Tag Archives: Janet Love Morrison

Paying with Borgal Bucks

For many businesses that involve retail or food services, staff discounts are a common benefit for employees. Staff discounts can take many forms, with some offering more savings than others. In the 1980s, staff discounts on food at Whistler Mountain had a physical presence in the form of “Borgal Bucks.”

Borgal Bucks took their name from Lorne Borgal. Borgal had first come to Whistler as a teenager and spent weekends volunteering for ski patrol on Whistler Mountain. In 1980, he was hired by Hugh Smythe to work in administration at the soon-to-open Blackcomb Mountain, where he got to wire telephones and direct traffic. After three years, Borgal left Blackcomb Mountain and went to Europe for a long-awaited vacation. While on his vacation, he received a call from Mike Hurst at Whistler Mountain letting him know that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Borgal was being considered as his replacement. Borgal joined Whistler Mountain as President and CEO in 1983, a role he kept for six years.

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

During his time there, Whistler Mountain replaced multiple triple chairs with the Village Express gondola, built Pika’s Restaurant at the Roundhouse, added the Peak Chair, and celebrated Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday. He also tried introducing new programs and initiatives to update and improve Whistler Mountain’s customer service and management. Members of management were required to spend one day a month during the ski season working in a frontline position, which could lead to improvements for both customers and employees as management experienced the difficulties of different jobs and were sometimes more willing to spend money or try new things to fix them.

One benefit that was introduced for employees was the “Borgal Buck” or “Dusty Dollar”. Whistler Mountain staff could pay for the physical coupons, which could then be used to purchase food from Whistler Mountain at a discounted price. On the coupon itself, the name of the coupon appears to be “Dusty Dollars,” no doubt a reference to Dusty’s at the base of Whistler Mountain where the coupons could be used. Prominent on the paper coupon, however, was also a photo of Lorne Borgal.

According to a recent interview with Janet Love Morrison, Borgal Bucks entitles staff to 40% off food from Whistler Mountain and could also be purchased against one’s next payday “if you were hungry and couldn’t make your paycheque.” It would seem that these coupons became quite popular, as Janet claimed, “Everybody had Borgal Bucks.”

Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Harder pose with Sidney Poitier, who they met while they were living on Whistler as alpine caretakers and he was filming a scene from Shoot to Kill on Whistler Mountain. Photo Courtesy of Janet Love Morrison & Gordy Harder.

Janet recalled other staff discounts offered by Whistler Mountain in the mid-1980s as well, including significant discounts on ski equipment and the offer of a payment plan spread over multiple paycheques, which Janet remembered using to purchase banana yellow Atomic downhill skis for her boyfriend Gordy Harder.

Like Lorne Borgal, Janet Love Morrison filled various roles at Whistler Mountain during her years working there, including cleaning the volunteer cabin, working at the daycare, and living at the top of the mountain with Gordy as alpine caretakers.

Today, staff discounts are still a popular way to provide benefits for employees, though they vary from organization to organization. As far as we are aware, however, there are current no discounts in Whistler that feature the face or name of the company President and CEO.

Before the Fitzsimmons Express

With a new eight-person chair announced to replace the four-person Fitzsimmons (Fitz) Express chairlift (pending approvals) we take a look back at how mountain access from Whistler Village has changed.

The first lift from Whistler Village opened for the 1980/81 season, around the same time the Town Centre opened and lifts on Blackcomb started turning. Prior to this, everyone accessed Whistler Mountain from the area known today as Creekside. When Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain officially opened in January 1966, it had a four-person gondola, the original double Red Chair and two T-Bars.

Whistler Mountain trail map from 1966 or 1967. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Trees were eventually cleared on Whistler Mountain for the aspirationally-named Olympic Run, however skiers who skied down the north side of Whistler Mountain were only met with a garbage dump where the Village now sits and had to catch the bus back to Creekside. Olympic Run generally only opened on weekends when the bus was running, otherwise skiers had to hitchhike back to Creekside.

