already established himself as head coach and program director of the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team at the age of 32. Around this time, the provincial government was looking for an individual to provide technical expertise and coordinate provincial ski expansion, as well as oversee the development of Whistler as a tourist destination resort. With his extensive background in the ski industry, Raine was the perfect candidate to act as a liaison between the municipality and the provincial government. Thus, Al was approached about a position and he accepted in May 1974. As acting Ski Area Coordinator of B.C. and alderman for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), one of Al’s first tasks was assisting in the building of a sewer plant that would service the entire valley.

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With the completion of the new sewer system, the Whistler council turned their attention to creating a central village. When the government asked their appointed ski coordinator to report on the realistic achievable goals for Whistler, Al remained positive that it had the potential to become a world-class ski resort, despite the weakness that was B.C.’s coastal climate. He was confident that with good skiing on the upper mountains, solid lifts, and a village, success would be imminent. At the same time, this meant that more lifts were vital, seeing as upward of 2400 people could be seen standing in line for hours at a time, waiting to get onto a mountain with a capacity of 600 skiers per hour.

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The original Resort Municipality of Whistler Council. Pictured from left to right: Alderman Bob Bishop, Alderman Al Raine, Treasurer Geoff Pearce, Mayor Pat Carleton, Alderman John Hetherington, Alderman Gary Watson

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Al Raine and wife, Nancy Greene Raine, enjoying a day out on the slopes

With local government starting to take shape, Al began to look toward the possibility of a future for Blackcomb. In September of 1976, he put out a proposal call to develop the mountain. After months of silence, a bid finally came in from the Aspen Ski Corporation of Colorado in joint venture with the Canadian Federal Business Development Bank. Once final terms were ironed out and the deal agreed upon, investors had the go ahead to complete phase one of development, and on December 6, 1980, Blackcomb Mountain opened with 1240 vertical meters of skiing available.

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Al Raine shaking hands with Whistler’s first mayor, Pat Carleton, ca. 1975

Al’s position as B.C.’s ski area coordinator included more than just Whistler. He also studied 45 areas province wide, giving site evaluations on their probability. In 1980, Al stepped down from his position and took the job of General Manager of the newly formed Whistler Resort Association. The organization was responsible for scheduling events at Whistler while providing basic information, central reservations, and marketing promotions for the resort. Today, Al and his wife Nancy can be seen in Whistler skiing, golfing, and playing tennis. After years of hard work and dedication, Al Raine has the opportunity to enjoy the vision of Whistler that he assisted in creating.

The Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival is Reeling into Town

Crankworx isn’t the only thing drawing visitors from across the world to our mountain resort this week. On Saturday August 15, the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival is reeling into town. For those that have yet to see one of the many Youtube videos of cheese rolling, allow me to shed some light on the hilarious and moderately dangerous festivity.

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Competitors are encouraged to get into costume and display their unique creativity during the competition. Photo from http://www.crankworx.com

cheeserolling2While this is only the 8th year that the cheese festival will be taking place in Canada, the act of cheese rolling has been a long time tradition on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, UK. The exact origins of where cheese rolling began are unclear, though it is known that the event has been taking place annually in Gloucester for hundreds of years. The premise of the competition is incredibly simple: an 11-pound wheel of cheese is rolled down a hill and everyone chases after it, enduring falls, scrapes, and tumbles in their attempt to catch the cheese and claim victory.

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Cheese rolling in Gloucester, UK consists of sprinting down a hill that is almost entirely vertical, causing most competitors that fall to tumble down the length of the course. Photo from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

It is to my knowledge that none of the Canadian cheese rolling participants have sustained any serious injuries thus far. However, this is not the case for the Cooper’s Hill competitors. Given that the hill is almost entirely vertical, the majority of racers that do slip end up tumbling down the entire course. Not only are competitors warned of the possible danger of competing, but spectators are now also given this same warning as one onlooker was seriously injured after being hit by the cheese during the Gloucester competition a few years back.

