Tag Archives: Lorne Borgal

Blackcomb’s DIY Wiring

Today we take the ability to receive or make a call for granted, but for those preparing to open Blackcomb Mountain in 1980 it would not have been as easy as picking up the phone.

It appears that months before the mountain was set to begin operations their phone system was already under quite a bit of stress.  In the first week of March, the Whistler Question reported that “Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises were growling a lot on Saturday, when their only overworked telephone was out of action for the eighth time this year!”  For the small team working out of the Blackcomb offices in construction trailers on the Town Centre site, the phone system was operational for the summer, though Blackcomb was still having some telephone woes.

Big office… small desk! Blackcomb’s accountant Larry Osborne sits behind his temporary desk in a deserted Blackcomb trailer before moving to permanent offices.  Whistler Question Collection.

On July 17, 1980, all union work on the Town Centre site (including the operation of the liquor store) stopped as the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) set up picket lines for two days.  The dispute was over telephone lines and a power line being installed from the valley to the buildings at the top of the first lift by Blackcomb workers.  Blackcomb wanted the lines installed on a weekend, as they had to cross eleven different road crossings on their way up the mountain, which would have stalled or stopped other construction work happening during the week.  BC Tel claimed that they couldn’t supply workers to install the lines on the weekend due to a ban on overtime by the union, while the TWU claimed they were willing but that BC Tel refused to schedule overtime.  Relations between BC Tel and the TWU had remained tense since a lockout and labour dispute a few years earlier.

In 1979 BC Tel and the TWU had failed to reach an agreement on the 1980 contract and by July the TWU had begun a “Super Service” campaign where they provided customer service while working to every rule and regulation, including ones that were usually deemed non-essential, and thereby slowing down productivity.  On September 22 the TWU began selective strikes, where construction and other workers would report to work but refuse all assignments except emergency repairs.  This included the pre-wiring of communication lines in new buildings, creating a backlog of construction jobs.

Technicians at work inside the new BC Telephone Whistler office earlier in the year – the wiring looks far neater than what transpired at the Blackcomb offices.  Whistler Question Collection.

For Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises, who were meant to move to their permanent offices at the top of Lift 1 in December, this presented a problem.  They had managed to get lines laid to the building, but the ongoing labour dispute meant that they could not get TWU workers in to set up the individual office lines.  Instead, Lorne Borgal, Blackcomb’s Administrative Manager, got to take a crash course in phone installation.

According to Borgal, the TWU was able to install phone blocks, but they could not do the wiring.  A local phone company employee showed Borgal how it worked and he was left to wire phones for each of the offices, most of which had three separate lines.  The building had a room where all of the cables came up from the main line and then split up to the various offices and, by the time he was done, Borgal described the contents of the room as a “big mass of wire” coming out from the wall by almost a metre.  Protection was built around the mass to prevent anyone from accidentally touching it and shutting down all the phones, as the wire were thought to be liable to falling out.  Despite his inexperience (as Borgal put it, he was “not a phone guy, at all”) the phones were operational for Blackcomb Mountain’s opening.

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

Eventually the TWU workers were able to return to the building and install the phone lines properly, putting an end to Blackcomb’s phone problems.  When shown the room of wires, their reaction was to howl with laughter and, according to Borgal, he was laughing right along with them.

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.

Selling Whistler by Radio

If you listened to Vancouver radio in the 1980s, chances are you heard radio ads for Whistler mountain featuring Dave Murray.  Targeting Lower Mainland listeners, the ads had a very catchy tune that urged listeners to “Get away to Whistler” and Murray’s voice explaining why skiers should head to Whistler Mountain.  One of the creators of the ads was Mike Hurst.

Mike Hurst, 2nd from right, presenting the grand prize for an unknown promotion, early 1980s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Hurst first came to know Whistler in 1971 while working as a marketing executive for Labatt’s Brewing.  He left Labatt’s in the early 1980s to raise his family in BC.  About a month after he arrived, he received a call from the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) offering him a job as vice president of marketing.  He was presented with the challenge of competing with the newly opened Blackcomb Mountain while at the same time cooperating with Blackcomb to market Whistler as a destination for skiers.  To complicate matters further, when Hurst asked about the marketing budget he was told, “Well, zero.”  Nevertheless, he began working for WMSC and stayed with the resort until he returned to Labatt’s in 1989.