Janet Love Morrison described being a rebel and skiing the closed run on a school trip. “I remember we went under the rope to ski the Little Olympic Run and we were really cool until we got to the bottom and had absolutely no way to get back to Creekside. Suddenly we were super scared because we knew we had to get back to get to the bus, because we went to school in Port Coquitlam.” Finding no cars or people at the base of the mountain, the grade eight students followed a gravel road to Highway 99 where they were picked up by a tow truck driver. They proceeded to get a dressing down by the driver and then their teachers, a first-hand experience that helped when Janet was writing Radar the Rescue Dog.

The garbage dump at the base of Whistler Mountain, where the Village is today. Whistler Question Collection.

When the lifts from the Village finally went in for the 1980/81 season multiple chairlifts were required to make it to the top. To get to the Roundhouse from Skiers Plaza, skiers first took the Village Chair, which finished slightly higher in elevation than today’s Fitz, and then skied down to Olympic Chair. Olympic Chair is still the original chair from 1980, however it was shortened in 1989 to service strictly the beginner terrain. Originally Olympic Chair met Black Chair at the bottom of Ptarmigan. If you wanted to continue on to the Roundhouse or Peak, Black Chair dropped skiers where the top of Garbanzo is today, then skiers would ski down and take Red or Green Chairs to the top. Four lifts to get to the Roundhouse and they were all slow fixed grip lifts, not the high-speed lifts that service the mountains today. (Olympic Chair, Magic Chair and Franz’s Chair are the only remaining fixed grip chairs in Whistler.)

Before Fitzsimmons Express and the Whistler Express Gondola, skiers could upload on the Village Chair. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Uploading from Whistler Village was simplified in 1988 when the Whistler Express Gondola replaced the four chairlifts, taking skiers and sightseers straight from the Village to the Roundhouse, in a gondola (apparently) designed to hold ten people.

The four-person Fitz that we know and love was built in 1999 and, together with Garbanzo, eliminated the need for the Black Chair. Prior to 1999, the biking on Whistler Mountain was predominately run by private enterprise, notably Eric Wight of Whistler Backroads, who mostly used the Whistler Express Gondola to access terrain. When the Bike Park was taken over by Whistler Blackcomb in 1999 and further developed, Fitz began to be used to access the Bike Park throughout summer, as the sport rapidly grew. These days the Bike Park sees way over 100,000 riders a year, most of whom who access the terrain from Fitz Express.

If Fitz is upgraded next summer it will be the start of a new era, greatly increasing the number of riders and skiers arriving at midstation.

The FIS Fiasco of 1979

With the world watching, the mountain began to fall apart.

It was early March 1979, and heavy rains had turned a mid-winter snowpack already beset by persistent depth hoar into a sodden mess. The avalanche hazard went through the roof. This was a mountain manager’s nightmare, but as they say, “through adversity comes greatness.”

Patrol began doing what came naturally; they bombed everything that could move. As long-time Whistler pro patroller Roger McCarthy recalls, “in a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

Mccarthy Watt Patrol - BENJAMIN 51

Roger McCarthy at left, with Bruce Watt and Ken Moyle going over wind data,   mid-1970s. George Benjamin photo.

That’s right. Whistler was experiencing one of the most volatile avalanche cycles in memory, and we were just days away from hosting the resort’s first ever FIS World Cup downhill skiing race.

A few days before the race, some FIS officials insisted on riding the gondola up to check on conditions. While standing on the loading ramp at the bottom of red chair they witnessed Goat’s Gully shed its snow right to the ground. The avalanche even damaged one of the Orange Chair’s towers. Further downslope, a slide on Lower Insanity had left debris piles five feet high on Coach’s Corner. This was not the auspicious debut on the world stage that Whistler had planned for.

