Tag Archives: Hugh Smythe

Blackcomb’s First Season

Back in September the museum posted a series of photos on social media picturing some of the activity taking place on Blackcomb Mountain as they prepared to open for their first season in December 1980.  One comment made on the photos made clear that their first season wasn’t necessarily all that Blackcomb had hoped it would be, point out “except it didn’t snow.”  Unfortunately for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, this was true for most of the early winter season.

The 1980/81 season didn’t start out too badly.  On December 4th, when Pat Carleton cut the ribbon on Lift 2 with a chainsaw, there was snow in the valley and the weather looked promising.  All four of the new triple chairs to reach the top of Blackcomb were operating and skiers were able to end their day with a piece of the 5 m cake and draw prizes.  According to Hugh Smythe, the mountain enjoyed “phenomenal skiing for three weeks” and then it started to rain.

The opening ceremonies on Blackcomb Mountain had promising snow and skiers lined up to ride the new lifts. Greg Griffith Collection.

The Whistler Question reported that it began raining in the region on December 24, 1980, and it was still raining towards the end of January 1981.  Sections of the highway between Whistler and Squamish were washed on by heavy rains twice in that period, first on December 26 and again on January 21, cutting Whistler and Pemberton off from the Lower Mainland except by train or helicopter.  Within Whistler, Alpine Meadows was cut off from the rest of the town when 19 Mile Creek flooded its banks.  All this rain might not have been too terrible for the ski season, except that the rain was accompanied by unseasonably warm temperatures (at one point in January the temperature in Whistler was recorded as 5°C).  On January 8, 1981 the Question editorial stated, “As you look out of the window on January 6 it looks more like May 6 with little or no snow in the valley and only a minimum coverage above 4,500 ft.”

The rains did damage to more than just the snow – bridges, including this rail bridge over Rutherford Creek, were washed away. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The holiday season, usually one of the busiest times of year in Whistler, saw only 20% of its usual volume.  Blackcomb employees delivered newsletters throughout the subdivisions in the valley to let people know that Blackcomb Mountain was open for skiing but bad press coverage of the weather did not encourage skiers to visit.

Whistler Mountain was able to continue operating (or, some might say “limped along”) through January, but Blackcomb shut down operations and laid off staff temporarily because there was not enough snow to get skiers up to Lift 4 and Lift 3 was not designed for downloading.  Blackcomb tried grooming the runs on Lift 4 and moving snow onto the road that led to the top of Lift 2, enabling skiers to ski down to the bottom of Lift 3 before downloading.  They even borrowed snow making equipment from Grouse Mountain, who reportedly did not open at all that season, but the warm temperatures made it impossible to keep or make enough snow.

After the highway washed out a second time, BCR saw an increased demand for passenger cars. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Blackcomb Mountain was able to reopen later in the season and by March there was consistently snow on the mountains.  Blackcomb has gone on to operate for 39 successful seasons and, this December, will celebrate their 40th anniversary (fingers crossed without the rain).

Getting Ready for Blackcomb’s First Season

This December Blackcomb Mountain will mark an impressive milestone as they open for their 40th winter of operations.  Before the mountain could welcome guests on December 4, 1980, there was a lot of work to be done, from hiring and training staff to constructing restaurants, installing lifts, and building runs.

In June 1980, the Whistler Question announced the addition of two new members to Blackcomb Skiing Enterprise.  Boyd Stuwe, who had previously worked in Squaw Valley, CA and Soda Spring, CO, joined Blackcomb Mountain as the Operations Manager while Lorne Borgal joined as its Administrative Manager fresh out of Stanford.

Lorne Borgal poses outside the Blackcomb “offices” soon after his arrival in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Borgal spent his teenage years in North Vancouver.  On weekends he volunteered as part of the Whistler Mountain volunteer ski patrol and through his years at university he taught skiing under Ornulf Johnsen at Grouse Mountain.  He spend five years in Ontario working in marketing and sales for a computer-based accounting system before deciding to pursue his MBA at Stanford.

In 1980, Borgal reached out to Aspen Ski Company, then the owners of Blackcomb, and told them who he was and that he would love to come to Whistler.  This led to a meeting that spring with Hugh Smythe, whom he had met previously through the ski patrol on Whistler Mountain.  The day after his graduation, Borgal drove up from California and started working at Blackcomb.

The Town Centre as it was in last week of October, 1980, from the north looking south. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The Whistler Village was still under construction, as were the facilities on Blackcomb Mountain, so the small Blackcomb team worked out of offices housed in construction trailers on the village site.  According to an oral history interview with Borgal from 2015, eighteen hour days, seven days a week were normal leading up to the first season.  As he put it, “it was just a crushing, overwhelming amount of stuff to do.”

