Tag Archives: Hugh Smythe

Images of Blackcomb

If you follow the Whistler Museum on social media, you will probably have noticed more images of Blackcomb Mountain appearing over the past year or so as we’ve been working to digitize the Blackcomb Mountain Collection. We’ve been sharing some of the more eye-catching and informative images that we’ve come across while digitizing. Next week we’ll be sharing even more of the Blackcomb Mountain Collection images in the hope of adding more information to the images.

The Blackcomb Mountain Collection includes over 22,000 promotional and candid images taken by over 30 photographers between 1980s and 1998. This period covers the mountain’s opening and its years in competition with neighbouring Whistler Mountain up until the two merged under Intrawest. Some of the photographers are well known for their photography work in the area, including Greg Griffith, Chris Speedie (of Toad Hall fame), and Paul Morrison, while others are perhaps better known for their work on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Hugh Smythe (then the President of Blackcomb Mountain Ski Enterprise) and David Perry (then in Blackcomb Mountain’s marketing department).

The Suitcase Race of 1988 is just one event pictured in the collection. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Greg Griffith.

The content included in the Blackcomb Mountain Collection varies widely. There are, of course, a lot of images of people skiing and, in the later years, snowboarding. There are also many images that were created to promote Blackcomb Mountain and so show people (often hired models) happily wearing ski gear in the sun, sharing a meal at one of Blackcomb’s restaurants, or eating giant cookies outside in the snow. There are also images of mountain facilities, retail stores, and a lot of Blackcomb branded clothing.

While we do not yet have a name for the woman pictured, many people shared their fond memories of the giant cookies when this photo was posted online. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, David Stoecklein, 1988.

Not all of the images, however, are quite so obviously stages and instead seem to be promoting Blackcomb Mountain simply by capturing what was happening on and around the mountain. These images include many events that were hosted on Blackcomb Mountain, such as Freestyle World Cups, Kids Kamp events, Can Am bike races, and the well-remembered celebrity Suitcase Races. There are also images of people paragliding with Parawest Paragliding, the company that Janet and Joris Moschard operated off of Blackcomb Mountain in the early 1990s, and street entertainers organized by the Whistler Resort Association drawing crowds both at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and throughout the Whistler Village.

Amongst all of these images, there are also a few series of images of Blackcomb staff and staff events from the early 1990s. These are the images to which we are hoping to add more information (specifically names and possibly job titles) at our next Naming Night at the Museum.

Just one of the photographs whose subjects got named at our first Naming Night back in 2018. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

If you haven’t been to a Naming Night before, the format is pretty simply. At 6 pm on Thursday, September 22, we’ll be posting about 100 images around the museum that we need more information about, including the series of Blackcomb staff. Everyone is welcome to come help us fill in the blanks, whether you recognize a face, a place, or an event, by writing the information on a post-it and sticking it to the image (paper and pens will be provided). This information will then be added to the image’s entry in our database, making it much more likely that the image will be included when someone searches for a specific person, place or event in our database or online galleries. We’ve also had hundreds of names added to our images by people across the world since moving Names Night online in 2020, so, if you’re not able to make it the museum, we will also be posting the images on our Facebook page on Friday, September 23. Whether in person or virtually, we hope to see you there!

Whistler’s Answers: April 7, 1983

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1983.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: In the 1980s, the provincial government opened the Powder Mountain site to bids for development. By 1983, several ski resort developers had been attracted to the area but none had gone further than talking about it. In April 1983, a company called Powder Mountain Resorts Ltd. joined with French consortium SITAC International SA to develop a master plan for the recreational reserve in the Callaghan recreational reserve area. The plan called for skiing on six mountains and seven townsites. Some people questioned the feasibility of a ski resort in the area, in part because of the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather, while others were concerned such a development would dilute the market and draw business away from Whistler.

Question: How viable do you think the Powder Mountain development will be?

Ross Moore – Village Employee – Alpha Lake Village

I think it will probably take business away from Whistler and Blackcomb just because Powder Mountain is closer to Vancouver. People really don’t seem to be loyal to an area when they’re skiing. This might be a good time for Whistler and Blackcomb to join forces instead of competing with each other for the business.

Mark Angus – Mayor of Whistler – Gondola Area

I think there are still a lot of logistics problems to be solved before we see Powder Mountain take off. Where is their commercial base? Where will their sewage go? In the long run I don’t think it will be detrimental to Whistler. The market is still growing and they’d be dealing with a different clientele. It looks a bit like a pre-election perk to me.

Hugh Smythe – President, Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises – White Gold

I don’t think it’s viable at all due to large infrastructure cost. Building and maintaining the access road and putting power and sewage treatment in place will be extremely expensive. Also the skiable area is either too steep or above the tree line which is too high.

Snowboard Park – No Skiers Allowed!

Blackcomb Mountain opened for snowboarders in the 87/88 season. While it would take Whistler another year to start embracing snowboard culture, Blackcomb was generally supportive of the ‘knuckle-draggers’ thanks to the persistence and passion of a few snowboarders on staff and in the community. Additionally, Hugh Smythe could see the strategic benefits of welcoming a new group of riders.

Before terrain parks were a common feature of ski resorts, snowboarders would travel from all around Canada and the world to take advantage of the many natural features of Blackcomb, perfect for sending big air and pushing the boundaries of the new sport. The natural quarterpipe and wind lip on Blackcomb featured in many publications and films, including the cover of Transworld SNOWboarding with Doug Lundgren. Before the official park, groups would also build their own kickers and crude halfpipes on the mountain. This sometimes involved trying to avoid the watchful eye of ski patrol.

