Tag Archives: Garibaldi Olympic Development Association

GODA’s Many Olympic Bids

With the 2018 Winter Olympics going on in PyeongChang we’re taking a look back at Whistler’s own Olympic past.

There’s no doubt that over the past six decades this town has been greatly influenced by the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  If the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) had had their way, this month would mark the 50th anniversary of Whistler’s Olympic Games instead of the 8th.

In 1960 a group of Vancouver businessmen and Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) members formed GODA with the aim of bringing the Olympic Winter Games to BC.  In the introduction to their bid for the 1968 Olympics, GODA wrote: “In the northwestern part of Garibaldi Park, only 75 road miles from Vancouver, and part of a picture-post card panorama of mountains, snow and forest is Whistler Mountain, proposed site of the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  It is this mountain and this area that offers the ideal physical location for the Games.”

Driving to Whistler, 1959. Not quite as easy as they made it sound.  MacLaurin Collection.

What their introduction didn’t mention was that the 75 road miles were mostly logging roads and a difficult drive at the best of times, or that the site had no power, water or sewer and all venues and facilities would have to be constructed form scratch.

Not surprisingly, GODA’s first bid was not successful and Banff, Alberta was put forward as Canada’s nomination.  In the end the 1968 Games were held in Grenoble, France.

GODA looked to the future and formed Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. to develop Whistler Mountain.  Five years later, with lifts now installed and paved highway linking the site to Vancouver, they put forward another bid for the 1972 Games.  Again the COC chose Banff to represent Canada (Banff then lost to Sapporo, Japan) and again GODA went back to work on another bid.

Three separate combined Vancouver/Whistler bids were put forward through the 1970s.  By 1970, when the bid for the 1976 Games was put forth, Whistler Mountain had become an established ski resort and was continuing to grow.  This bid received endorsement from the COC and was put forward as an official national bid.  Because of this, we are fortunate today to have many records of the vision for the 1976 Games.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

The official Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book included designs for a purpose-built Olympic Town Site located at the site of today’s Whistler Village, including a grand pedestrian concourse to the bottom of the mountain, sloping angular buildings, and a large plaza with a view of the ski jumps.  The bid promised that all Olympic facilities would be within a 4 km radius of the town site.

Despite a strong bid for Whistler, Montreal’s successful bid the 1976 Summer Games mean the Winter Games could not be awarded to Canada.  Denver, Colorado was chosen but, due to public outcry over environmental impacts and rising costs, Denver declined.  The Games were then offered to Whistler, but a newly elected Social Credit government in BC turned them down and the Games returned to Innsbruck, Austria.

In 1974, the COC approved a bid for the 1980 Games but this was rejected by the provincial government.  In 1979 Whistler and Vancouver put forward a proposal to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, but the COC decided on the ultimately successful bid from Calgary.  It was not until 2003, over 40 years after the first bid was put forth, that Whistler learned it would host the Olympics.

Village Square during the 2003 Olympic Bid Announcement – Whistler finally got to host the Olympics.

Over the next two months, as the Games take place in PyeongChang, we’ll all be reminded of the 2010 Games and the experience of playing host to such a massive event.  If you’ve ever wondered how the planning and details that went into that experience all came together in Whistler, you might just get some answers at our next Speaker Series.  Thursday, February 15, the Whistler Museum is delighted to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.  For more information check here.

The Early Days of Creekside

The community of Alta Lake, which attracted visitors and families with cabins in the summer for hiking, hunting and fishing along the lakefront, was forever changed in 1960.

That year, the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency, led by Franz Wilhelmsen, chose the valley as the site to bring the 1968 Winter Olympics to Canada and British Columbia.  The failure of this first Olympic bid, while discouraging, did not dissuade the group from deciding to build a world-class ski resort.

A very optimistic sign at the base of Whistler Mountain. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Garibladi Lift Company installed the first gondola-accessed ski area in North America and opened the ski resort in January 1966.

With the ski resort in operation, the newly formed Chamber of Commerce operated as the local government overseeing the sporadic development surrounding the gondola base. The Garibaldi Lift Company did not have the financial resources to purchase the property around the gondola base allowing others to purchase the land.

With the lack of an official community plan or recognized local government, development went unchecked.  Ski cabins were scattered around the base along with a gas station/grocery store and a telephone exchange.  The Garibaldi Lift Company built an interdenominational skier’s chapel, complete with bells and a memorial stain glass window.

