Tag Archives: Whistler Mountain

Paying with Borgal Bucks

For many businesses that involve retail or food services, staff discounts are a common benefit for employees. Staff discounts can take many forms, with some offering more savings than others. In the 1980s, staff discounts on food at Whistler Mountain had a physical presence in the form of “Borgal Bucks.”

Borgal Bucks took their name from Lorne Borgal. Borgal had first come to Whistler as a teenager and spent weekends volunteering for ski patrol on Whistler Mountain. In 1980, he was hired by Hugh Smythe to work in administration at the soon-to-open Blackcomb Mountain, where he got to wire telephones and direct traffic. After three years, Borgal left Blackcomb Mountain and went to Europe for a long-awaited vacation. While on his vacation, he received a call from Mike Hurst at Whistler Mountain letting him know that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Borgal was being considered as his replacement. Borgal joined Whistler Mountain as President and CEO in 1983, a role he kept for six years.

Lorne Borgal poses outside the Blackcomb “offices” soon after his arrival in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

During his time there, Whistler Mountain replaced multiple triple chairs with the Village Express gondola, built Pika’s Restaurant at the Roundhouse, added the Peak Chair, and celebrated Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday. He also tried introducing new programs and initiatives to update and improve Whistler Mountain’s customer service and management. Members of management were required to spend one day a month during the ski season working in a frontline position, which could lead to improvements for both customers and employees as management experienced the difficulties of different jobs and were sometimes more willing to spend money or try new things to fix them.

One benefit that was introduced for employees was the “Borgal Buck” or “Dusty Dollar”. Whistler Mountain staff could pay for the physical coupons, which could then be used to purchase food from Whistler Mountain at a discounted price. On the coupon itself, the name of the coupon appears to be “Dusty Dollars,” no doubt a reference to Dusty’s at the base of Whistler Mountain where the coupons could be used. Prominent on the paper coupon, however, was also a photo of Lorne Borgal.

According to a recent interview with Janet Love Morrison, Borgal Bucks entitles staff to 40% off food from Whistler Mountain and could also be purchased against one’s next payday “if you were hungry and couldn’t make your paycheque.” It would seem that these coupons became quite popular, as Janet claimed, “Everybody had Borgal Bucks.”

Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Harder pose with Sidney Poitier, who they met while they were living on Whistler as alpine caretakers and he was filming a scene from Shoot to Kill on Whistler Mountain. Photo Courtesy of Janet Love Morrison & Gordy Harder.

Janet recalled other staff discounts offered by Whistler Mountain in the mid-1980s as well, including significant discounts on ski equipment and the offer of a payment plan spread over multiple paycheques, which Janet remembered using to purchase banana yellow Atomic downhill skis for her boyfriend Gordy Harder.

Like Lorne Borgal, Janet Love Morrison filled various roles at Whistler Mountain during her years working there, including cleaning the volunteer cabin, working at the daycare, and living at the top of the mountain with Gordy as alpine caretakers.

Today, staff discounts are still a popular way to provide benefits for employees, though they vary from organization to organization. As far as we are aware, however, there are current no discounts in Whistler that feature the face or name of the company President and CEO.

Best in Snow – The Volkswagen Beetle

Snow tire season is upon us! Even through snowy and icy conditions you will see all types of vehicle tackling the Sea to Sky Highway today. Fifty years ago, however, one car dominated the snow, and that was the Volkswagen Beetle.

In the 1960s, Volkswagen touted the VW Beetle as the best car for driving in the snow, and North America listened. In one famous commercial a Beetle is seen driving through snowy conditions. The narrator asks “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplow, drives to the snowplow? This one drives a Volkswagen, so you can stop wondering.”

George Benjamin’s Volkswagen Beetle on Alta Lake. George Benjamin Collection.

At this time, most American-made cars were rear-wheel drive and had their heavy engines at the front, resulting in little weight over the drive wheels and thus less traction. Despite also being rear-wheel drive, the Beetle did better in the snow because the engine was also in the rear, giving the drive wheels more traction for slippery conditions. Somewhat surprisingly, the narrow wheels also seemed to help because the Beetle cut through the snow rather than riding on top.

