Tag Archives: Ski Scamps

Helmets on the Hill

Whistler is a hub for adventure sport and, if you have been here long, it is likely you know someone who has been affected by a head injury. With helmet use so standard on the mountain today, I found it surprising to see the following question asked in a 2011 museum oral history “Do you think that sometimes more people get injured when they are wearing safety gear? They suddenly feel empowered and attempt something far beyond their abilities?” Similar sentiments are echoed throughout many publications at this time.

Ski School instructor leading students in Whistler in the 1970s.
Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) Collection.

Unlike today, helmets were initially far less popular on the slopes than while riding a bike (helmets have been mandatory for cycling in BC since 1996 and you can be fined up to $100 for non-compliance). Looking at photos from skiing in the early days of Whistler Mountain, it is unusual to see people wearing helmets on the mountain even into the 80s, and they clearly gained popularity throughout the 90s and early 2000s as designs improved and they became more ingrained in local mountain culture.

Helmets were recommended on the slopes a long time before any mandates were introduced. There are stories from Whistler Blackcomb orientation where employees were asked to put their hand up if they wore a helmet. Those with their hands up were acknowledged as the smartest of the group.

Spot the helmet. Willie Whistler with Ski Scamps on Whistler Mountain, February 1982. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) Collection.

Helmets became compulsory for all people under 18 attending ski or snowboard lessons in the 2009/10 winter season (requirements for children under 13 occurred earlier). Employees and anyone in lessons were also required to wear helmets in the terrain park. At this time, Whistler Blackcomb also began to make a conscious effort to feature skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets in their promotional material.

Easily the most contentious decision around helmets occurred in April 2013, when Whistler Blackcomb was allegedly told by WorkSafe BC that they were not in compliance with Section 8.11 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. This act mandates that safety headgear is required for any employees where there is a risk of head injury. Until then, this decades-old regulation had never been enforced on ski hills. According to Director of Employee Experience Joel Chevalier “The WorkSafe BC officers told us that at any time during or after the meeting, they could go outside, see one of our employees on skis or a snowboard without a helmet and write us an order, which from our perspective was quite a serious statement to make.”

Whistler Blackcomb took this discussion very seriously and announced that all employees on skis or snowboards were required to wear a helmet at work from May 4, only two weeks after the meeting with WorkSafe BC. To ensure all employees were able to meet this regulation there was a helmet borrowing policy for the rest of the season and staff could get 45% off when purchasing helmets from Whistler Blackcomb-owned stores.

Ski school in 1991. Helmets optional. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Tom Ericson.

Some members of Whistler Blackcomb management and staff were incensed with the swift decision by WorkSafe BC because there were still concerns about the safety of wearing helmets in certain situations, particularly during avalanche control when Ski Patrol are required to listen for hazards. (According to a survey around this time, patrollers were evenly distributed, with one third always wearing helmets, one third sometimes wearing helmets and one third never wearing helmets.) Headings such as “Helmet policy riles workers” and “Ski hills question ‘helmet rule’ for employees” dotted the local and provincial newspapers. Still, the greatest controversy surrounded whether it was appropriate to mandate helmet wear, or whether it should be a personal choice.

Despite helmets remaining a choice for visitors, the tide has turned. A Statistics Canada survey from 2017 found that 78.6% of skiers and 76.3% of snowboarders always wear helmets (and this is likely higher in Whistler), while helmet use amongst cyclists is lower at 45.5% Canada-wide. Today you can often tell approximately how old a photo is based on the number of helmets you see on the hill.

Whistler Mountain’s 20th Birthday

On February 9, 1985, Whistler Mountain decided to celebrate its 20th birthday with events and contests held on the mountain and at the Gondola Base (today known as Creekside). The Whistler Question stated that the goal of the celebrations was to “make everyone remember the good old days of ’65,” with food prices in Pika’s from 1965 and an Apres Ski party featuring music and styles from the 1960s. There was just one problem with this plan: in February 1965, no lifts had been built on Whistler Mountain yet. Whistler Mountain officially opened to the public on January 15, 1966, nineteen years before. This did not stop the lift company from throwing itself a 20th birthday party and inviting everyone to join in the festivities.

On the mountain, the lift company organized a scavenger hunt, a special Ski Scamps and Parents race on Ego Bowl, and a Celebrity Masters Classic on the Lower Gondola Run (today part of Dave Murray Downhill). This last competition pitted celebrities of the ski industry against Whistler Mountain skiers, as well as allowing in “selected members of the media who can wear skis – and think at the same time.” For those who wanted to watch a spectacle rather than compete, the ski school performed a synchronized ski demonstration and on the Saturday evening 175 skiers participated in a torchlight parade down the mountain.

Some participants in the adult portion of the Gondola Stuffing Contest. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

At the Gondola Base, the Gondola Stuffing Contest saw 27 kids stuffed into one four-person gondola and at Dusty’s the 1960s themed air band contest was won by Cate Webster’s group The Exciters. Outside, people danced to live music and the lift company cut into a giant 12 m birthday cake.

