Tag Archives: snowboarding

Snowboard Park – No Skiers Allowed!

Blackcomb Mountain opened for snowboarders in the 87/88 season. While it would take Whistler another year to start embracing snowboard culture, Blackcomb was generally supportive of the ‘knuckle-draggers’ thanks to the persistence and passion of a few snowboarders on staff and in the community. Additionally, Hugh Smythe could see the strategic benefits of welcoming a new group of riders.

Before terrain parks were a common feature of ski resorts, snowboarders would travel from all around Canada and the world to take advantage of the many natural features of Blackcomb, perfect for sending big air and pushing the boundaries of the new sport. The natural quarterpipe and wind lip on Blackcomb featured in many publications and films, including the cover of Transworld SNOWboarding with Doug Lundgren. Before the official park, groups would also build their own kickers and crude halfpipes on the mountain. This sometimes involved trying to avoid the watchful eye of ski patrol.

The natural features of Blackcomb attracted snowboarders from around Canada and the world. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Sean Sullivan 1991.

Stu Osborne was instrumental to the snowboarding scene on Blackcomb. Stu started as an instructor and went on to become Snowboard Coordinator and then Terrain Park Supervisor, founding the first Blackcomb management-sanctioned halfpipe and snowboard park. While the Kokanee Snowboard Park officially appeared on the Blackcomb trail map in the 94/95 winter season, the first halfpipe and park launched earlier.

There was still a mentality of skiers versus snowboarders at this time and despite receiving approval to create the initial halfpipe, accessing the resources from the Blackcomb Operations team to build the park was a different story. To get around the lack of resources, Snow Ejectors, a private snow removal company, became a sponsor, providing custom-painted shovels for the build. The early halfpipe was created using these shovels and a little cat time.

During a competition featuring many of the world’s best riders, the Snow Ejectors’ hand-painted banner was larger than those of any of the other sponsors, much to the chagrin of Blackcomb management. The next year, more equipment and support was provided by Blackcomb Mountain. Before the opening of the Kokanee Snowboard Park, Blackcomb became one of the first resorts in Canada to get a pipe dragon, specialised grooming equipment that could carve out a uniform halfpipe far more easily than hand-digging.

A snowboarder takes flight near the Kokanee Snowboard Park. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

In the early days, ‘Blackcomb Snowboard Park’ was exactly that, a park for snowboarders. Rules had changed (in this one niche area on the mountain) and there was a big sign that specified ‘no skiers allowed’. Skiers would wait outside the snowboard park in groups, and bomb the park together in a train so they were harder to catch. It wasn’t long, however, until the park evolved to welcome both snowboarders and skiers as the more inclusive ‘terrain park’ that we know today. 

Originally, the park features on Blackcomb and other resorts in the Canada West Ski Area Association were rated like ski runs, with greens, blues, blacks and double blacks. As most people probably understand, riding a beginner feature would require different skills to a typical green run; however the system broke down when a visitor went off a jump that was far beyond their ability and sustained a debilitating injury. The resulting lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and, learning from this experience, the ratings in the terrain park were changed to those that we see today. Burton had just introduced Smart Style, the orange oval to indicate freestyle terrain. Whistler Blackcomb and the Canada West Ski Area Association went one step further adding S, M, L and XL sizing to keep it easy to interpret. Both features and parks are marked so people can easily choose where to ride within their ability.

Licence to Snowboard

Despite skiers and snowboarders charging down the mountain together today, there was a time when single-plankers were strictly not allowed. Skier complaints and safety concerns resulted in both Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain remaining closed to snowboarders until the late 80s. Snowboarders were forced to ride smaller undeveloped hills, head to the backcountry, or hike up the mountain while avoiding the watchful eye of mountain staff.

The acceptance of snowboarding was slow because of the perception that snowboarders were dangerous, uncontrolled and uncivilised. The laid-back alternative lifestyle of snowboarders often clashed with that of skiers, and it was not uncommon for skiers to hurl disdain at snowboarders when they were finally allowed on the mountain.

A Greg Stump snowboarding production on Blackcomb in 1989. Even the bright and baggy clothes commonly worn by snowboarders rubbed skiers the wrong way. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Greg Stump Productions.

Early snowboarders to Whistler tell stories about being spat on, chased by snowcats, and getting shovels thrown at them. As Ken Achenbach remarked, “We were called menaces to society, it was wicked man”. All a snowboarder had to do to grind the gears of some skiers was wake up in the morning. Even Hugh Smythe, Blackcomb General Manager, was derided when the decision was made to welcome snowboarders to Blackcomb for the 1987/88 season.

