Tag Archives: Whistler Question

Whistler’s Answers: December 22, 1983

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 1983.  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: This one seems pretty self explanatory, so we think we’ll leave it there.

Question: What do you think is the most special moment of Christmas?

Joanne Deno – Student – Victoria

I think the most special moment is Christmas dinner. Everyone has a chance to sit and talk. It brings the family together for conversation after a day of running around. In our family everyone tries to be there for dinner, and it’s not really the food that’s most important.

Tim Lepard – Physician – Vancouver

I’ve got four kids, so it’s the enjoyment they get out of it that’s best. I find Christmas Eve is better than the rest because of the expectations and excitement. These kids have been wired up for Christmas for two weeks, since the snow fell in Vancouver. It’ll be nice to spend it together.

Ryan Jazic – Elementary School Student – Whistler

I like opening presents to see what we’ve got. Ripping them open is the best part. We are always surprised. Decorating the tree is good too. We’ll be doing it this week. We get up at seven Christmas morning, but our parents sleep in too late. It’s also nice to see our relatives.

Dining on the Mile High Mountain

The smell of fresh doughnuts, french fries made from scratch, and fine dining on the mountain top. Baked goods, including those giant cookies, sandwiches and hot food worth freezing for; Blackcomb Mountain took on-mountain dining in the 1980s and stepped it up a notch.

When they opened in 1980, Blackcomb had a real focus on hospitality, making guests comfortable to encourage return visits. Before Merlin’s or Crystal or Glacier Lodge, you may remember dining at the cafeteria at Base 2, the original base of Blackcomb, or the Rendezvous Lodge.

The original daylodge on Blackcomb was located in the area now known as Base 2. Whistler Question Collection.

The Parsons family were the first concessionaires on Blackcomb, opening these venues with the opening of the new mountain. Chris Leighton (née Parsons), her brother Steve, and their mum Lee were the brains and brawn behind the impressive operation. The Parsons family had the food business in their blood. In 1929, Chris’ grandfather had opened Jimmy’s Lunch at the PNE, which is still run by the family to this day. Christine’s father, Bob Parsons, also had a food stall that travelled the carnival circuit every year from May to October. He would be on the road all summer, then could spend the winter in the mountains, skiing with family and volunteering with Whistler Mountain Ski Club. Sadly Bob passed away in 1979, one year before his family opened the food services on Blackcomb.

The top of Blackcomb looked a little different when Rendezvous Lodge first opened. Whistler Question Collection.

When the cafeteria and Rendezvous opened, the cafeteria had a large preparation space and much of the food was made at the base and then transported up the mountain either by snowcat or by foot based on the amount of snow at the base. Unfortunately for Blackcomb, the first year of operation was a terrible snow year. There were three lifts to get up the mountain and they did not line up exactly, so food and supplies had to be skied from one lift to the next until they reached the snowcat. Inevitably, food would spill along the way.

Blackcomb hospitality staff. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Once there was enough snow, success was still not a given. Visitor numbers would come in at 11am and when there was not a single guest on the mountain they closed for the day.

According to Chris, the direction from Aspen Ski Company and Huge Smythe were, “’We don’t want to be like Whistler. We want to be better.’ Hugh would come through everyday and make sure the music wasn’t too loud and that it was expected that we were going to be bigger and better.”

Customer service training for Blackcomb staff. Whistler Question Collection.

When Blackcomb opened there were caretakers that lived at the top who were responsible for starting the doughnuts and fresh baking so wonderful smells welcomed the guests. The caretakers also put soups and chilli on to heat because regular staff could only upload 30 minutes before the mountain opened to the public.

While it is common to find vegetarian options on most menus today, in the 1980s it was quite unusual to have the choice of vegetarian or beef chilli which Blackcomb offered. Food was served on real crockery with real cutlery. They even flew a ‘fry guy’ over from England to train everyone in how to make french fries from scratch using a chipper.

Blackcomb food service staff, May 1983. Whistler Question Collection.

The food up Blackcomb during the Parsons’ reign is still raved about today. They went on to open Christine’s Restaurant, fine dining on top of the mountain named after Chris herself (much to her chagrin; Chris thought Wildflower or Lupin were better names but Hugh Smythe was adamant). Horstman Hut, Crystal Hut and Merlin’s were also opened during their time as concessionaires. After 10 years, and growing the staff from a daily requirement of around 10 to 100, the Parsons decided it was time for the next adventure and Blackcomb took over.

