There are many prominent figures from our valley’s history whose names recur often on this blog and elsewhere: Myrtle & Alex Philip, Franz Wilhelmsen, Stefan Ples, Eldon Beck, Hugh Smythe, Florence Petersen, Nancy Greene & Al Raine, just to name a few. But one name which has not received its due is Jack Bright.
Jack Bright was the first General Manager of Whistler Mountain, and was a pivotal figure in the nascent ski resort’s quick ascent as Canada’s premier ski resort. Sadly, we received word that Jack Bright passed away last week in Vancouver.
Franz Wilhelmsen hired Jack to run Whistler Mountain at the ripe old age of 28, a decision that turned out to be a resounding success. Considering Jack’s previous work experience was 5 years managing the tiny (and now-defunct) Pigeon Mountain ski area near Canmore, Alberta, Jack must have given a pretty good interview!
In any case, Jack turned out to be a marketing and management savant. Recognizing the power of celebrity and the draw of larger-than-life personalities, he managed to snag skiing superstar “Diamond” Jim McConkey to run the resort’s ski school, rental & retail operations.
The classic image of Jack Bright (left) skiing Whistler with “Diamond Jim” McConkey. Photo taken ca. before toques were invented (1972, actually).
A few years later in March 1971, at the height of “Trudeaumania” then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his bride Margaret honeymooned at Whistler. Clearly, such esteemed guests required “above-and-beyond” service, so Jack and Jim McConkey served as the newly-weds personal ski instructors during their stay. Trudeau, a strong skier, returned to Whistler often, and Jack or Jim were always prepared to accompany him.
Jack Bright (right) showing the Prime Minister how it’s done.
The publicity from such high-profile associations is hard to overstate, and foreshadows the prolific use of celebrity and athlete “ambassadors” that is common practice throughout the ski industry today. For more recent local examples, think Dave Murray ski camps, Mike Douglas “Embedded,” and local Olympic champions Ashleigh McIvor & Maelle Ricker, to name just a few.
Jack was also instrumental in arranging countless ski races, spring skiing parties, and other events to attract skiers and raise the resort’s profile, another example of his forward-thinking marketing mind. During his tenure, Jack oversaw Whistler Mountain’s quick ascent to the biggest and most renowned ski resort in the province.
One look at the Creekside Gondola line-up from the early 1970s is testament to Jack’s success at growing the resort. It was also Jack’s decision to institute a boarding-pass system, lift tickets that included a pre-scheduled up-load time, to take some of the sting off what could easily be a two or three-hour wait for the lifts.
More than just a promotions guru, Jack also built and managed the Whistler Inn, one of the valley’s first hotels, was the inaugural president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, he helped found the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the Canada Day Parade and was the chair of Whistler’s first bank, the North Shore Credit Union.
He stopped working for Whistler Mountain in the mid-1970s, but stayed in town for some time, continuing to manage his hotel and various other community interests. He eventually moved to Vancouver where he remained an active and respected businessman, though he remained connected to the Whistler community and came back to ski and visit frequently.
Franz Wilhelmsen, an unidentified man, and Jack Bright (from l to r), overlooking their kingdom, early 1980s.