“In a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

Still, mountain staff managed to clean up the mess and the forecast for race day was cold and clear. However, FIS officials deemed that safety requirements had not been met and the race could not run. As a new course with a relatively small budget, the safety infrastructure was not at the same level as some of the more established European courses, but some suspected politics as the true reason for the cancellation.

This was the era of the upstart Crazy Canucks trying to crack the European-dominated world of ski racing, and some feathers were being ruffled in the process. Regardless, with so much invested, it was going to be a major letdown for the organizers, the resort, the sponsors, and the tens of thousands of fans expected to be in attendance.

The night before the race, sensing it would be cancelled, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene came up with an idea to salvage the event. They ran an exhibition Super G race, the first ever, instead. It wouldn’t count as a World Cup, but as local writer Janet Love Morrison described in her book The Crazy Canucks, it would entertain the crowds, satisfy the sponsors, and demonstrate the spirit and ingenuity of Whistler, and Canada as a whole.

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The Crazy Canucks at the race. From left to right, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Unknown (can anyone help us out?), Steve Podborski, Ken Read.

And just in case anyone was wondering how the racers really felt about the cancellation over safety concerns, when it was Crazy Canuck Ken Read’s turn to race the exhibition course, he ignored the Super G gates and tucked the entire course at full speed, much to the crowd’s approval.

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Ken Read addressing the crowd, with Steve Podborski to viewer’s left.

“Everyone—racers, fans, and media—had a good time,” Morrison recalled.

And so, in 1979, with the ski racing world focused on Whistler, nearly everything that could go wrong did. But somehow we still managed to get things right.

When Hollywood Came to the Alpine

It’s safe to say that we are very lucky in our valley. We can enjoy lush forest hikes or adrenalin loaded bike runs for our morning workout before heading into the office. However, a now-obsolete technological quirk used to require a unique mountain town profession that came with some special perks.

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home above the tree line: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

While we valley dwellers actually have to get in the truck, and drive a few kilometres to the lifts and stand in a line up, Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder enjoyed the privilege of having their serene home nestled among the wildlife of the mountains right next to the top of the Red Chair. From 1978-1992, the lifts on Whistler Mountain actually required full–time caretakers to start them up each day, among other tasks. From January 1987 to November 1988, they were the alpine caretakers living on top of Whistler Mountain – in winter and summer.

“It was magic living up there and watching the seasons change” Janet enthuses. She remembers that the wildlife was very entertaining in summer. They heard the grouse and the hoary marmots, and they saw little pikas (rock rabbits) race here and there. In the summer months, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation would let them use the building maintenance truck to drive from the valley to the alpine on the service road. “A real treat” as they call it because it was so much easier to get groceries home if you didn’t have to transport them on the lifts.

Living in the mountains can be magical – and sometimes even thrilling: Gordy and Janet met Sidney Poitier while filming a scene of the movie Shoot to Kill in the Little Whistler bowl on Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Living in the mountains can be magical – and sometimes even thrilling: Gordy and Janet met Sidney Poitier while filming a scene of the movie Shoot to Kill in the Little Whistler bowl on Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the summer of 1988 Hollywood came to the alpine. A scene in the movie Shoot to Kill, starring Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger, was being filmed just past the top of the T-Bars at the bottom of Little Whistler. Janet and Gordy blasted up on the skidoo to watch them film. They recalled: “Mr. Poitier came over and chatted with us. He was so surprised to learn that someone lived up on the mountain. It was an absolute thrill to meet him. He suggested a film assistant take a photo with a Polaroid camera. It was so kind.”

They watched them film a blizzard scene where Sidney’s character starts to dig a snow cave. Gordy helped out by passing someone on the set huge bags of mashed potato flakes that were dumped in front of a large fan to simulate driving snow.

Janet and Gordy have a lot of golden memories to share, and we will post them to this blog in the coming months.

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. From January 1987 to November 1988, Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder, both in their early 20s at that time, were the alpine caretakers living on top of Whistler Mountain. There were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (1,850m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Whistler Village Gondola was installed, and the alpine caretaker position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.