Tag Archives: Creekside

Whistler’s Original On-mountain Dining

When Whistler Mountain opened to visitors in 1966 Franz Wilhelmsen was certain people would bring their own lunch and would not want to purchase food up the mountain. Originally the only place on the hill to purchase food was Garibaldi Cafeteria near the gondola base on Whistler Mountain (now Creekside).

The cafeteria first opened during construction of the lifts in 1965 to feed the influx of workers. Run by Leo and Soula Katsuris, the cafeteria was nothing fancy but it fed everyone quickly with limited resources. Once the lifts opened for visitors, the cafeteria transitioned to feeding skiers.

Creekside during construction. The Cafeteria is the large building in the middle. Janet Love Morrison Collection.

Garibaldi Cafeteria, often known as Whistler Cafeteria or simply ‘the cafeteria’, quickly became a community hub and remained in operation for over 15 years. Many of the original members of the volunteer ski patrol remember sleeping in the cafeteria when accommodation was tight. Weekly movie nights also moved to the cafeteria once it opened. This social night was so popular that locals from all around the valley would gather weekly to watch films. Tragically, in the early 1970s the cafeteria was also home to Whistler’s first recorded murder when a 20 year-old employee was shot and killed.

L’Après at the base of Whistler Mountain in Creekside. George Benjamin Collection.

In 1969, Leo Katsuris opened L’Après next to the cafeteria. Open from lunch until late, L’Après catered to a later crowd with pizza, Greek food and regular live music and parties, becoming Le Club in the evenings. The theme nights, including Beach Party and Western Night, were legendary. Eventually the Garibaldi Cafeteria was incorporated into the L’Après brand becoming L’Après Dining Room and Cafeteria, the centre of everything in Whistler at this time. The BC liquor board required food purchase to buy a drink, and nursing a ‘plastic cheese sandwich’ kept the beer flowing.

Greek Nights at L’Après included great entertainment and even better food. Whistler Question Collection.

Further up the mountain, the hungry skier market was capitalised on almost immediately when (William) Jack Biggin-Pound from Squamish set up a Coleman camp stove and picnic table to serve soup, sandwiches and hot drinks, as well as Mary’s famous cinnamon buns, in the Red Shack at the top of Red Chair. This moved to the Roundhouse after it was built in the summer of 1966 without any dining facilities.

The Katsuris’, who along with their staff were known colloquially as ‘The Greeks’, also managed the dining at the Roundhouse where everything had to be brought up the mountain pre-prepared. There was no power, storage or refrigeration until 1970 when renovations to the Roundhouse brought ‘a new modern electric food preparation and serving area’. This allowed a larger variety and amount of food to be prepared and served, including hot chocolate, fries, chilli, stew, hot dogs and chicken. They also started serving breakfast on the mountain for the first time.

The bustling Roundhouse in Spring 1968. Janet Love Morrison Collection.

Trying to predict demand was a real guessing game, based largely on the weather. Despite the new facilities, challenges in food preparation and logistics continued and there were very few updates to the food service on Whistler Mountain over the next ten years. The food service gained a poor reputation. According to one story, when the wait time for food at the Roundhouse was long, hamburger patties were only cooked on one side to speed up the cook time. Bob Penner, who lived in Whistler in the 1970s, said the hamburgers at the Roundhouse “made your regular canned meat or tuna taste so much better”.

Once the development of Blackcomb Mountain was announced, Whistler Mountain knew they needed to step up their hospitality. Whistler Mountain Ski Corp took over the existing food venues, redeveloping L’Après into Dusty’s, and, thanks to the competition with Blackcomb, the next decade brought many new and improved on-mountain dining options.

Visitors enjoying sunshine at the Roundhouse. Greg Griffith Collection.

Dusty’s Infamous Opening and Closing Parties

The events at Dusty’s are legendary; staff parties with the band playing from the roof, the celebration after Rob Boyd’s World Cup win in 1989, end of season parties, dressing up for theme nights, and scavenger hunts. Even amongst these events the opening and closing parties at Dusty’s stand out.

Dusty’s opened in 1983, after Whistler Mountain took over food and beverage on the mountain and redeveloped and rebranded L’Après. The massive opening celebration aimed to show off the new facility to the community, with a guest list stacked with ‘local dignitaries’ including Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain management, the RMOW, and local clergy.