Special rules for snowboarders in resort areas were commonplace at this time. In some resorts, before they were allowed on the lifts, snowboarders had to agree not to use foul language. Similar to many East Coast resorts, Blackcomb went a step further. Unlike skiers, snowboarders were initially required to pass a proficiency test to be licenced to ride Blackcomb. The test cost around the price of a day pass and snowboarders had to prove they could turn both ways and stop safely. A certificate was presented upon passing which allowed the recipient to load the lifts with their board.

Aerials were also originally banned on Blackcomb, with lift tickets confiscated from those who dared leave the ground. Blackcomb was a popular freestyle mountain but riders were required to keep an eye out for patrol when practicing for fear of losing their passes.

It may be hard to believe in the age of triple cork 1440s, but all inverted aerials were initially also banned in snowboard competitions due to concerns over spinal cord injuries. It was not unusual for professional snowboarders to deliberately disqualify themselves in competitions by pulling inverted aerials, including the crippler, in protest of this rule. The rules were eventually changed to prevent medals being awarded only to those who followed the rules and showcased the tamest tricks.

When snowboarders were first allowed on Blackcomb they were required to pass a test before riding the lifts and aerials were banned. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

As a new sport, the snowboarding community in Whistler was small and tight-knit. Being so outnumbered, snowboarders would instantly be best buds with anyone else riding a board. This did not last long however; snowboarding was the fastest growing sport in the 1990s and despite the growth slowing, the community today is so big there is no way anyone could know every snowboarder on the mountain.

For more on the history of snowboarding, join us for our first in-person event for 2022. In this Whistler Museum Speaker Series we will be talking about the history of snowboarding in Whistler with local snowboarding legends Ken Achenbach and Graham Turner.

The event begins at 7 pm on Monday the 28th of March. Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum members) and are available at the Whistler Museum. We look forward to seeing you there!

Speaker Series are back and in person!

We’ll be taking a look at the history of snowboarding with Ken Achenbach and Graham Turner in our first in-person event of 2022! Snowboarding is an important part of Whistler and, though it is a younger sport than skiing and was in fact banned in the area until the late 1980s, has a rich history in the area. Despite this, we still have limited information about snowboarding in our collections – but we are working to change this!

Event begins at 7 pm (doors open by 6:30 pm). Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

*There will be limited tickets available for in-person Speaker Series in accordance with the capacity of the Whistler Museum. There will be no cash bar for this event and guests will need to show proof of vaccination upon entry.

*Speaker Series events will also be streamed live – contact us to register for the livestream at 604-932-2019 or events @ whistlermuseum.org.

The times they are a-changing in Whistler’s historical collections

Time are changing in the world of archival and artefact collections, and it’s definitely hard to keep up with the resulting backlog. This is a good problem to have, because it means the community trusts the museum to preserve its past. We have had a significant increase in the number and size of donations to the Whistler Museum and Archives over the past two years (thanks to those who donated!), and we hope we will continue to be on the minds of locals when older things are looking for a new home. We have a few theories as to what led to the increase of donations, the main one being that the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns and business closures allowed some locals the time to do a bit of cleaning and clearing of their homes.

Some of the materials donated as part of the Whistler Pride collection.

While the influx of donations is a particular challenge for us in terms of having enough storage space, it’s also very exciting for the Collections Department here, as there have been items donated on more varied subjects, which can help us fill gaps in our collections. For instance, we have welcomed more documents on the origins of Blackcomb Mountain, more artefacts and photographs relating to the history of snowboarding in the area, a large collection of Whistler Pride documents and artefacts, and even some of the COVID-19 signs which were put up in Whistler Village during 2020. It is very important to us that our collections reflect the community we serve, and this can be a difficult task at times due to donations being a voluntary and charitable act. We always encourage donations, and for locals to remind others that donating items to the Whistler Museum is a much-appreciated option before sending older items and documents to the trash.

Digital files could be stored on many different devices, and are donated to the archives in various forms.

It’s not just our own collections at the museum that are changing, but also the types of media being donated to archives in general. Photographs, videos, and documents that were born in a digital environment are now being donated to archives, and we are no exception here. USB sticks, hard drives, and .jpg files have been donated to the Whistler Museum and Archives this year, heralding the Age of Information which will surely make the process of archiving more complex over time. If a donor were to donate the entire contents of their email account, it would make for some very grueling description work for entering into the archival catalogue, which connects researchers to our collections, and this is just one part of that growing complexity for archivists. In this day and age, data, photos, and files are being created at ever-increasing speeds as technology smooths the path. While this may help future generations learn about ours due to the wealth of evidence we’ve created, it also makes it very difficult to weed through our data to decide what is of value and worth keeping. Endless information is only useful if it is mapped in some way to allow us to access the information that is meaningful to us.

For the time being, the Whistler Museum and Archives has still been able to keep up with the amount of born-digital donations, but the future of preserving the history of Whistler through digital means may become more complicated in the coming decades!