This work was not made easier in September when Aspen supplied them with a brand new IBM computer and custom accounting system.  The first challenge was to find a space for the new hardware, which Borgal described as “just giant,” as the Blackcomb team was still working out of construction trailers.  They found a space to rent above the pharmacy in Village Square but then discovered some issues with the software.  The accounting system had been designed specially for Aspen Ski Company by a person living in Denver, CO.  This meant that, according to Borgal, “payroll taxes, sales taxes, you name it, anything that was unique to Canada, they’d never heard of before.”  For a company operating in Canada, the system was not very helpful.  Borgal even claimed that, “A pencil on paper would have been better.”

Blackcomb’s President and General Manager Hugh Smythe shows Whistler Mayor Pat Carleton the new ski runs from the base of Lift 2 during a tour by the mayor of the Blackcomb facilities.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Despite some setbacks (there are also stories about telephone wires and a delivery of rental skis that drove into a ditch by Brohm Lake) the hard work of the Blackcomb team paid off.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing on Thursday, December 4, 1980.  We will be sharing more tales from the 1980s, the Whistler Village, and Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains over the next while and we would love to hear your own stories from this time of dramatic change in the valley.

Legends of Whistler… tell the stories

We are incredibly excited to announce a three part speaker series cohosted with the Whistler Public Library and the RMOW!

Over three days, twelve very special guests will be sharing their own stories and knowledge of Whistler’s history, including the development of the mountains and the creation of Whistler Village.  Each event is free to attend.

Building Glacier Park

Earlier this month, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) began a rezoning process with the goal of constructing a new six-storey building with 60 units of employee housing to join the seven existing staff housing buildings on the Glacier Lane site.  Consisting of two-bedroom units, each about 40 square metres in size, this proposed housing will be very similar, if a bit newer than, the first four buildings originally built by Blackcomb Ski Enterprise and Canadian Pacific (CP) Hotels in 1988.

The first hint of the project came at the beginning of January 1988, when Blackcomb received permission to convert the administration offices of its old daylodge into temporary employee housing.  To assuage concerns from council that the housing might not remain temporary, Gary Raymond, Blackcomb’s vice-president of finance, mentioned that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, the owners of the then-under-construction Chateau Whistler Resort, would be bringing a joint proposal for permanent employee housing to council in the next few weeks.

References to the “Financial Wizard” in the Blackcomb newsletter usually included a drawing of said wizard. Blabcomb

The proposal was for four buildings, each with 48 two-bedroom units, to be built over two years.  When finished the buildings would house almost 400 people; at the time, Blackcomb had roughly 500 employees and the Chateau was expected to employ about 350.  Due to a severe shortage of housing, the plan changed, and all four buildings were to be constructed over the summer of 1988 in time for employees to arrive in October.

The Blackcomb/CP Hotels Glacier Lane project was not the only employee housing project underway.  That summer projects with the Whistler Valley Housing Society (WVHS) were also being constructed or proposed at Nordic Court and Eva Lake Road.

An architect’s drawing of the proposed housing. Look familiar? Blabcomb

All of these projects hit some snags over the summer, though the Glacier Lane project may have been the most visible.  The buildings were higher and more visible than expected and Letters to the Editor were published in The Whistler Question referring to the construction as a “massive box” that could be seen from any point in the valley north of the Village.  In July, Mayor Drew Meredith even called the visibility of the project “a worthwhile mistake,” while pointing out that the developers were trying to mitigate the visibility of the buildings through landscaping.

Before the buildings could officially open on September 19, 1988, they first had to be named.  A contest was announced in the Blabcomb newsletter and employees were invited to name both the development as a whole and the individual buildings.  The contest was won by David Small, who proposed to call the development Glacier Park, with each building named for a glacier: Horstman, Overlord, Spearhead and Decker.

The early blueprints for the building. Blabcomb

At the grand opening, Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe recalled his own years spent living in employee housing while working for Whistler Mountain, saying “I remember sleeping on the floor, on tables and in trailers,” including one trailer, known by many as “the ghetto.”  According to Smythe, the new units compared quite favourably to his own experiences, and certainly had a better view.

The first residents began moving in October 1.  They were reportedly a mix of Blackcomb employees, including employees of Alta Lake Foods who provided food services for the mountain, and CP Hotel construction workers.  Most of the CP Hotel employees would not move in until the Chateau Whistler Resort opened in late 1989.