Just part of the 12 m birthday cake. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

The day before Whistler Mountain’s “birthday,” VIP meals had gathered together executives and staff from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains to cut a much smaller cake. Though some invitees couldn’t make it (Seppo Makinen, whose crews cut the first runs on Whistler Mountain, was detained in Vancouver and missed “the first time in 20 years the lift company was going to pay for a meal”), President of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises Hugh Smythe, himself a former Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. employee, was spotted wearing a Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain t-shirt for the occasion.

Blackcomb President Hugh Smythe (left) sports a Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain shirt next to Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation executives Peter Alder (middle) and Lorne Borgal (right). Whistler Question Collection, 1985

Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday was also a chance for the company and the community to reflect on the past twenty (or nineteen) years and the changes they had seen in such a short time. Three founding members of the lift company were asked how they felt about the milestone for the Question’s “Whistler Answers” column. Makinen said it felt “really good. It’s nice to see,” and Franz Wilhelmsen, the founding president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., told the paper “I think it’s fantastic. It has fulfilled everyone’s wildest dreams I think.” Stefan Ples, however, believed that at twenty years the ski operation was still young compared to European resorts and had plenty of potential. Ples told the paper, “It’s hardly started.”

The Exciters perform as the winners of the lift company’s 1960s-themed air band contest. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

According to a member of the lift company’s marketing team, the fact that Whistler Mountain hadn’t been operating for quite twenty years yet was not important. The economy was coming out the other side of a major recession that had hit tourism and the town of Whistler quite hard, and hosting a birthday party seemed like a great way to celebrate. The community seemed to agree, with over 1,500 people joining in some part of the festivities and showing that age really is just a number.

This Week in Photos: January 25

1979

New signs recently put up in the area of the new Whistler Village by the Whistler Village Land Company.

Powder snow and sunshine – the way it was at Whistler several times during the past week.

1980

Work continues on the town centre buildings despite the snow and cold temperatures.

The new ski shop located in the Roundhouse addition at the top of Whistler.

All that remained of the BC Hydro Ski Club cabin at 7:30 on Saturday morning. Not only was the large cabin reduced to a heap of burning rubble, but the trees in the area caught fire also. Lack of access prevented the Whistler Fire trucks from getting close to the fire.

A group of happy skiers zips down one of the new Blackcomb runs. (Blackcomb did not officially open until the beginning of Winter 1980/81.)

1981

Bob Ainsworth, Whistler Mountain area manager (left), and Peter Alder, Whistler Mountain Vice-President (right), celebrate the first new snow at base level in over a month with the photographer as a target for some hefty snowballs.

Two of many skiers that made use of BCR (BC Rail) passenger service last week.

Volunteers transport federal mail after BCR dropped it at Whistler Station.

An aerial view of the winding Highway 99.

1982

Dogs have been sprouting up all over the place – including this planter at Tapley’s.

Get Lucky! Take a chance like Vicki Larson-Rodgers and Susan Gestrin are! Get your Lot-tery ticket from Rita Knudson who will be selling them in front of the Grocery Store Fridays and Saturdays 2-6 pm and Sundays 1-4 pm. All proceeds go to the Whistler Health Care Society – and you might win a $100,000 lot in Whistler Cay Heights.

Looking as though he is kneeling on his skis, a racer heads through a gate during the recent telemark dual slalom on Blackcomb. For every gate that the racers pass through when not in the telemark position, they are assessed a penalty point.

Jan Holmberg and Ted Nebbeling keep the dough moving at the new Chef & Baker.

1983

A podium finish at the Fleischmann Cup held on Whistler Mountain.

Sue Worden of Body Works puts a group of Corporate Cup die-hards through the paces in Village Square Saturday.

Ah, for the delectable treat of glaced salmon, especially when it’s been served up through two hours of hard work by the Envirocon team during Saturday’s Corporate Cup. This jaunty fellow was the first-place finisher out of 27 entries in the ice sculpture contest.

Here’s a race we can get behind! Inner tube pullers are put to the test in another fun contest – Sliding Inflation.

Does anyone remember the rules for this race? If so, can they please explain?

A more easily recognized competition – a game of volleyball in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

1985

First you pick it up… “Now how do I put this thing on?” wonders five-year-old Troy Hansen-Wight of Vancouver. Young Troy was seen Sunday at Whistler Mountain’s Ski Scamps program trying to figure out just how to fit on a racing helmet – it’s not easy.

Construction continues on the Conference Centre in Whistler Village.

Belly up to the bar, for 2400 shooters at The Longhorn’s Silverstreak party Saturday, compliments of the one and only Silverstreak himself. The lively host picked up the tab, while Longhorn bartenders Delmar Page (left) and Gerry Heiter poured the honours.

Staff at Pemberton Secondary played against the Senior Girls team last Friday and the lunch hour game ended in a 12-12 tie. School board officials expect to replace the gym floor sometime this summer at an estimated cost of between $30,000 and $40,000.