The natural terrain features, beginning of boardercross, and the early adoption of a terrain park all helped cement Whistler’s important place in snowboard history. The early snowboard shops in Whistler were also important for supporting local snowboarders and the growing sport.
The first snowboard shop to open in Whistler, known simply as the Snoboard Shop, was opened by Ken Achenbach. Ken got into snowboarding in 1980 after he quit ski racing and was looking for something else to do during the long winters. He bought a snowboard from snowboard pioneer, Tom Sims, and was immediately hooked. Ken was so confident that snowboarding would be the next big thing that he borrowed his Mom’s credit card and bought six more snowboards intending to sell them to local stores. Ahead of his time, none of the stores wanted them and he started selling the snowboards out of his Calgary garage to pay his Mom back. This grew into the Snoboard Shop in Calgary, one of the first snowboard shops in Canada.
Soon Ken was in the centre of the snowboarding world, competing in the first Snowboard World Championship and appearing throughout snowboard media. He came to Whistler to film, fell in love with the mountains, and in 1988 he opened the Snoboard Shop in Whistler.
Down an alley and out of the way, the Snoboard Shop was an institution and opened before snowboards were even allowed up Whistler Mountain. Making up a surprisingly large portion of the snowboard market, according to Ken, when TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine came out, the only snowboarding magazine at the time, the Snoboard Shop made one fifth of the total magazine sales.
Likewise, before boots specific to snowboarding were widely available, Sorel’s regular snow boots were popular for snowboarders. Modified with a ski boot liner inside they were the best snowboard boots on the market at the time. In a Whistler Museum Speaker Series last year, Ken said the Snoboard shop had some of the highest sales of Sorels in the country. When the Canadian representative for Sorels visited the Snoboard Shop to learn more about their success, the rep was shocked to see that they were not an outdoor store. Playing an integral part during the early years, the Snoboard Shop in Whistler closed in 1996 for the team to pick up new ventures.
Showcase was the second snowboard shop to open in Whistler and also holds an important place in Whistler hearts and history. Although Showcase today is known for snowboarding, when it opened in 1989, it was known as Showcase Tennis. The Chateau Whistler Resort had just opened with six tennis courts, including two covered courts. Not long after opening, management made the financial decision to pivot to snowboarding which was blowing up, with Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains both recently welcoming snowboarders. Blackcomb opened to snowboarders during the 1987/88 season and Whistler opened the year after.
To properly cater to snowboarders they brought in Graham Turner as manager, who was a snowboard racer and Blackcomb Mountain employee. Graham was also early on the snowboarding scene, making a snowboard in woodwork at school in the early 1980s before it was easy to buy a snowboard in Vancouver. Like so many others, he moved to Whistler to be closer to his favourite hobbies, snowboarding and mountain biking.
Showcase had events and marketing perfectly dialled, starting the Showcase Showdown which is touted as Canada’s longest running snowboard competition. Fondly remembered by many, it sometimes seemed like half of Whistler was living on Kraft Dinner from Showcase thanks to the marketing genius where you could get three boxes for 99 cents. Used as a loss leader to bring people into the store, the Kraft Dinner was excellent value even then. You can only imagine the lines out the door if that special came back today! During Graham’s reign Showcase became the biggest Burton dealer in North America while growing the local snowboarding community.