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A proud winner displays his prize. Photo from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

During my research, I discovered an interesting tidbit of information about the tradition. With the introduction of food rationing during the Second World War in 1941, the ability to produce a full sized cheese for the purpose of entertainment became an impossible task. In order to keep the contest alive and well, the cheese wheel was replaced by a wooden wheel with a small hole inside the packaging that contained a tiny piece of cheese. The wooden wheel was covered in paper and decorated with the familiar red and blue ribbons to resemble the customary cheese wheel. It wasn’t until 1954 that a real cheese was once again used.

We’ve talked a lot about the history of cheese rolling, but this is just a small portion of the many events offered at the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival. The event will also be hosting a costume contest, cheesy twister, face painting, and a spread of Canadian cheeses to sample and buy. Did I mention that the winners of the cheese rolling competition also win two ski season passes to Whistler Blackcomb?! With so much to gain and not much to lose, I can guarantee you’ll be seeing me dressed up in a bike helmet and pads sprinting down that hill come Saturday.

The Festival will be taking place on Saturday, August 15 at the base of Blackcomb Mountain from 12 – 4 pm.

Challenging Mother Nature: Glacier Skiing & Riding

With daily temperatures reaching 20°C, lakes warming up, and the faint hint of sun tans beginning to appear, this can only mean one thing… summer is coming. Despite Whistler Blackcomb boasting the longest ski season in North America, June 7th 2015 marks the end of an extended ski season in Whistler for many. However, this is not the case for those die-hard skiers and boarders that defy the stereotypical image of a summer spent laying out on the beach with a cold drink in hand. For those wanting to get their ski/ride fix while simultaneously working on their tan (or goggle tan, to be more exact), you’re in luck as glacier skiing atop Blackcomb Mountain opens this year on June 20th.

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One of two T-bars servicing the Horstman Glacier

While taking a look through our archive, I came across a 1980s video on summer glacier skiing on Whistler peak. It would seem that “ski bums” have been finding ways to escape the bustle of the mountain base and extend their ski season into June and July since the inception of Whistler Mountain in 1965, even before the merging of Whistler and Blackcomb in 1997/98. If you thought the trek from the base to Blackcomb’s peak was extensive, involving a ride up two chairlifts, followed by a bus ride to the base of the 7th Heaven Express, this is rather a simple means of transportation compared to what those dedicated snow bunnies did to reach some summertime snow in the 1980s.

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A photo of Toni Sailor’s Summer Ski Camp, 1969.
Back row from left to right: Dan Irwin, Yves Benvene, Roddy Hebron, Andy Shall, Dag Aabye, Wayne Booth, Toni Sailor, Al Menzies.
Front row from left to right: Alan White, Nancy Greene, Karen Dotta, Colin Haffrey, Roy Ferris.

As the video reveals, the trek from Whistler base to its glacier used to involve a 45 minute ride up the chairlift, followed by a 20 minute hike at 6000 feet across the face of Whistler mountain. Unlike today, in which Horstman Glacier is open to anyone looking to get some T-shirt clad skiing and riding in, glacier skiing during this time of year was only available to those registered in a ski camp. With less time-consuming transportation routes to Blackcomb’s peak now in operation and the ever-growing popularity of Whistler Blackcomb, glacier skiing has gone from being exclusive to those that are very serious about the sport to being accessible by all. That being said, due to the vertical of the glacier, its terrain park features, and world-class race training facilities, it tends to draw a crowd of more advanced/expert skiers and riders.

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Whistler’s summer ski camps offer world class race training facilities, drawing some of the best ski racers in North America

Regular operating hours for the Horstman Glacier are from 12:00 pm to 3:00pm daily, but for those that are eager to get a start on their summertime training, participating in one of Whistler’s many ski camps has its bonuses. These include earlier upload times and select private ski areas. Some of the more long-standing camps include the Camp of Champions, Treeline Summer Camps (formerly the Dave Murray Summer Ski and Snowboard Camp), and Momentum Ski Camp.

While I remain strictly a winter skier, I find the dedication of those willing to challenge mother nature and look for a different way to spend their summer months to be inspiring. As a relatively new Whistler local, I am delighted to become a part of a community that simply loves skiing and snowboarding.

Post by Alexandra Gilliss

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