Tag Archives: Chris Leighton

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.

This Week in Photos: January 11

We’re starting something new on our blog for this year!  Every week we’ll be sharing our own version of #tbt (Throwback Thursday) using photos from the Whistler Question from 1978 to 1985 and, wherever possible, the original captions.  When the collection was donated the negatives were very helpfully organized by week, which means we actually know when the photos were taken or published!  Some years do have some missing weeks, but what we’ve got we’ll share with you.  So, if you’ve ever wondered what this week in Whistler used to look like, read on.

1979

An airplane takes off on the snow from the Mons’ airstrip.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge.

The White Gold Inn.

1980

The Status Board at the top of the lifts on Whistler Mountain.

The view from the lineup at the Blue Chair, today the location of the Harmony Chair.

Photos of Havana, Cuba were provided by Paul & Jane Burrows after their recent trip to warmer climes.

1981

Ted Pryce-Jones, manager, poses near the pop in the new grocery store soon to open in the Village.

The Mad Trapper was put up for sale recently.  Volkswagen not included.

Clock Tower sports a new Omega clock face installed during the past week.

Blackcomb’s new triple chair in operation. Though you can’t see it in this photo, below the treeline there was barely any snow yet.

Meg Watt and Chris Leighton take time out to smile for the camera while working behind the cafeteria counter at the top of Blackcomb.

1982

And they’re off… into a tangle of skis and poles at the start of the ALSC half marathon Sunday, January 10.

Laurel Gibbard and Louise Edwards provide some smiling service for the first customers in the Hofbrau Haus on Saturday, January 9. The 85-seat bar, located in the old Boot premises, was open 4 pm – 1 am six days a week and Sundays from 4 pm to 11 pm.

Don Ross and Hugh Smythe of Blackcomb stand with Willie Whistler and Pierre and Justin Trudeau in the Whistler Village Square.

Hot stuff – the Pemberton Red Devils came up with this beautiful downhiller to walk away with $300 and a shared first place victory. Shot glasses of fuel rested on the skier’s back.

1983

Skiers braved high winds, blinding snow and dampening rains to spend some time on the slopes Sunday. Despite bad weather Whistler Mountain had 6,200 skiers from Friday to Sunday, while Blackcomb drew 4,100 over the weekend.

Whistler Council in its first formal portrait. (l to r) Alderman Bill Peterson, Alderman David O’Keefe, Administrator Geoff Pearce, Mayor Mark Angus, Municipal Clerk Kris Shoup Robinson, Alderman Bernie Hauschka and Alderman Terry Rodgers.

A 15 foot high boulder crashed down onto the northbound lane of Highway 99 in Cheakamus Canyon Friday night. Crews blasted the rock away Monday morning as the Pacific storm which caused the slide continued with torrential rainfall in the Whistler area.

1985

Rod Grange and crew from Skiing Video Productions are filming a winter movie for Whistler Mountain during the next seven weeks.

Blowing wind creates sand-like ripples on Green Lake.