By the end of November, the Blabcomb reported that all units had been filled, with people either already moved in or with rooms committed to incoming employees, and a waiting list had already been started.  They were also able to report that, partly due to his work managing the housing project, Gary Raymond had been awarded one of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s first “Business Person of the Year” awards, along with Lorne Borgal of Whistler Mountain.  According to the Blabcomb, the project had been a great success.

This Week In Photos: December 13

Before you got a parking spot or parking pass for being Citizen of the Year, the lucky winner received the Citizen of the Year plaque.  Can you spot which year they rearranged the names to fit more on?

1978

The centre display of pottery at the Craft Fair.

Suzanne Wilson decorates a smiling face at the Community Club Craft Fair.

Const. Thompson engraves a pair of skis under the RCMP/Rotary Ski Watch Programme while Rotarian Norm Minns assists.

1979

Flooding in Alta Vista – Ann and Dave Ricardo stand in front of their home…

… while Bill Wallace attempts to clear a culvert on Archibald Way.

Dave Cathers proudly holds the “Citizen of the Year” plaque awarded to him during the Chamber of Commerce Dinner/Dance.

Mayor Carleton reads oaths of office to incoming Chamber officers (l – r) Vice-President Michael D’Artois, President Drew Meredith, Secretary Jenny Busdon.

A smiling couple! Cathy & Bob Ainsworth at the dance.

President Drew Meredith makes presentations to Information Centre staff (l – r) Evelyn Cullen, Linda Satre and Laura McGuffin.

25 visiting Rotary students who came to Whistler for the weekend.

1980

The first chair up Blackcomb – President Hugh Smythe loads the first skiers up the lift on December 4 while others wait to get up into the untracked snow.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain.

A powder hound enjoys the deep under Lift 4 on Blackcomb last week.

1980 Citizen of the Year, Chamber of Commerce President Drew Meredith.

Ron Hyde stands proudly in front of the sandblasted cedar sign he had created as project manager for the Whistler store.

Managers Dennis Lamarche and Glen Holdner stock shelves at the new Whistler Liquor Store.

Al Davis makes a toast with Francine Lessard at the MDC banquet.

1981

Laurier LaPierre gets a hand buckling up his boots from Jim McConkey. LaPierre was in town taping a CKU special on beginning skiing.

Hanging in Suspense. This workman tightens the cable for Whistler Cable TV’s new line running up the east face of Sproat. Photo by Peter Chrzanowski.

Citizen of the Year Trev Roote shows off his plaque to wife Susan outside his Whistler chalet.

Its owner Peter Skoros (left) under the new sign announcing his new restaurant in the Town Centre which will be opening next week.

Rosemary Dell gets a waving salute at her going away party Friday, December 10. Rosemary, the school bus driver, is leaving Whistler for wilder times at Kitwanga in northern BC.

A peaceful moment for two best friends crossing the fresh powder of Sproat Mountain.

1982

Whistler’s post office is bursting at the seams with loads of presents sent to locals from points all over.

Connie Kutyn tops off the latest decoration to be added to Village Square… a Christmas tree to help get Whistlerites in the spirit.

Viv Jennings accepts the Citizen of the Year Award from last year’s honoured residents Trev Roote at a Whistler Chamber of Commerce meeting held December 11 at the Delta Mountain Inn.

Three proud artists… (L to R) John McNeill, Ken Wesman and Isobel MacLaurin.

O sing ye of good cheer! As did the Whistler Choir in perfect harmony. The choir, led by Sue Worden, brought a lovely tone to Village Square Sunday in the true spirit of Christmas.

1984

Molly Boyd receives the plaque honouring her as the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Saturday. Brian Walhovd, last year’s winner, announced to the crowd that Boyd was the 1984 winner for her involvement and extra commitment to the community.

The Chamber also announced its new slate of executives for 1985, which includes, from left to right, Roger Stacey and Nancy Trieber as vice-presidents and Dave Kirk as president. Mayor Terry Rodgers inducted the new executive, which resulted in laughter among the crowd when the three members attempted to read their chamber pledge in unison.

Club 10 was the host to West Coast Sports Mountain Shadows Saturday night, a fashion show featuring more than 29 different outfits all available at the ski outlet. All the models got together for one final display wearing moon boots by Diadora.

Pierre Couture opens a bottle of O’Keefe High Test in the Brass Rail, which boasts the most brass of any bar in Whistler.

Bartender Michael Branlon pours another pint of draft in the Longhorn, which has recently undergone substantial renovations.

Mischa Redmond shows some of the money he’s collected on his door-to-door African famine relief campaign.

This Week In Photos: November 8

Halloween may be over but there are still a few more costumes this week, mostly courtesy of the National Men’s Downhill Team Benefit held at Dusty’s.

1978

Brian “Sherlock Holmes” checks out Ron’s plastic torso at the Halloween dance.