The Cheakamus Inn, the Highland Lodge, Rainbow Lodge and other Alta Lake lodges housed visitors in what had normally been the off-season for the Alta Lake community.  A large development was planned near the shores of Nita and Alpha Lakes.  The development would have included residential and commercial properties as well as more recreational areas such as a curling/skating rink, swimming pool and tennis courts.  A condominium development called Alpine Village sat above the gondola area on the slopes of Whistler Mountain.  The UBC Varsity Outdoor Club began constructing their new club cabin near the gondola base.

Alpine 68 newly constructed in 1968. Condos such as these sprung up around Creekside and Nordic.  Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of skiing also brought long waits to ride the gondola up to the mid-station.  The wait times would sometimes exceed three hours just to get on the gondola, prompting the Garibaldi Lift Company to offer free skiing to those willing to hike to the mid-station.

The parking lots at the base of the gondola were consistently full.  Highway 99 was finally blacktopped between Squamish and Whistler, but the drive was still full of hairpin turns and single lane bridges.  This didn’t stop skiers from driving up from the city.

A full (and colourful) parking lot in Creekside. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of the ski resort also attracted another group of people to the valley: “hippies” and those involved in the counterculture movement.  Those unable to afford to purchase land or build their own ski cabin would squat on Crown land.

With the RMOW established on September 6, 1975 the chaotic nature of development in Whistler’s early years was over the focus on bringing about the well-planned Whistler Village began.

A Clean Slate

Every autumn the mountains are born-again, baptised by a blanket of frozen water whose crystalline forms are revered for their meteorological, rather than priestly blessings. But imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like to encounter these mountains for the first time, before our impressions had been shaped by chairlifts, lift-lines, and Instagram…

That’s precisely the circumstances in which representatives from the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency found themselves in the early 1960s as they pursued their plans to develop an Olympic-ready ski resort in BC’s Coast Mountains.

After evaluating a few options, by 1962 they had more or less decided upon Whistler Mountain (still officially named London Mountain at the time). The mountain was essentially a clean slate (aside from some rather intensive logging around the mountain’s base) from which they had to design a world-class ski area. 

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Today, most skiers’ understanding of the terrain develops through multiple seasons of exploring the mountains guided by trail markers, instructors,  more experienced friends, and pure instinct, leading them to have a virtual trail map etched into their minds. When a big powder day hits, they already know exactly where they want to be.

But without these aids, identifying the best terrain and chairlift configuration was a completely different challenge.  The group of Vancouver and Montreal-based businessmen knew enough to admit that they didn’t know much about ski area-design, so they hired German-American ski champion, coach, and resort-design consultant Willy Schaeffler to offer his insights.

Schaefller was born in the Bavarian Alps and was skiing by the age of 2. Injuries, then World War 2 prevented him from representing Germany at the Winter Olympics, but he eventually moved to North America where he became a renowned skier, coach, and resort planner. It was his design work at Squaw Valley, host of the highly successful 1960 Winter Olympics, that secured him the consultancy gig at Whistler Mountain.

Schaeffler made several trips up to Whistler in the early 1960s, each leaving him more impressed by the mountain’s terrain and resort potential.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

Future Whistler Mountain President Franz Wilhelmsen, and ski resort consultant Willy Schaefler, get ready to explore the London (Whistler) Mountain Alpine.

His 1962 report is prescient, if fairly straightforward from today’s perspective. He foresaw the mountain’s potential to revolutionize North America ski resorts with its deep, consistent snowpack, massive vertical and acreage, high-alpine skiing, and plenty of suitable terrain for all ability levels. Add in the accessibility to a large market, and Schaeffler considered it a no-brainer.

We’ll go into more details about Schaeffler’s report next week. For now, we want to focus on some of the photos in our archives from early on in this planning and design phase. Franz Wilhelmsen and Willy toured Whistler Mountain by helicopter and on foot in July 1962, and you can see the first traces of a plan to develop the mountain coming together through these images.

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While it was clear that they had found a special ski mountain, their initial vision wasn’t exactly how things turned out.  A central aspect of their plan was a lower shoulder of Whistler Peak which they found to be an excellent viewpoint and a suitable location for the top-station of an alpine chairlift.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #1” better known today as Glacier Bowl.

Coincidentally, the viewpoint is pretty much right on top of the infamous “Air Jordan” double cliff, which drew headlines last winter with Julian Carr’s massive front flip down the entire face. That wasn’t part of Schaeffler’s plan, but we think he would approve whole-heartedly of such boundary-pushing endeavours.

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View from the Air Jordan lookout to “Bowl #2” better known today as Whister Bowl.

These images provide some pretty remarkable insights into this initial encounter, when Whistler Mountain made its first impressions on these passionate skiers and developers. In a few weeks we will look at the written report in more detail, as these first impressions developed into a comprehensive plan.