Tag Archives: ski school

Learning to Ski at Whistler

Whistler attracts skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels and it comes as no surprise that there are a great number of people who first learned to ski on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, or even on the nearby slopes of Rainbow Mountain.  On Whistler Mountain, formal instruction has been on offer since it opened in 1966.

Garibaldi Ski School was opened by Roy Ferris and Alan White, who persuaded Omulf Johnsen from Norway to manage the school.  After two years Johnson moved on to Grouse Mountain and Jim McConkey was asked to take over instruction at Whistler.  McConkey had taught skiing in Utah for ten years before moving to Todd Mountain in Kamloops.  He agreed to come manage the ski school in Whistler on the agreement that he would also handle equipment rentals and the ski shop.

Jim McConkey posing for a formal staff photo in his Whistler Ski School uniform.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

McConkey described the ski school as being in a class of its own due to there being limited beginner terrain.  The ski school grew to have a few salaried instructors and more than 25 regular instructors who worked on commission.  Joe Csizmazia and Hans Mozer had started using helicopters for skiing in 1966 and McConkey took over the helicopter operations in 1968 for six years.  He, along with a couple of his top instructors, acted as guides for heli-skiing off of the regular runs on Whistler Mountain.

Ski lessons were a bargain at $18 for six two-hour classes.  In 1969 the mountain introduced adult summer ski programs in addition to children’s camps.  The adult summer lessons combined skiing with apres and summer recreation.  After a few hours of skiing in the morning, the group would have lunch at the Roundhouse and then go swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, or McConkey, who was an avid golfer, would take groups to the Squamish Golf Course.  Each week’s camp ended with a slalom race and an evening barbecue.  McConkey also began holding instructor courses where weekend skiers could learn to become ski instructors.

This bell called a generation of skiers to their lessons on Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1978

Students at Whistler Mountain were called to their ski lessons by the ringing of a bell at the base of the gondola.  McConkey had heard that there was a bell in Pemberton that belonged to the Lil’wat Nation.  The bell had been installed in the steeple of a church in Mount Currie in 1904 but had been unused since the church caught fire in the late 1940s.  McConkey asked for permission to use the bell and had a picture drawn to show what it would look like at the base of Whistler.  The council was consulted and agreed to lend the bell to the ski school.  McConkey and Dick Fairhurst brought the bell to Whistler and installed it at the gondola base, with a plaque to tell the story of its origins.

A young Bob Dufour poses for his offficial Ski School portrait, early 1970s.

McConkey left the ski school in 1980, at which point Bob Dufour took over as its director.  When Blackcomb Mountain opened in 1980 they made their own ski school called Ski-ed.  It was advertised as a chance to ski with a pro on Blackcomb.  In 1985 Ski Esprit was opened as a dual mountain ski school with six instructors.

Since the 1980s, Whistler and Blackcomb mountains have combined more than just their ski schools, and thousands of skiers, and now snowboarders, continue to learn on the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

This Week in Photos: January 18

1980

Whistler base from the Gondola Run, as it looked on January 14, 1980.

Paul & Jane Burrows added a bit of warmth to the paper with more travel photos, this time from New Orleans.

Cars got buried in snow in Alpine Meadows.

1981

Paul Burrows holds a copy of the winter edition of Whistler Magazine. The magazine is still published today.

Fuel-soaked cardboard ignites as Bentham (far right) readies to run. (If anyone knows why this stunt took place or has any further details, please let us know at the Museum.)

Bursting through the blaze as crewmen with fire extinguishers head towards Bentham.

Getting the treatment from four extinguishers including brother Harry Bentham (wearing the ski toque).

In the aftermath, Bentham is bandaged by his brother Harry.

1982

A weekend snow storm effectively buried many cars and had many people heading out with shovels.

“Through the hoops” – a Myrtle Philip Kindergarten student shows their form during the school ski program at Blackcomb. The students go skiing once a week for four weeks.

Dennis Waddingham, North Side Ski Shop Manager for Whistler Mountain, Resident of Whistler Cay.

Dogs enjoy playing in the snow in Village Square.

1983

Cross-country skiers kick out over the new trail system around Lost Lake on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The same trail was the scene of a 20 km race earlier in the day.

Have you cleaned your chimney lately? If not, these fellows may pay you a visit shortly. Fire Inspector Gerry Fosty reports there have been four chimney fires at Whistler since the New Year – all of them preventable.

Over 200 applicants turned out at the Keg Monday, January 17 for a variety of jobs being offered by the restaurant. The Keg is scheduled to open its doors sometime in early February.

All hands were on deck for the first series in the third annual Boat Race between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains Wednesday at the Longhorn Pub. Crowds cheered the Blackcomb team on to victory in the Women’s and All-Star (mixed team) events. Whistler Mountain personnel were the top tipplers in the men’s division and will have a chance to regain the All-Star title Wednesday, March 2 at the Bavarian Inn.

1985

Divers prepare for a plunge into Nita Lake.

An RCMP E-division diving trainee prepares to climb out of the frigid water of Nita Lake at last week’s training session held in Whistler. The divers combed the lake bottom in pairs learning how to recover lost objects such as vehicles, weapons and bodies.

The shaken occupant of a van that was struck at the Lorimer and Nesters intersection last Thursday morning leaves the upturned vehicle. About $4000 damage was done to the two vehicles, but there were no serious injuries. The accident occurred when a car turning off Nesters Road collided with a second vehicle, which was travelling on Lorimer Road. The driver of the first car was charged with driving without due care and attention.