In 2015 Hurst participated in a Speaker Series at the Whistler Museum along with Lorne Borgal and Bob Dufour during which he described his early years of working for Whistler Mountain.  During his part of the presentation, Hurst talked about some of the programs and marketing that those who skied Whistler in the 1980s and 1990s will find familiar.  At the time, WMSC was adjusting to the idea that they were no longer the only ski hill in town.  Blackcomb Mountain was proving worthy competition with on-mountain restaurants, a ski school specifically for kids (Kids Kamp), and an overall focus on friendly customer service.

Kids are put through the hoops at Blackcomb Mountain ‘Kids Kamp’.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

One of the most enduring Whistler Mountain programs that Hurst spoke about was the master camps run by Dave Murray.

After Murray retired from racing in 1982 he and Hurst sat down to talk about him coming to work at Whistler.  According to Hurst, he asked Murray what he wanted to do and over the next hour and a half Murray laid out his vision of using race training techniques to improve recreational skiers’ abilities, partly by getting them involved in competing against themselves for fun.  Murray was made director of skiing for Whistler Mountain and his camps soon became a reality for all ages.

As the new Director of Ski Racing for Whistler Mountain, Dave Murray will be coordinating downhill race clinics, ski promotions and special events. Murray, 29, retired from the Canadian National Ski Team last year after the World Cup held at Whistler.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Murray’s new position included becoming the spokesperson for WMSC, which is how he came to be the voice on their radio ads (Hurst said that at the time they couldn’t afford television).  According to Hurst, Whistler Mountain was seen as “the big ol’ tough ol’ mountain from way back,” while Blackcomb had a reputation as a friendly family mountain.  Murray was able to change that perception by engaging with people and making the mountain personal.

Murray told Hurst that he had never done radio ads before but that didn’t stop them.  Hurst wrote some ads and they went down to the studio in Vancouver to record for an hour.  Hurst said that, “It was amazing to watch Dave… first couple of times he fumbled and bumbled, but the third time, nailed it.”  They even had time to record extra ads, written on the spot.

Dave Murray coaching one of the kids master classes on Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Each ad starts with the same phrase, “Hi, I’m Dave Murray of Whistler Mountain,” after which Murray would talk about the variety of skiing on offer, Whistler’s new Never-Ever Special, Whistler’s improved dining options, Ski Scamp programs, or his Masters Racing Camps.  The ads were personable and friendly, with Murray encouraging skiers to “ski with me on my mountain.”  Every ad ended with one of Whistler Mountain’s slogans of the day: “Whistler Mountain, above and beyond,” or “Whistler Mountain, come share the magic.”

The 1980s were a period of huge change for Whistler Mountain and for the area as a whole.  Dave Murray and Mike Hurst played a large role in changing the way that Whistler Mountain presented itself and operated during this period.  Keep an eye out for more stories from the 1980s over the next few weeks and months!

This Week In Photos: November 15

This week of 1984 includes some photos from Beer League Slo-pitch Banquet.  For more photos of the trophies mentioned, take a look here – some of them are quite interestingly crafted.

1979

The copper pillars of the pub in Package 6 reflect the afternoon sun at Whistler Village.

Three views of the Ski Swap… The crowds of cars outside..

… the crowds of people looking for bargains inside…

… and the RCMP engraving skis as part of their “Ski Watch” program.

Garibaldi Building Supplies’ Franke Desroches proudly displays the winning ticket.

The new town access road that runs past the school property. The new road is about 1.5 metres above the level of the school grounds.

Campbell McGougan and Bob Bates stands beside Alpine Security’s Bronco patrol vehicle.

View of the Rotary Auction as seen from the front of the room. Nandor Pal has just made a bid!

1980

First snow of the season: Sunday Evening, November 9, 1980.

New Guides Carrie Ainsworth, Marisa Gianne, Jodi Rustad and Rya Kirkwood proudly display their badges.