In 1965, Cliff Jennings bought his 1957 Beetle before heading out west to Alta Lake. It was not a straight forward journey. “When I arrived in Vancouver, nobody had heard about this new area, so I just headed blindly north. Two hours later, in Squamish I got directions and headed up a steep gravel road, arriving eventually at a dead end with a trailhead signposted to Diamond Head. Back in Brackendale, I hung a right and headed blindly north again on what would now be called a 4×4 road. The first sign of civilisation was Garibaldi and Daisy Lake Dam, which the road proceeded over onto a detour around Shadow Lake through huge puddles that nearly drowned my Beetle. Finally, five hours after leaving Vancouver, I arrived at a big slash clearing and a swampy parking lot in pouring rain.” Cliff had made it to the ski resort!

The Volkswagen Beetle is a little harder to recognise in this photo. George Benjamin Collection.

Jim Moodie arrived in Whistler a few months later once the lifts had opened, also driving up in his Volkswagen Beetle. “People remark about the road being bad nowadays but the road then, a lot of it was gravel, and so it was a frightening experience if we were smart enough to think about it but we mostly didn’t. I can remember one day driving up and the car simply stopped moving forward. At least that’s what we thought had happened. When we got out to see what was happening the Volkswagen Beetle was just plowing up a great big snowdrift in front of it so we couldn’t go anymore.” Good in the snow, but not quite a snowplow.

The imagery of the Volkswagen Beetle was so connected to mountain towns that Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary poster featured a red Volkswagen Beetle driving off into the sunset. In the iconic Whistler poster the car is covered in stickers with skis jammed into the bumper.

The iconic 20th Anniversary poster. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With many people sharing similar memories, it is no wonder the photographs of Volkswagen Beetles in the snow are popular prints at the Whistler Museum. You can see some of the Whistler Museum image collection on Smug Mug.

Before the Fitzsimmons Express

With a new eight-person chair announced to replace the four-person Fitzsimmons (Fitz) Express chairlift (pending approvals) we take a look back at how mountain access from Whistler Village has changed.

The first lift from Whistler Village opened for the 1980/81 season, around the same time the Town Centre opened and lifts on Blackcomb started turning. Prior to this, everyone accessed Whistler Mountain from the area known today as Creekside. When Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain officially opened in January 1966, it had a four-person gondola, the original double Red Chair and two T-Bars.

Whistler Mountain trail map from 1966 or 1967. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Trees were eventually cleared on Whistler Mountain for the aspirationally-named Olympic Run, however skiers who skied down the north side of Whistler Mountain were only met with a garbage dump where the Village now sits and had to catch the bus back to Creekside. Olympic Run generally only opened on weekends when the bus was running, otherwise skiers had to hitchhike back to Creekside.

Janet Love Morrison described being a rebel and skiing the closed run on a school trip. “I remember we went under the rope to ski the Little Olympic Run and we were really cool until we got to the bottom and had absolutely no way to get back to Creekside. Suddenly we were super scared because we knew we had to get back to get to the bus, because we went to school in Port Coquitlam.” Finding no cars or people at the base of the mountain, the grade eight students followed a gravel road to Highway 99 where they were picked up by a tow truck driver. They proceeded to get a dressing down by the driver and then their teachers, a first-hand experience that helped when Janet was writing Radar the Rescue Dog.

The garbage dump at the base of Whistler Mountain, where the Village is today. Whistler Question Collection.