Hold it! Members of the Volunteer Ski Patrol lower a “patient” from the Olive Chair during an evacuation practice.

Jerry Blan and Hugh Smythe from Fortress Mountain Resorts present the Blackcomb development to the public.

1979

A study in roof structures – the new Public Service Building awaits its roof.

Geopac’s 20-ton weight crashes down to compact the ground for the foundations of the Mountain Inn – the new 6-storey concrete hotel to be built at the Town Centre…

… while this week the top layer of gravel is placed on the new parking lot adjacent to the Public Service Building to be used by day skiers in the winter.

The Whistler Skiers Chapel at its new location beside the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin.

A crane sets the new steel in place for the base terminal of the Olive Chair while the excavation for the staging area proceeds.

The interior of the newly-remodelled L’Apres Dining Room showing the raised dining area and the tiffany lamps.

1980

Misguided truck – the accident occurred on Tuesday when Hydro crews were fixing some downed lines.

At the National Team Benefit Dave Murray draws the door prize while a rather hoarse Paul Burrows gets ready to continue the auction.

TIMBER! This is the end of the tree that fell on several cars outside the Keg on Saturday evening.

T.W.U. members picket the Whistler Village site on Tuesday.

1981

A new bridge and culvert is in place by November 10 after last week’s flooding.

Artist Roy Tomlinson demonstrates his technique on a litho stone at the showing at Inge Neilsen’s.

Lexi Ross and Craig Tomlinson look over the selection of skis at the ski swap.

Ross Morben, the new manager of Beau’s, lends a helping hand to the new renovations which include a live entertainment lounge.

1982

It was a mad, mad, mad crowd at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club annual ski swap Sunday, November 7. Bargain hunters were not disappointed with the tremendous selection of ski equipment at real recession prices.

It was a quieter scene at the Burrows garage sale held on Matterhorn Drive.

Butcher John MacLeod carves a few slices for the new meat and seafood market at The Grocery Store.

Charlie Doyle (right) wailed it out with Foot in the Door Saturday, November 6 – a packed Stumps lounge like it’s never been packed before. Accompanying on guitar is Mark Schnaidt.

Davey Blaylock tries his hand at running the show, with a little help from Mayor Pat Carleton. Witnessing the change in who holds the gavel are (L to R) Mark Jennings, Jake Humphrey and Justin Adams. The Kindergarten class visited the Mayor in his chambers, which he has occupied for seven years before deciding to step down on November 20.

1984

Grocery Store staff spent most of Saturday mopping up water that covered the floor. The damage was caused by a burst pipe in the Hearthstone Lodge. Both the Grocery Store and the liquor store were closed for more than half the day. Water damage was also sustained by some suites in the Hearthstone.

Jack Bright and Toulouse dressed in their finest for last Wednesday’s National Men’s Downhill Team Benefit at Dusty’s. The event raised about $7,500 for the team.

The real Whistler came out of the closet, so to speak, Halloween night to help support the National Ski Team Benefit. Mr. & Mrs. Halfenhalf walked away from Dusty’s with the top prize for best costume.

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club held its annual ski swap Saturday and Sunday as hundreds of local and Vancouver residents flocked to Myrtle Philip School gym to take advantage of the many bargains available.

At precisely 11 am on Sunday, November 11 a moment of silence followed by a brief ceremony will take place in front of the Public Safety Building. Among the group gathered there to remember the 114,000 Canadian men and women who died in a battle this century will be Rolly Horsey, a retired Major in the Canadian infantry who fought in World War II. Mr. Horsey, a resident of Whistler for 17 years with his wife Anne, started with Canadian Scottish in Victoria in 1939 shortly after war was declared and headed overseas to Great Britain on a three-ship convoy in 1941. For his commitment toward fighting against the Axis powers he received the DSO in an all-Canadian investiture at Buckingham Palace with Lt. Co. Lord Tweedsmuir. He returned to Europe in 1967 with his wife and visited a Canadian cemetery and was struck by the futility and sadness of all the young men who gave their life for their country during World War II. Mr. Horsey will be on hand Sunday to remember not only all those who died but also his own involvement fighting in Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers.

This Week In Photos: October 25

We may have just finished our latest municipal election but, as some of these photos show, new councils used to be elected in November.  This week (like most weeks in the 1970s and ’80s) also includes construction, community events and even a puppy!

1979

A section of the new concrete curbing recently installed by the Highways crews just south of Whistler.

The new Public Safety building starts to take shape as the snow creeps down Whistler Mountain behind.

Grant Couture stands beside the horses he plans to have available for riding and sleigh rides at Rainbow Lodge.