Stuart Remple and Steve Kellough of Salomon and Blackcomb Staffers Elizabeth Bennett and Martin Kimble mount bindings on the new Blackcomb rental skis.

Manager Dennis Lamarche stands in the centre of the new unfinished Whistler Liquor Store.

Gourmet’s Ted Nebbeling heads out with a tray of goodies for the Blackcomb Sports store opening.

A happy Blackcombe Sports staff cuts through the ribbon with a pair of skis as scissors at the store opening ceremonies.

Worker puts finishing touches to new dog pound adjacent to Whistler public works building.

1981

Oh happy days – frosted slopes and free season’s passes from each mountain. Roland Kentel (left), president of Whistler Athletic Society, was pleased to present Rod MacLeod with a pass to Whistler and Cheryl Devine with one to Blackcomb for their top efforts in raising money for the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope; Rod raised $1,260 and Cheryl raised $1,134.

Oops – didn’t think that telephone pole looked like that last night. This one took a nose-dive in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 14, knocking out power in the southern part of the municipality for several hours. BC Hydro said that the rain-soaked earth was at the root of the problem.

Al Raine displays his broadjumping skills for sons Charlie and Willie, an unidentified family friend and the family dog.

Department of Highways worker stands on one of the 44,000 lb. concrete beams that will make up the base of the Bridge at River of Golden Dreams.

Treasurer Gary Raymond plays at the keyboard of the municipality’s new $60,000 Basic MAI system 210 computer. The system is capable of printing 150 lines per minute and storing up to 14 million characters. Tax accountant Kathy Hicks and MAI system analyst Gene Wong look on.

1982

New positions and new faces on Blackcomb Mountain this season include (l – r) Lorne Borgal, Administrative Manager; Rick Morten, Operations Manager; Grant Smith, Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor; Ross Nichol, Comptroller.

A quiet moment in memory of the war dead is observed Thursday, November 11 by members of Whistler RCMP and Whistler Ambulance. (L – R) Denver Snider, Gord Simms, Andrea Lloyd and Jim Scribner observe two minutes of silence after laying a wreath. Any war vets who would be interested in holding an Armistice Day service next year are asked to contact Jim Scribner.

Margate Kogler ‘hams it up’ with a submarine sandwich in the kitchen at the Community Club Fall Fair November 13.

Eugene Rickli displays a selection of his hand-carved cedar faces at the Community Club Fall Fair.

First snowman of the season was being created on November 15 with only the help of a small shovel and a metal spoon. Sculptors are (clockwise from the bottom left): Sam Davies, Pam Pocius, Tim Sereda, Anthony Garm and Nina Lewis.

Ian Boyd, an employee of Whistler Mountain Ski Corp., demonstrates the ins and outs of this SMI snow-making machine Thursday. The machine, which may be put to use on Whistler Mountain this winter, is able to produce enough snow to cover one acre one-half inch deep in one hour.

1984

Smith Brothers Wilson employees poured part of the concrete slab for the Conference Centre’s second floor Friday. Construction crews are racing against the clock to get the second floor and roof completed before the end of the month. The 2,100 person capacity Conference Centre is scheduled to open June 1.

About 75 people attended a brief Remembrance Day ceremony in front of the Tri-Services Building Sunday morning. At precisely 11 am a minute of silence was observed to commemorate those Canadian men and women who died in battle and to give thanks for the peace they fought and died for.

About 1,300 people passed through Myrtle Philip School gym and lunchroom Saturday for the 8th annual Fall Fair organized by Heather Gamache and Catherine Wiens from the Alta Lake Community Club. Although final figures haven’t yet been tabulated, Gamache estimates the club raised close to $1,800 from the fair that featured clothing, jewellery, photography and art and other hand-made crafts.

Sonya McCarthy with a selection of South American clothing she was selling at Saturday’s Fall Fair.

150 people showed up for the last week’s beer league’s slo-pitch banquet, despite weather conditions that were definitely not for baseball. Each team in the league made a trophy for presentation to one of the other teams. Trophies included a No Name brand trophy, a softball/sailboat, and a Muppet-like doll with one rather unMuppet-like feature.

Stoney’s accepts its team trophy. The team won the league championship this year.