Tag Archives: Whistler Village Land Company

What is the WRA?

In late August 1979, the government of British Columbia introduced an amendment to the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act (the legislation that established Whistler as a municipality in 1975) that would allow for the creation of a resort association. According to section 14.1 of the Act, the purpose of such an association would be “to promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” Due to this legislation, the Whistler Resort Association (WRA) began operations in 1980.

There were no other resort associations in British Columbia at the time, though several examples could be found in American resorts such as Sun Valley, Aspen, and Vail. In their October 19779 newsletter, the Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) wrote that “The concept of a destination resort and of a resort association are both new to Canada, and that is perhaps why some misunderstandings have arisen.” Though they did not detail what kind of misunderstandings had occurred, the WVLC did go on to provide and explanation of the purpose and structure of the WRA.

Land Company President Terry Minger delivers a presentation to Whistler Rotary about the purpose of the Whistler Resort Association. Whistler Question Collection.

The WVLC stated that the main purpose of the WRA was “to ensure the success of Whistler,” mainly through marketing. Marketing Whistler included promoting and advertising the resort, providing public relations, and making reservations. Their operations would include a computerized central reservation system able to book rooms for large groups such as conferences, a service to handle general inquiries about Whistler, and a central billing system. The WRA would also be able to sponsor events in Whistler, such as concerts and festivals.

The WRA membership was to include those who owned or operated in the (still under construction) Town Centre and the Blackcomb benchlands, as well as anyone owning or operating a tourism related business outside of the “resort land” who chose to join. According to Land Company President Terry Minger, the WRA would function not unlike a shopping centre merchants association or a tenants organization.

Once completed, the WRA was also in charge of operations at the Whistler Conference Centre. Whistler Question Collection.

For the first few years, the WRA was expected to be funded mainly by the WVLC and contributions from the operators of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, organizations who would also make up the majority of the board positions. The proposed budget for their first year of operations was set at $500,000.

Though some had expected the WRA to begin operating as early as late 1979, its bylaws first had to be approved by the provincial government. In March 1980, the Whistler Council voted to receive the new Resort Association Bylaws. By May 1980, all that the Whistler Question had to report was that no statement had been issued by the WVLC, the Council, or the province regarding the passage of the bylaws. Finally, by July 1980, the bylaws of the WRA had been approved and the association could move forward.

The WRA used federal government student employment programs in the early 1980s to provide entertainment in the village, offer tours, and work at the information booth. Whistler Question Collection.

The WRA quickly got to work hiring staff, such as their first executive director Karl Crosby, setting up systems, and marketing the resort of Whistler to the world. There were some challenges in their early years, such as a recession, continued construction, competing demands of members, and various changes in management (past general manager Peter Alder once said that for a period the WRA “went through managers like they went through coffees in the morning”) but the WRA remained a visible force promoting Whistler. They set up information booths at travel displays outside Whistler, coordinated visits for tour operators and conference organizers to show that Whistler was capable of, produced maps and directional signs in the valley, helped sponsor events such as the Fall Festival, Winterfest, and the first street entertainment program, and in 1981 introduced Whistler’s first mascot, a marmot named Willie Whistler. By 1986, membership of the WRA had grown to over 600 entities.

The WRA continues to operate in Whistler, promoting Whistler as a destination resort, operating a computerized central reservation system, and more, though today they are much better known as Tourism Whistler.

W is for Whistler

For some visitors to the museum, the most recognizable images of Whistler’s past are not photographs or objects, but logos and company branding. Just seeing Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.’s green and blue “G” can instantly remind a former lift operator of their company-issued jacket and the months they spend loading the Red Chair sometime between 1965 and 1980. Some logos and branding initiatives have lasted for decades while others were only in use for a few years and then forgotten, though traces of them can still be found around the Whistler valley long after they were first introduced.

Jim McConkey is his Ski School uniform, including a small blue and green G on the label. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) introduced their “W” logo in their newsletter in December 1978. It was designed by Robert McIlhargey, an architectural illustrator who, with his wife Lori Brown, created much of the concept rendering work for Expo 86. McIlhargey was hired by the WVLC along with David Clifford as design consultants, helping plan elements of the Whistler Village like the logo and even directional signs. According to McIlhargey, the “W” logo and uniform branding and signage throughout the resort were meant to “reinforce the image of Whistler.”

The “W” logo consisted of a circle of Ws, often with the words Whistler Village written underneath. It was designed to be easily adapted to different settings through the use of different text and background colours (the logo was first introduced in green). Shortly after its introduction, the Ws were visible on signs at the entrance to the Whistler Village site and into the 1980s the Ws could be found on wooden signs, pamphlets, advertisements, and even turtlenecks. In 1979, Don Willoughby and Geoff Power of Willpower Enterprises were given permission to use the “W’ logo to produce 1,000 t-shirts as souvenirs of the World Cup race that was meant to have run on Whistler Mountain.

New signs recently put up in the area of the new Whistler Village by the Whistler Village Land Company. Whistler Question Collection.

Not all marketing and branding initiatives in Whistler have been as seemingly well received as WVLC’s “W” logo. The reception to the memorable Big Old Softie initiative wasn’t exactly what the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had hoped for.