The natural features of Blackcomb attracted snowboarders from around Canada and the world. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Sean Sullivan 1991.

Stu Osborne was instrumental to the snowboarding scene on Blackcomb. Stu started as an instructor and went on to become Snowboard Coordinator and then Terrain Park Supervisor, founding the first Blackcomb management-sanctioned halfpipe and snowboard park. While the Kokanee Snowboard Park officially appeared on the Blackcomb trail map in the 94/95 winter season, the first halfpipe and park launched earlier.

There was still a mentality of skiers versus snowboarders at this time and despite receiving approval to create the initial halfpipe, accessing the resources from the Blackcomb Operations team to build the park was a different story. To get around the lack of resources, Snow Ejectors, a private snow removal company, became a sponsor, providing custom-painted shovels for the build. The early halfpipe was created using these shovels and a little cat time.

During a competition featuring many of the world’s best riders, the Snow Ejectors’ hand-painted banner was larger than those of any of the other sponsors, much to the chagrin of Blackcomb management. The next year, more equipment and support was provided by Blackcomb Mountain. Before the opening of the Kokanee Snowboard Park, Blackcomb became one of the first resorts in Canada to get a pipe dragon, specialised grooming equipment that could carve out a uniform halfpipe far more easily than hand-digging.

A snowboarder takes flight near the Kokanee Snowboard Park. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

In the early days, ‘Blackcomb Snowboard Park’ was exactly that, a park for snowboarders. Rules had changed (in this one niche area on the mountain) and there was a big sign that specified ‘no skiers allowed’. Skiers would wait outside the snowboard park in groups, and bomb the park together in a train so they were harder to catch. It wasn’t long, however, until the park evolved to welcome both snowboarders and skiers as the more inclusive ‘terrain park’ that we know today. 

Originally, the park features on Blackcomb and other resorts in the Canada West Ski Area Association were rated like ski runs, with greens, blues, blacks and double blacks. As most people probably understand, riding a beginner feature would require different skills to a typical green run; however the system broke down when a visitor went off a jump that was far beyond their ability and sustained a debilitating injury. The resulting lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and, learning from this experience, the ratings in the terrain park were changed to those that we see today. Burton had just introduced Smart Style, the orange oval to indicate freestyle terrain. Whistler Blackcomb and the Canada West Ski Area Association went one step further adding S, M, L and XL sizing to keep it easy to interpret. Both features and parks are marked so people can easily choose where to ride within their ability.

Licence to Snowboard

Despite skiers and snowboarders charging down the mountain together today, there was a time when single-plankers were strictly not allowed. Skier complaints and safety concerns resulted in both Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain remaining closed to snowboarders until the late 80s. Snowboarders were forced to ride smaller undeveloped hills, head to the backcountry, or hike up the mountain while avoiding the watchful eye of mountain staff.

The acceptance of snowboarding was slow because of the perception that snowboarders were dangerous, uncontrolled and uncivilised. The laid-back alternative lifestyle of snowboarders often clashed with that of skiers, and it was not uncommon for skiers to hurl disdain at snowboarders when they were finally allowed on the mountain.

A Greg Stump snowboarding production on Blackcomb in 1989. Even the bright and baggy clothes commonly worn by snowboarders rubbed skiers the wrong way. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Greg Stump Productions.

Early snowboarders to Whistler tell stories about being spat on, chased by snowcats, and getting shovels thrown at them. As Ken Achenbach remarked, “We were called menaces to society, it was wicked man”. All a snowboarder had to do to grind the gears of some skiers was wake up in the morning. Even Hugh Smythe, Blackcomb General Manager, was derided when the decision was made to welcome snowboarders to Blackcomb for the 1987/88 season.

Special rules for snowboarders in resort areas were commonplace at this time. In some resorts, before they were allowed on the lifts, snowboarders had to agree not to use foul language. Similar to many East Coast resorts, Blackcomb went a step further. Unlike skiers, snowboarders were initially required to pass a proficiency test to be licenced to ride Blackcomb. The test cost around the price of a day pass and snowboarders had to prove they could turn both ways and stop safely. A certificate was presented upon passing which allowed the recipient to load the lifts with their board.

Aerials were also originally banned on Blackcomb, with lift tickets confiscated from those who dared leave the ground. Blackcomb was a popular freestyle mountain but riders were required to keep an eye out for patrol when practicing for fear of losing their passes.

It may be hard to believe in the age of triple cork 1440s, but all inverted aerials were initially also banned in snowboard competitions due to concerns over spinal cord injuries. It was not unusual for professional snowboarders to deliberately disqualify themselves in competitions by pulling inverted aerials, including the crippler, in protest of this rule. The rules were eventually changed to prevent medals being awarded only to those who followed the rules and showcased the tamest tricks.

When snowboarders were first allowed on Blackcomb they were required to pass a test before riding the lifts and aerials were banned. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

As a new sport, the snowboarding community in Whistler was small and tight-knit. Being so outnumbered, snowboarders would instantly be best buds with anyone else riding a board. This did not last long however; snowboarding was the fastest growing sport in the 1990s and despite the growth slowing, the community today is so big there is no way anyone could know every snowboarder on the mountain.

For more on the history of snowboarding, join us for our first in-person event for 2022. In this Whistler Museum Speaker Series we will be talking about the history of snowboarding in Whistler with local snowboarding legends Ken Achenbach and Graham Turner.

The event begins at 7 pm on Monday the 28th of March. Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum members) and are available at the Whistler Museum. We look forward to seeing you there!