When the lifts from the Village finally went in for the 1980/81 season multiple chairlifts were required to make it to the top. To get to the Roundhouse from Skiers Plaza, skiers first took the Village Chair, which finished slightly higher in elevation than today’s Fitz, and then skied down to Olympic Chair. Olympic Chair is still the original chair from 1980, however it was shortened in 1989 to service strictly the beginner terrain. Originally Olympic Chair met Black Chair at the bottom of Ptarmigan. If you wanted to continue on to the Roundhouse or Peak, Black Chair dropped skiers where the top of Garbanzo is today, then skiers would ski down and take Red or Green Chairs to the top. Four lifts to get to the Roundhouse and they were all slow fixed grip lifts, not the high-speed lifts that service the mountains today. (Olympic Chair, Magic Chair and Franz’s Chair are the only remaining fixed grip chairs in Whistler.)

Before Fitzsimmons Express and the Whistler Express Gondola, skiers could upload on the Village Chair. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Uploading from Whistler Village was simplified in 1988 when the Whistler Express Gondola replaced the four chairlifts, taking skiers and sightseers straight from the Village to the Roundhouse, in a gondola (apparently) designed to hold ten people.

The four-person Fitz that we know and love was built in 1999 and, together with Garbanzo, eliminated the need for the Black Chair. Prior to 1999, the biking on Whistler Mountain was predominately run by private enterprise, notably Eric Wight of Whistler Backroads, who mostly used the Whistler Express Gondola to access terrain. When the Bike Park was taken over by Whistler Blackcomb in 1999 and further developed, Fitz began to be used to access the Bike Park throughout summer, as the sport rapidly grew. These days the Bike Park sees way over 100,000 riders a year, most of whom who access the terrain from Fitz Express.

If Fitz is upgraded next summer it will be the start of a new era, greatly increasing the number of riders and skiers arriving at midstation.

Framing Whistler

Today you are less likely to come across and A-frame in Whistler than you would have been a few decades ago. However, the once widely popular structure can still be spotted throughout Whistler’s older neighbourhoods and found in many photographs of Whistler’s mountain resort past in the Whistler Museum’s archival collections.

While A-frames have historically been used for various purposes around the world, the A-frame did not become widespread in North America until after the Second World War. It then became a popular vacation home for affluent middle class households, especially in the mountains. A-frames were relatively simple to build and were soon available in prefabricated kits. This popularity continued through the 1960s when Whistler Mountain was first being developed as a ski resort, so it is no surprise that A-frames began to appear throughout the area soon after development began.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel at the base of Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Some of the A-frames built in Whistler at the time were constructed right at the base of the Whistler Mountain lifts, including the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, the first interdenominational chapel in Canada. The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was constructed in 1966 after the first shortened season of skiing on Whistler Mountain. It was inspired by the memories of lift company president Franz Wilhelmsen who recalled small chapels in the ski villages of Norway where he had skied as a child. The lift company donated land near the gondola base and the A-frame design of the Chapel was provided free of charge of Asbjorn Gathe. Like Wilhelmsen, Gathe had been born in Norway. He studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology at the University of Zurich and then immigrated to Vancouver in 1951, where he worked as an architect. The Chapel was easily identifiable at the gondola base thanks to both its A-frame structure and its stained glass windows designed by Donald Babcock.

One of the A-frames built by the lift company to house their managers. Wallace Collection.

In 1966, the lift company also built two A-frames at the gondola base to serve as staff housing for its manager and their families (at the time, the Bright and Mathews families). The houses were situated right on the hill and Lynn Mathews, whose husband Dave was operations manager, recalled that their A-frame had seventeen steps up to the deck in the summer but only three in the winter when snow built up around them.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created. Burrows Collection.

A-frames were popular away from the gondola base as well. When Don and Isobel MacLaurin built what at the time was their holiday home in the 1960s, they chose to build an A-frame themselves with help from local residents such as Murray Coates and Ron Mackie and beams from a 1915 school in Squamish that was being torn down. Similarly, when Paul and Jane Burrows moved to Whistler full-time in the 1970s they decided to build an A-frame in Alpine Meadows. Like many of the A-frame homes in Whistler, both these A-frames and the managers’ houses at Whistler Mountain later had extensions added onto them, changing the A-frame shape.

These are just a few of the A-frames pictured in the museum’s collections and while they may no longer look quite like the classic A-frame, some of them are still standing in Whistler today.