According to WMSC’s then Vice-President of Marketing Mike Hurst, Whistler Mountain began to be perceived as “the big ol’ tough ol’ mountain from way back” after Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, while Blackcomb built a reputation as a beginner-friendly mountain. Hurst described Blackcomb’s reputation as “this big, friendly family mountain, nice and soft, everything’s good.” Whistler Mountain did not yet have the same on-mountain amenities of family-focused programs that Blackcomb did, but after fifteen years without local competition Whistler Mountain was working to change its image.

The Big Old Softie sticker, showing a friendly image of Whistler Mountain.

Hurst and his team began trying to show that Whistler Mountain was “every bit as friendly and family oriented” as Blackcomb with lots of easy beginner terrain. Working with Ron Woodall (the person behind the A&W Root Bear and the creative director of Expo 86), the Big Old Softie initiative was created. Featuring a rounded, smiling mountain, the Big Old Softie was not a universal hit. On rainy days, some changed the name to the “Big Old Soggy” and, according to Hurst, he and the Whistler Mountain team “got raked over the coals pretty good by pretty much everybody” about the campaign. Despite this, the Big Old Softie has proven memorable, and Hurst thought that it did bring attention to Whistler Mountain’s softer side and developing programs.

While you are unlikely to come across an image of the Big Old Softie walking through Whistler today, there are still circles of Ws and even some Garibaldi Lifts Gs that can be spotted around town.

Whistler’s Answers: July 29, 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 July 1982, various publications, including The Vancouver Sun, published pieces on Whistler and the Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC). Some of the articles published implied that the WVLC had shut down and that Whistler, as a whole, was closed. In January 1983, the provincial government did step in and form a Crown corporation, Whistler Land Co. Developments, to take over the liabilities and assets of the WVLC, but as of July 1982 the WVLC was still operating.

Question: What was your reaction to media coverage outside of Whistler during last week’s events?

Sue Sherin – Assistant Manager at Whistler Tops – Alpine Meadows

Basically I thought the treatment the press gave to Whistler was pretty sad.

Because of the entire economic situation, what’s happened here is no different than anywhere else. But the coverage we’ve had – it makes people not want to come.

It’s beautiful here. And it’s been built in only two years. What does the press expect? They should give us more of a chance.

Mayor Pat Carleton – Westside Road

I think it’s been a disgraceful form of reporting. It just goes to show you that what you say is not necessarily what is printed.

All the media outside of Whistler – and I don’t name anyone specifically – has twisted the whole thing out of context. Nothing has been made clear.

The coverage has blown the negative aspect way out of proportion. I’ve even had a call from Lorne Greenaway in Ottawa (Whistler’s MP). He thinks the whole town has been shut down.

Alex Kleinman – Construction Manager – Alta Vista

I was disappointed in the bias taken by the media. I was hoping to see a little more of both sides of the story.

There are a lot of things which are still happening here – as well as things that aren’t.

Rather than ask municipal and Land Company officials on the history and evolution of the whole project here at Whistler, they have taken comments out of context and made that the story.

Whistler’s Answers: July 1, 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: The Whistler Village Land Company, a subsidiary of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, was formed in 1978 to oversee the development of the Town Centre.

Question: How do you view the current role of the Land Company in the development of Whistler?

W. Doug Fox – Vice-President of Finance & Operations – Whistler Village Land Co.

It’s very simple – our role is to develop the remaining private sites in the village in conjunction with the private sector. That always has been the role and still it.

The main role of the Land Company is not promoting and marketing. The specific role is developing sites for sale to the private sector. We don’t have anything if we don’t have the sites.

Mike Vance – Coordinator of Planning and Design – Whistler Village Land Co.

Ideally, if economic conditions were better, the Land Company would remain involved in planning, design and servicing of Whistler Village throughout the completion of the project.

But under present conditions, the Land Company can’t stay as involved as it has been in the past in planning and design coordination.

A lot of operation of the village – planning and design – will now have to be assumed by the municipality.

David O’Keefe – Skier Services and North Side Coordinator – Whistler Mountain Ski Corp.

Originally it was a coordinating body to market and sell the land available in the new Town Centre.

Right now it should positively continue along that line. Unfortunately we’re in a time of buyer restraint, but that doesn’t mean we should stop the whole thing.

The mandate has been set, and since times are more difficult the Land Company should be going even further afield to market land sites.

Greg Griffith – Photographer – Owner of Mountain Moments

It should be a decreasing role in the future. Municipal staff and our elected officials should now be the ones making the types of decisions the Land Company has been handling.

I think it’s great the Land Company got things going, but now they should be winding down gracefully since the Town Centre is rapidly approaching fulfillment of its initial mandate.

Sid Young – Alderman – Land Company Director – Travel Agent

I don’t see it as any different than it ever has been.

Although, because of the level of development which has occurred to date, I do see the possibility of reducing the size of the Land Company and therefore its operational costs.

Al Raine – Executive Director – Whistler Resort Association

The reality is that is number one objective must be its own survival.

Its number two objective should be the completion of Village Stroll and the main village core, as well as the Sports & Convention Centre.

Ideally, it also should be looking at a leadership role in terms of providing tourist services and a tourist product.