Sue Clark serving cold drinks at Dusty’s. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Throughout the night the celebration ended up showing off a lot more than just the facility. As one version of this now-infamous event goes, right as the Reverend was blessing the new venue, Lady Godiva jumped ‘bareback’ onto the stuffed Dusty’s horse, shirt waving in the air like a lasso. With that, a legend was born and the new Whistler was open for business.

Dusty’s went on to become a popular spot for live music and a testing ground for up and coming entertainment, including the Poppy Family, and Doug and the Slugs. In 2000 it was announced that Creekside was to be redeveloped, including the demolition of Dusty’s. In honour of the incredible music scene, live music played each night in the week leading up to ‘Dusty’s Last Stand’ in April 2000.

Local rock band Foot in the Door at Dusty’s in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

The final weekend brought with it a disco party, retro fashion show, a prize for the person with the most Whistler Mountain passes, and of course, more live music. Local favourites who took the Dusty’s stage ‘one last time’ included Guitar Doug, Steve Wright, Dark Star, Pete and Chad and the Whole Damn County, and the Hounds of Buskerville.

Starting early in the afternoon, the crowds built until servers were required to walk a hundred metres up the base of Whistler Mountain to deliver orders. Once the sun set, the eager crowd dispersed or relocated inside. With the saloon packed with over 2000 people it was a sight to be seen, the mosh pit and stage diving like no other. The crowd was so wild that management nearly stopped the last band from taking the stage. Even with the twenty additional security personnel brought in specifically for the event, it was still difficult to manage the crowd intent on sending Dusty’s out in style.

Crowds also spilled out of Dusty’s during Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. Local legend Seppo can be seen on the far left. Whistler Question Collection.

With so much of Whistler’s history made in L’Après and Dusty’s, everyone was encouraged to record their memories before and during the event. Those with particularly fond memories were stealing tables and chairs as souvenirs, and there were some arrests in the afternoon and evening, including a snowboarder carrying on the local tradition of celebrating sans clothing. Rumours had been swirling that people were planning on burning the building down before it could be demolished but thankfully the gas canisters were found outside before anything happened.

Despite these few hiccups, according to David Perry, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Whistler Blackcomb, “It was probably the best party this valley has ever seen”. For a party town like Whistler, that is a big call. Within hours of the party ending the area was fenced off for demolition.

The story of Dusty’s does not end there. Only eight months later the modern Dusty’s had it’s ‘grand re-opening’ and playing on the new stage was none other than Guitar Doug’s band, the Hairfarmers.

Now that Dusty’s has reopened for the winter season the Hairfarmers will again be gracing the stage on Tuesday and Saturday each week, continuing the live music tradition.

Do you have any photos of L’Après or Dusty’s? We would love to add to our archives!

Whistler Mountain’s 20th Birthday

On February 9, 1985, Whistler Mountain decided to celebrate its 20th birthday with events and contests held on the mountain and at the Gondola Base (today known as Creekside). The Whistler Question stated that the goal of the celebrations was to “make everyone remember the good old days of ’65,” with food prices in Pika’s from 1965 and an Apres Ski party featuring music and styles from the 1960s. There was just one problem with this plan: in February 1965, no lifts had been built on Whistler Mountain yet. Whistler Mountain officially opened to the public on January 15, 1966, nineteen years before. This did not stop the lift company from throwing itself a 20th birthday party and inviting everyone to join in the festivities.

On the mountain, the lift company organized a scavenger hunt, a special Ski Scamps and Parents race on Ego Bowl, and a Celebrity Masters Classic on the Lower Gondola Run (today part of Dave Murray Downhill). This last competition pitted celebrities of the ski industry against Whistler Mountain skiers, as well as allowing in “selected members of the media who can wear skis – and think at the same time.” For those who wanted to watch a spectacle rather than compete, the ski school performed a synchronized ski demonstration and on the Saturday evening 175 skiers participated in a torchlight parade down the mountain.

Some participants in the adult portion of the Gondola Stuffing Contest. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

At the Gondola Base, the Gondola Stuffing Contest saw 27 kids stuffed into one four-person gondola and at Dusty’s the 1960s themed air band contest was won by Cate Webster’s group The Exciters. Outside, people danced to live music and the lift company cut into a giant 12 m birthday cake.

