Tag Archives: Franz Wilhelmsen

A Clean Slate, part 2

Following up on our post from a few weeks ago, where we looked at Whistler Mountain as A Clean Slate, with the photos from Franz Wilhelmsen & Willy Schaeffler’s initial inspections from 1962, today we will look a little deeper into their first impressions of the undeveloped mountain .

Schaeffler’s report following their July 1962 survey was short, for as Franz Wilhelmsen noted, “a report covering all possible variations and reasons would be very long.” Instead, they worked under the assumption that the team would be able to purchase and develop the Jordan’s Lodge property, today’s Creekside, due to its large flat area for parking lots, and proximity to the railway. Remember, there was still no proper road access to the valley, so this last point was crucial.

Schaeffler was wholly unimpressed with the “logging chaos” that spanned the lower half of the mountain, which he estimated would require would “make skiing in this area with less than feet of snow almost impossible.” Thankfully, there was plenty of mountain above.

Logging Chaos - ACCESS WMA_P89_0072_WMSC

The lower half of Whistler Mountain looked like this in 1962.

Reading Schaeffler’s report, it’s remarkable to find so many elements of today’s ski resort already conceived at such an early stage. On their second helicopter ride into the alpine, Schaeffler notes how they were dropped off at “the saddle east of Whistler Mountain at 6,800 feet altitude,” a spot known today simply as “The Saddle” one of Whistler’s signature intermediate alpine ski runs.

From there they descended into “the major bowl with the most ideal north exposure.” Known today as Glacier Bowl, this was the first true alpine terrain to be included in the ski area, serviced by Whistler’s alpine t-bars.

Looking across the bowl, they also identified a wide-open, gentle sub-alpine slope they thought was perfect for an upper-mountain beginner area. Your might recognize this as the slope above Roundhouse Lodge and surrounding the top of the Red Chair.

Beginnner Area - ACCESS WMA_P89_0204_WMSC

Beyond terrain analysis, Schaeffler’s report also included his preliminary thoughts on infrastructure. Based on the sheer scale of the mountain, Schaeffler concluded that

“we must realize we are speaking here of a major European type ski area. In order to open up this mountain and use its full potential from the beginning, a different type of uphill equipment that has been used in normal North American ski areas must be built here.”

He was talking about a gondola of course, and a few year’s later Whistler Mountain indeed opened with British Columbia’s first gondola. Schaeffler’s initial lifts plan included a gondola, 3 chairs, and a t-bar, to service a predicted 2,000 skiers on peak days. Today Whistler-Blackcomb can see more than 25,000.

All these people would need to eat, so he also called for several hundred hotel rooms in the base area, and a cafeteria for those 2,000 skiers. Because the ski area was so large, and its focus was really the high alpine area, Schaeffler also anticipated an on-mountain restaurant.

His report includes a call for a “building which allows a 360 degree view from one room, perhaps with a fireplace in the middle” plus a cafeteria servicing 1,000 skiers, plus first aid and other amenities. He called this prospective building, simply, “The Roundhouse.”


Schaeffler returned multiple times in the coming years to fine tune their plans and oversee their implementation. His enthusiasm for the project never waned, as this 1964 Province article indicates:schaeffler001

Looking back through these photos and reports, it’s evident that Schaeffler had a huge, and largely under-appreciated impact. Not only time affirm the clarity of his vision, but having such a respected figure involved in the planning and backing the development with such enthusiasm certainly contributed to the growing buzz around the new ski resort.

Obviously several other key figures were instrumental in Whistler and Blackcomb’s continued growth over the next five decades. As this winter progresses, we’ll highlight some more of these figures and stories.

Franz “The Overachiever” Wilhelmsen

Recently the Collections department has been sorting through a collection of archival material and artifacts belonging to Franz Wilhelmsen.  Most people know him as the father of Whistler, the man responsible for transforming it into best ski resort in North America.  With such an amazing life accomplishment came a plethora of awards and honours inside and outside the Whistler community.  In 1966 he was named Man of the Year by the Greater Vancouver Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Franz Wilhelmsen! Man of the Year! On the right Annette Wilhelmsen, on the left Ms. British Columbia, 1966

In 1981 Franz received the Jim Marshall award which is given to a member of the Canada West Ski Area operators who has contributed the greatest effort in the public enhancement and enjoyment of the sport of skiing in Western Canada.  In 1983, Franz was named a Freeman of Whistler.  A title not often bestowed on inhabitants of the area, joining other members such as Myrtle Philip.  In 1984, Franz received the Canadian Tourism Medallion for his development of Whistler Mountain and the successful bid to bring the World Cup Downhill competition to Whistler.  Franz was nominated in both 1991 and 1998 for the Order of British Columbia but was not chosen as a recipient.  In 1996, Franz was part of the class inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.  Then in 1998 he was also inducted to the BC Sports Hall of Fame, through which he received the W.A.C Bennett Award, an award recognizing a person who has made significant contributions to sport in British Columbia.  As if all this weren’t enough, in 1998, Whistler honoured its father by naming his favourite ski run “Franz’ Run”.

Franz takes a drink during the ceremonial naming of his ski run.

Franz’ life accomplishments and contributions to Canada and the province British Columbia are immense and the recognition of his very successful endeavours are all very well deserved.  But the truly lasting legacy of Franz’ life, the one that is and will always be visible to all peoples living and visiting the Whistler area, is the mountain that he saw such great promise in.  It is this lasting legacy that will win him the gratitude of generations to come.

It was a good day to be the Father of Whistler!

For more see www.whistlermuseum.org