Like much of the Whistler community, we have the Whistler Mountain Bike Park on our minds. When talking about the history of the bike park we often hear that mountain bike design and rider ability had to catch up before the bike park could take off. Thanks to generous funding from 100 Women of Whistler, and the local community who have been generous with their time, we have heard some great reflections on that recently through oral histories.
Not interested in road biking, Jim Kennedy, preferably Jimbo, was inspired to buy a mountain bike after watching the ET movie where they ride through the forest. Purchasing one of the first bikes when Doris Burma opened the door to Summit Cycles in 1983, Jim was the proud new owner of a $500 Nishiki Bushwacker. Not everyone was thrilled with his purchase, however. Mountain biker riders regularly copped abuse in the Village in regards to their choice of transport, as expletive laced “get a real bike” rang out.
In the mid-1980s, long before the bike park opened, Jimbo and friends were taking their bikes up the gondola to mid-station to ride down as part of a stag party. Luckily for them, a friend was working at mid-station, and with much encouragement let them stay on until the top of the mountain. A group filled with many former downhill racers, the ride was fast, wild and they didn’t see a single other person. Starting on snow and then following Jolly Green Giant, Jimbo remembers, “We were on these bikes, just handbrakes, no shocks or anything like that. By the time you got down your hands were just seized.” Additionally the rim brakes could get so hot they would burn or cause the tires to blow. So to ride more comfortably the bike technology had to catch up.
A few years later, the Kamikaze Descent down from the top of Blackcomb as part of Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge in 1989 followed the 15 km service road down the mountain, still no features involved. When Backroads Mountain Bike Adventures started to offer commercial downhill tours on Whistler Mountain many of the trails ridden were still the gravel access roads dotting the mountain, although Eric Wight and other passionate individuals had started to build some mountain bike specific trails across the mountains.
The opening day of the bike park in 1996 saw 500 keen riders take to the lifts. Then when Intrawest took over Whistler Blackcomb in 1998 they were convinced, with much lobbying, to further invest in the bike park. However rider ability and gear still had some catching up to do. After the first staff demo day an employee from Guest Relations remarked, “After trying the trails I couldn’t believe some of the people who had been getting on the lifts, even the greens are much harder than we were led to believe. We warn people that they need enclosed, appropriate footwear and I’ve seen people in slip-on flats go up, completely unprepared for what they are about to do.” Today it is recommended that every rider has a full face helmet, gloves, armour and a full suspension downhill bike.
Some things change while others stay the same. A commonly heard adage in the 1990s was “You can tell if someone is a Whistler local because their bike is worth more than their car.” In many cases this still rings true today.
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 1982. 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: Summers in the early 1980s were not exactly busy – some businesses even closed for the season – though there were some efforts to draw visitors to the area. The Whistler Golf Course, which had begun as a 9-hole course (learn more about that here), was being expanded in the summer of 1982 with hopes that it would drive more summer visitors to Whistler.
Question: How valuable an asset do you think the golf course will be to Whistler?
Robin Crumley – Manager, Whistler Village Inn – Alpine Meadows – Occasional Golfer
It’s indispensable. It Whistler is to become a summer resort, not only is the golf course indispensable, but all the other attractions necessary for a summer resort are indispensable as well. You can’t have a resort in a vacuum.
Since skiing is the main attraction, people who come here are already sports-oriented. It’s much better to extend the market you already have into the summer months.
John Carter – Manager, Tantalus Lodge – Tantalus Lodge – Occasional Golfer
It’s a good selling point. But the economics of it are questionable because of the limited number of people who can actually play in one day.
About 300 people a day can play, and there’s about 4000 commercial beds in this valley.
I think tennis courts are a much more valuable asset. They’re cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain and surveys show that they’re used more than golf courses.
Diane Eby – Past President of Whistler Ratepayers Association – Emerald Estates – Non-golfer
I think it’s an absolute necessity as a summer attraction for tourists.
My only concern is that is not become a horrendous burden to the local taxpayer, and I’d like to see some answers from Council on how this will be avoided.
$89,000 is slated for the golf course this year. What will it be next year?
Jim Kennedy – Labourer – Westside Rode – Occasional Golfer
I think it’s going to be a liability as opposed to an asset.
There’s only so many people who can shoot a round of golf in a day – not like skiing which can accommodate 10,000 people a day.
I’d also be surprised if it will be reasonably priced for local people to play a round of golf. It’s going to take a lot of money just to maintain it.
Pascal Simon – Roofer – Alpine Meadows – Non-golfer
I would say any improvement, such as a development like this, would be an asset to the tourists and the locals. It has to be worth it – we’re going to pay for it after all.
Harry Carman – Unemployed – Adventures West – Golfer
I think it will make the difference between this community making or breaking it.
It will help bring conventions in, providing they get the other facilities set up as well.
I’m sure it will attract more people in the summer months which will help all the businesses.
I’m real anxious for them to finish it. Needless to say, I’m a player.
What is now Olive’s Community Market in Function Junction used to be The Burnt Stew Café and was originally owned by Colin Pitt-Taylor. Not to be mixed up with Burnt Stew Computing that is still in Function Junction. Colin is now one of the board members for the Whistler Museum but before that he began a collection of his very own on the walls of the café. The collection is mostly made up of photos from Whistler’s early 70’s days and includes a lot of local characters. Though it also includes an old sled (that is no longer there due to needing room for inventory), skis and ski poles as well.
According to one of the managers of the market the artifacts inside the store are on loan from an antique shop in Squamish. Unfortunately this means there is no surefire way to know the history of them, aside from the fact they were probably used on Whistler Mountain in the early days.
Some of the photos on the wall are the same ones from collections that the museum was given as well, including some of Cliff Jenning’s and Jim Kennedy’s photos as well as a few photos from the Soo Valley.
One of the stand out photos they have on display is the famous Toad Hall poster that is the most popular item in the Museum’s gift shop. It’s fun and quirky attitude perfectly embodies the 70’s era in Whistler and fits right in amongst the other photos in Olive’s.
Colin Pitt-Taylor used a lot of photos from his own collection and gathered the others from his friends. He started the process because after the village was completed there was not much left that recognized what Whistler had been like pre-village life; back when the local community was even smaller than it is today and when there were not as many tourists visiting the area. Colin wanted to commemorate that time in Village history and did so on the walls of the Burnt Stew café. Fortunately for the community it is still there in Olive’s even after the café was closed.
Many of the photos feature well-known people from Whistler’s history as well as friends of Colin and he has a good recollection of the exact photos he hung up over the years. He can recall exact photos of friends that are on the walls and even where and when they were taken.
One of the managers of Olive’s recounts how people often come in to look at the photos and the occasional visitor points out their younger selves or other people they know in the photos. Quite a few of the images have the names of the people in the photos on them, which means anyone who comes in is able to tell if they may know whoever is in the photos.
The history of Whistler is what makes it the town it is today, and you can find that history all over, not just at the Museum. All you have to do is look.