Just part of the 12 m birthday cake. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

The day before Whistler Mountain’s “birthday,” VIP meals had gathered together executives and staff from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains to cut a much smaller cake. Though some invitees couldn’t make it (Seppo Makinen, whose crews cut the first runs on Whistler Mountain, was detained in Vancouver and missed “the first time in 20 years the lift company was going to pay for a meal”), President of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises Hugh Smythe, himself a former Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. employee, was spotted wearing a Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain t-shirt for the occasion.

Blackcomb President Hugh Smythe (left) sports a Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain shirt next to Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation executives Peter Alder (middle) and Lorne Borgal (right). Whistler Question Collection, 1985

Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday was also a chance for the company and the community to reflect on the past twenty (or nineteen) years and the changes they had seen in such a short time. Three founding members of the lift company were asked how they felt about the milestone for the Question’s “Whistler Answers” column. Makinen said it felt “really good. It’s nice to see,” and Franz Wilhelmsen, the founding president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., told the paper “I think it’s fantastic. It has fulfilled everyone’s wildest dreams I think.” Stefan Ples, however, believed that at twenty years the ski operation was still young compared to European resorts and had plenty of potential. Ples told the paper, “It’s hardly started.”

The Exciters perform as the winners of the lift company’s 1960s-themed air band contest. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

According to a member of the lift company’s marketing team, the fact that Whistler Mountain hadn’t been operating for quite twenty years yet was not important. The economy was coming out the other side of a major recession that had hit tourism and the town of Whistler quite hard, and hosting a birthday party seemed like a great way to celebrate. The community seemed to agree, with over 1,500 people joining in some part of the festivities and showing that age really is just a number.

Celebrating Whistler’s Olympic Milestones

Over the coming weeks, there will be plenty of opportunities in Whistler to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games (including the Whistler Museum’s next temporary exhibit highlighting the volunteers of the Games, opening Friday, February 28!).  While many people may still be wondering how a decade has passed, this week we took a look even further back, to when the first Olympic bid was submitted by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) sixty years ago.

Following the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, a group from Vancouver very quickly organized a committee to explore the idea of hosting the Games in the Garibaldi Park region.  The California Games ended on February 28, and in March GODA invited Sidney Dawes, the Canadian representative to the International Olympic Committee, to assist in the search for an Olympic venue. Cliff Fenner, the Park Supervisor for Garibaldi Park, also assisted in the search, which included reconnaissance flights, snowmobile explorations, and test skiers.  London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain) was chosen as “a highly desirable area”, and by November 1960 GODA had put together a bid for the 1968 Olympic Winter Games which would have seen all events take place within the Whistler valley.

A group heads out to explore Garibaldi Park in search of an Olympic site, 1960. Cliff Fenner Collection

Creating a bid for the chosen site meant planning to build an entire Olympic site from scratch.  Alta Lake, as the area was known at the time, was comprised of a few lodges, summer cabins, and logging operations.  The valley was accessible by rail and courageous drivers could make their way up via service roads in the summer.  According to the 1968 bid book, prior to exploring possible Olympic sites, the provincial government had already spoken publicly of extended the highway that ran from North Vancouver to Squamish further north to Pemberton.

Other services we often take for granted today had also not yet reached Alta Lake.  The list of venues and facilities to be built in the valley for 1968 included not just sporting venues, but also a water supply system, sewers, sewage disposal, a substation for power supply, a fire station, and a hospital.

An official pamphlet promoting GODA’s 1968 Olympic bid.

Though the prospect of building all of this was daunting, in the bid book GODA pointed out that it had been done before, for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games that were held in Vancouver in 1954.  As they put it, “Here, too, a project was begun with nothing more than an idea, a desire to hold the event here, and an enthusiasm that made the project become a reality… Given the go-ahead, work will begin to transform the Whistler Mountain area into one of the finest sites ever developed for the Olympic Winter Games.”

This site became the gondola base, today known as Creekside, but before 1965 it was pretty bare. Wilhelmsen Collection

As we know, the 1968 Olympic Winter Games were not held on Whistler Mountain (they were held in Grenoble, France), but that did not mean that all of the work of surveying, planning, and negotiating with provincial powers was for nought.  Instead, GODA formed a sister organization, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., to develop Whistler Mountain as a ski resort, Olympics or not.

Like the bid for 1968, a tremendous amount of work was done in a relatively short time in order to open Whistler Mountain for skiing in January 1966.  The ideas and enthusiasm of GODA were finally fulfilled in 2010 and, though it took muck longer and looked very different that they had first planned, it five decades the Whistler Mountain area had been significantly transformed.