Colin Chedore – the new Marketing Manager for the Whistler Village Land Company.

The Whistler Skiers Chapel is moved to its new location adjacent to the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin.

1980

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.

Blackcomb’s President and General Manager Hugh Smythe shows Whistler Mayor Pat Carleton the new ski runs from the base of Lift 2 during a recent tour by the mayor of the Blackcomb facilities.

“I have a home, but my brothers & sisters are still looking!” If you are interested call Pauline.

“Keep going thataway!” Parent Helper Candy Rustad directs the participants in the recent cross-country run hosted by the Myrtle Philip School.

Owners Ted Nebbeling and Jan Holmberg get ready for another busy day in the Gourmet Bakery and Fine Food store.

Nancy Raine and Raymond Lanctot stand in front of the Rossignol booth at the Vancouver Ski Show.

1982

Puzzled? The Whistler Information sign and map took a tumble Friday, October 22 during high winds, just missing the info centre. Foundation posts had apparently rotted.

Hats of all kinds turn up these days at Myrtle Philip School. The fashion = keeping away from lice.

Volunteers check children for head lice, which have reached epidemic numbers in Whistler.

Mayor Carleton got exposure to more than a brief interlude of sun Thursday when CTV interviewer Cynthia Ott arrived in Whistler to ask some questions.

On your marks; get set – three candidates (Mark Angus, Sid Young and Ruth Lotzkar) enjoy a laugh after handing in nomination papers October 25 for the November 20 municipal election.

The Candidates – Whistler Chamber of Commerce President Jim Gruetzke introduces Sid Young (a mayorality candidate), Craig MacKenzie, Mark Sadler and David O’Keefe (aldermanic candidates) at an afternoon wine and cheese held October 24 at Delta Mountain Inn.

Onlookers ask Craig Tomlinson about the history and construction of a lute he is holding.

Mark Angus calls ’em as Will Moffatt checks numbers during the Whistler Parent Teacher Committee Bingo Nite at Myrtle Philip School October 22.

New members of the Health Planning Society Board, from left: Kathy Hicks (Treasurer), Tim Woods (Director), Rolley Horsey (Vice President), Criag MacKenzie (President) and Fred Barter (Director).

1983

Valdy rolled into town Sunday, a little tardy for his show at Myrtle Philip Elementary Sunday night but the unavoidable delay was soon forgotten by the 175 adults and children gathered to see the versatile entertainer. Valdy played old songs and new ones with his gigantic light bulb shedding light on the subject.

Parks crew workers installed subdivision signs all along Highway 99 Monday and Tuesday. Originally built by Al Bosse last winter, the municipality had to negotiate with the provincial highways department to receive permission to erect the signs within 50 feet of the highway. Signs are constructed out of fir and have electrical cords installed for possible light fixtures in the future.

Pemberton Mayor Shirley Henry displays a plaque indicating the federal government’s involvement in getting the Pemberton Airport on track. The airport, 36 years in the making, was officially opened last Friday. Mayor Henry says the airport will be able to serve the Whistler area.

1984

Members of the Whistler Rotary Club are raising money for their programs this fall by selling firewood. Working Saturday to fill remaining orders are, left to right: Bill Wallace, Don MacLaurin, Bob Brown, Paul Burrows, Richard Heine, Brian Brown, Sid Young and a visiting Rotarian from New Zealand.

The Baxter Group’s condo development in the gondola area is just the beginning, and planners are now deciding how work in the rest of the area will proceed.

Lorne Borgal, president of Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, introduced a slide presentation celebrating the 20th year of incorporation for the firm at the Granville Island Hotel Thursday. A reception preceded and followed the catchy slide show attended primarily by members of the ski industry in Vancouver.

Burning debris coming out of a chimney at this Drifter Way house started a fire that caused an estimated $50,000 damage according to Whistler’s fire chief Lindsay Wilson. The blaze was reported at 9 pm Monday and was brought under full control within 45 minutes. At the time, no one was in the house, which belongs to Kelly Fairhurst.

The Canadian National Ski Team added $2,500 towards training more World Cup Winners through funds raised at Whistler Mountain’s Mouton Cadet Spring Festival this year. Dave Murray, director of skiing for Whistler Mountain, presents the cheque to (l-r) national team members Felix Belzyck, Chris Kent and Gary Athans. New men’s coach Glenn Wuertele was also on hand at the Vancouver Ski Show where the cheque was presented. National team members such as Todd Brooker, Dee Dee Haight, Rob Boyd, Mike Carney, Wade Christie, as well as Belzyck and Athans will also be at the October 31 ski team benefit at Dusty’s in Whistler.