Tag Archives: Whistler history

Whistler’s Waterslides

By the time Whistler Springs, Whistler’s first (and so far only) waterslide facility, opened in August 1985, it had already caused quite a bit of controversy. The project was first proposed in 1983 and was expected to be completed by December of that year, but it took two years before the first riders flung themselves down the fibreglass tubes.

In the spring of 1983, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) was studying the economic viability of a waterslide at the base of their northside lifts after they were approached by a development company. According to Dave Balfour, then the vice president of finance and administration, studying how it could be incorporated into their operations and ski runs was “an interesting design problem.” Because the site was part of the ski area, the developer Hugh Hall first needed to apply for tenure from the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing through WMSC in order to apply for a development permit from the municipality. WMSC did not think this would be a problem and by the end of the summer plans had moved ahead.

Whistler Springs on the side of Whistler Mountain. Though covered, the walkway up was still exposed to the weather and reportedly very chilly after one’s first slide. Coates Collection

As described by Hall, the proposed facility would include a spiral staircase up to the lobby, offices, a gift shop, a juice bar, multiple spas, a heated and covered walkway, and two slides made of semi-transparent tubes. It would be one of a small number of non-skiing family-oriented facilities in Whistler and would operate for most of the year (according to Hall, it would be closed for half of May and all of June as “everyone has to accept the fact that in any resort there are certain months of the year things aren’t open.”) When it came time to apply for a development permit, however, there was some vocal opposition, especially from the site’s neighbours.

Kurt Gagel, president of the Telemark Strata Corporation, and Peter Gregory, the developer of the Delta Mountain Inn, expressed concern about the location and its impact on their property values due to the aesthetic of “unattractive waterslide tubes” and potential noise complaints. Others expressed concerns about the visual impact of the waterslides and whether there would be adequate landscaping to make the facility blend in with its surroundings. In September, over fifty people attended a three-hour public meeting to discuss the development. Only about twenty people showed up to the next meeting where council was set to vote on the matter, but letters from both neighbours were read indicating possible legal action if the permit was approved. Despite this, council voted to approve the permit 4-3 but with fourteen conditions attached before a building permit would be issued.

After many twists and turns, sliders were let out into a shallow pool. Coates Collection

Over the next two years, changes were made to the design and construction began on Whistler Springs in 1984. December was again proposed as an opening date, but the facility was not completed until August 1985, after another small controversy over 400 sq ft of floor space that had not been in the original permit.

Whistler Springs officially opened to the public on August 23. Visitors and residents alike arrived to test out the slides and it was soon discovered that the right slide ran slightly more quickly than the left. Despite what some have described as a very chilly walk up to the top, the slides became very popular with the summer ski camp kids and others. In 1987, the waterslides were even included in articles meant to advertise Whistler as a resort destination.

The slides operated for less than a decade before the space was taken over by WMSC Employee Services. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

By the early 1990s, the popularity of the waterslides was waning and Whistler Springs closed permanently in 1991. According to Peggy Vogler, after the slides closed the building was used by WMSC employees. The restaurant space upstairs became offices for the ski school and the downstairs was used by Employee Services. The site was sold to developers and eventually developed into the Westin Resort & Spa. The only trace of the waterslides left today is the name of the Whistler Blackcomb Employee Services building, still called The Springs.

Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town

Parkhurst may be known as a ghost town and hiking destination today, but for decades it was the site of an active mill and bustling community. We’re taking a look at life at Parkhurst in a new temporary exhibit opening Wednesday, November 17. Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town will run through January 17 and is included in entry to the museum.

Whistler’s Answers: October 28, 1982

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: In August 1982, a contract for the construction of the Gondola Reservoir supply main was awarded to a North Vancouver firm named Ocean Point Contractors Ltd. and then rescinded and awarded to a local company, Coastal Mountain Excavation Ltd. This, and other tenders such as a snow clearing contract in October, led to questions from some people about the way the municipality tendered contracts.

Question: What do you think of municipal tendering practices?

Nigel Woods – Heavy construction contractor – Alpine Meadows

Their problem is they’re inconsistent. It’s of benefit to the area to give contracts to the local guys and if there is more than one of them then awarding should depend on performance.