Some local faces enjoying Christine’s in the 1980s. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Whistler’s Answers: December 15, 1983

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 1983.  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: The Council elected in 1982 was the first to be led by someone other than Pat Carleton (Mark Angus was elected as Mayor) and had only one councillor who had previously served on Council (Terry Rodgers joined Council in February 1982, ahead of the election, to fill the seat left vacant by Al Raine and Mark Angus had previously served as a councillor). The Council was faced with a major recession and a struggling Whistler Village Land Company, as well as the more usual business of running a municipality. Some of their decisions, such as the decision to charge fees to use the trails around Lost Lake, were controversial while others, such as the decision to open meetings to the public, were generally welcomed. To see some of the issues that appeared during the first year, take a look back through the Whistler’s Answers of 1983.

Question: What do you think of Council’s first year in office?

Fred Barter – Businessman – Emerald Estates

I think they’ve done an excellent job under the circumstances. If any council is perfect I’d like to meet them. There’s always room for criticism and improvement.

Ruth Peterson – Housewife – Whistler Cay

Committee of the whole being open is a tremendous step. If you know the background of issues it makes a tremendous difference because input before a public hearing is very important. I have had a lot of differences with council, but it’s a matter of opinion. This council inherited a legacy which has limited things because the land company went down the drain under the previous council.

Drew Meredith – Executive Director, Whistler Resort Association

Under the unsettled circumstances surrounding Whistler I think they have done a reasonable job. My perception is, however, that council has not communicated enough amongst themselves on longer term issues.

Whistler’s Original On-mountain Dining

When Whistler Mountain opened to visitors in 1966 Franz Wilhelmsen was certain people would bring their own lunch and would not want to purchase food up the mountain. Originally the only place on the hill to purchase food was Garibaldi Cafeteria near the gondola base on Whistler Mountain (now Creekside).

The cafeteria first opened during construction of the lifts in 1965 to feed the influx of workers. Run by Leo and Soula Katsuris, the cafeteria was nothing fancy but it fed everyone quickly with limited resources. Once the lifts opened for visitors, the cafeteria transitioned to feeding skiers.

Creekside during construction. The Cafeteria is the large building in the middle. Janet Love Morrison Collection.

Garibaldi Cafeteria, often known as Whistler Cafeteria or simply ‘the cafeteria’, quickly became a community hub and remained in operation for over 15 years. Many of the original members of the volunteer ski patrol remember sleeping in the cafeteria when accommodation was tight. Weekly movie nights also moved to the cafeteria once it opened. This social night was so popular that locals from all around the valley would gather weekly to watch films. Tragically, in the early 1970s the cafeteria was also home to Whistler’s first recorded murder when a 20 year-old employee was shot and killed.

L’Après at the base of Whistler Mountain in Creekside. George Benjamin Collection.

In 1969, Leo Katsuris opened L’Après next to the cafeteria. Open from lunch until late, L’Après catered to a later crowd with pizza, Greek food and regular live music and parties, becoming Le Club in the evenings. The theme nights, including Beach Party and Western Night, were legendary. Eventually the Garibaldi Cafeteria was incorporated into the L’Après brand becoming L’Après Dining Room and Cafeteria, the centre of everything in Whistler at this time. The BC liquor board required food purchase to buy a drink, and nursing a ‘plastic cheese sandwich’ kept the beer flowing.

Greek Nights at L’Après included great entertainment and even better food. Whistler Question Collection.

Further up the mountain, the hungry skier market was capitalised on almost immediately when (William) Jack Biggin-Pound from Squamish set up a Coleman camp stove and picnic table to serve soup, sandwiches and hot drinks, as well as Mary’s famous cinnamon buns, in the Red Shack at the top of Red Chair. This moved to the Roundhouse after it was built in the summer of 1966 without any dining facilities.

The Katsuris’, who along with their staff were known colloquially as ‘The Greeks’, also managed the dining at the Roundhouse where everything had to be brought up the mountain pre-prepared. There was no power, storage or refrigeration until 1970 when renovations to the Roundhouse brought ‘a new modern electric food preparation and serving area’. This allowed a larger variety and amount of food to be prepared and served, including hot chocolate, fries, chilli, stew, hot dogs and chicken. They also started serving breakfast on the mountain for the first time.

The bustling Roundhouse in Spring 1968. Janet Love Morrison Collection.

Trying to predict demand was a real guessing game, based largely on the weather. Despite the new facilities, challenges in food preparation and logistics continued and there were very few updates to the food service on Whistler Mountain over the next ten years. The food service gained a poor reputation. According to one story, when the wait time for food at the Roundhouse was long, hamburger patties were only cooked on one side to speed up the cook time. Bob Penner, who lived in Whistler in the 1970s, said the hamburgers at the Roundhouse “made your regular canned meat or tuna taste so much better”.

Once the development of Blackcomb Mountain was announced, Whistler Mountain knew they needed to step up their hospitality. Whistler Mountain Ski Corp took over the existing food venues, redeveloping L’Après into Dusty’s, and, thanks to the competition with Blackcomb, the next decade brought many new and improved on-mountain dining options.

Visitors enjoying sunshine at the Roundhouse. Greg Griffith Collection.