Art Den Duyf – Contractor of sorts (owner of Sabre) – White Gold

The tendering is usually done properly. I just think it’s a pity at times that Council runs interference with its own staff.

Rick Crofton – Contractor – Alpine Meadows

They seem to leave a lot to be desired. I’m all for letting the local guys get the jobs and if two local contractors bid they should just split it.

Reaching 7th Heaven

When Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, it had four triple lifts and one two-person chair that carried eager skiers up to the top of today’s Catskinner lift. In 1982, the Jersey Cream Chair expanded the lift-accessed terrain available on Blackcomb, but the mountain still needed something more to compete with Whistler Mountain. They found it with the 7th Heaven T-Bar.

Avalanche forecaster Peter Xhignesse came into the office of Hugh Smythe in the spring of 1985 and told him he wanted to show Smythe some skiing on the south side of Blackcomb. According to Smythe, he hadn’t done much hiking or skiing in the area and thought that it was unlikely there would be much promise in the south facing area known to be windy with lots of rocks. After being shown the area by Xhignesse, however, he was convinced that the area had potential.

Peter Xhignesse is credited by many with realizing the skiing potential of the 7th Heaven area. Photo courtesy of the Xhignesse family.

At the time, Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises was owned by the Aspen Skiing Company and the Federal Business Development Bank (FBDB), who also co-owned Fortress Mountain Resort in Alberta. Smythe knew that there was a relatively new T-bar on Fortress that wasn’t being run due to the drop in business after Nakiska Ski Area opened. Over the space of two days and a night, the T-bar on Fortress was quietly taken down and transported across the provincial border. With the T-bar in the Blackcomb parking loot, Smythe approached Aspen and the FBDB about funding its installation. Though at first they refused, pointing out that they were trying to sell Blackcomb, Smythe convinced them that he could fund the lift by selling incremental season passes.

On August 18, 1985, Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises officially announced the start of construction on their new “High Alpine T-Bar,” which would provide access to the area identified by Xhignesse, with a catered luncheon, heli-skiing, and a rendition of the 1983 Parachute Club song “Rise Up” encouraging skiers to “Rise up, rise up to the Mile High Mountain.” The addition of the T-bar promised to expand Blackcomb’s skiable terrain from 420 acres to 1,160 acres with 22 new runs and increased its vertical reach to 5,280 feet (1,609 m) or one mile (according to Smythe, there may have been a “little bit of license” taken on that number), the highest in North America.

Despite the summer start, wet and cold weather in October and November delayed the completion of the lift. In mid-October, with about half of the towers installed, Operations Manager Rich Morten reported that they needed only two and half days of clear weather in order to pour the rest of the footings and erect the towers. By the beginning of November, they were still waiting for a break in the weather to allow helicopters to complete the work.

Skiing the T-bar bowl on 7th Heaven, some of the terrain opened up by the new lift. Greg Griffith Collection

The High Alpine T-Bar was finally completed in mid-November but it would be another month before it opened to the public. Because of the rougher terrain (described as “boulders the size of cars and buses” by Blackcomb’s Dennis Hansen), more snow was needed before the new runs would be ready for skiing. Once the T-bar did open, however, it gathered rave reviews.

The new terrain was described by Trail Manager Garry Davies as “fabulous” and according tp Nancy Greene, “The enormous variety of slopes and spectacular views are really unequalled in North America.” Even the competition were impressed, with Lorne Borgal of Whistler Mountain claiming that the opening of the T-bar opened up the “big alpine world” and put an end to Blackcomb’s uniformly designed character. The T-bar was the first destination of sixteen year old Mike Douglas on his very first ski trip to Whistler, who described arriving at the top of the lift as being “dropped off at the edge of the world” and the trip down as “the coolest adventure ever.” For Smythe, the T-bar was a turning point for Blackcomb and he credits it with both inspiring Whistler’s Peak Chair the next year and with attracting Intrawest to purchase Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises.

Though it was a huge development for Blackcomb Mountain, the T-bar didn’t remain in place for very long. In 1987, the T-bar was replaced by the four-person 7th Heaven Express, with continues to transport skiers and snowboarders to the windy and rocky terrain pointed out by Peter Xhignesse.