Tag Archives: Winter Olympics

Growing Whistler (quickly)

We get asked a lot of questions at the museum, such as “Where did the name Whistler come from?”, “When was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola built?” and “Is this the Audain Art Museum?”  One question that people are often surprised to learn the answer to is “When did people start skiing down Whistler Mountain?”

Visitors to Whistler and to the museum come from all over the world, as flipping through our guest books quickly show, and to many the development of Whistler seems incredibly recent.  After all, when Kitzbühel, Austria hosted its first ski race in 1884 the individuals who would spearhead the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s hadn’t even been born.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Looking back at the Whistler described in Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) of February 1969, only three years after lifts had opened on the mountain, it’s very easy to see that the area has changed a lot in only fifty years.

The winter of 1968-69 was an exciting time in the area.  Though the Resort Municipality of Whistler had not yet been formed, that September Whistler Mountain had been named the Canadian site for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and members of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) were actively campaigning in the lead up to the International Olympic Committee’s site selection vote in May.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Lorne O’Connor, the Executive Director of GODA, and Tadec Barnowski, a former member of the Polish National Ski Team, were even marking the final routes for alpine events before officials from the FIS were to visit in March.  We know now, of course, that it would be another three failed bids and 41 years before Whistler would host the Olympics, but in 1969 and 1976 bid was looking very promising.

That season also saw the introduction of the Green Chair to Whistler Mountain and the opening of new trails that we know well today, including Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant.  With the cutting of a new trail running all the way down to what the GWN referred to as the “gravel pit” (now Whistler Village), the lift company also began running a bus service back to the gondola terminal.  As well as new trails and Whistler’s sixth lift, a service called “Park-A-Tot” was introduced as the company’s first foray into childcare.  For $3/day, skiers could drop off their children in the morning and collect them again after their last run.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The area around the gondola terminal was not yet known as Creekside though one article in GWN claimed that it was “gradually becoming a village.”  It already had a gas station and ten lodges alongside older cabins and newly built condominiums.  With more condo projects underway and plans for a grocery store, the Creekside of five decades ago was growing quickly.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Today, the lifts that were announced with such fanfare in Garibaldi’s Whistler News have been replaced by bigger and faster models; the “gravel pit” has become an established town centre and “Park-A-Tot” has evolved to include various programs for all ages.  Though many visitors may be surprised at learning Whistler Mountain only opened in 1966, after perusing the museum’s exhibits these same visitors are often amazed at how quickly Whistler has grown.

Best Laid Plans…

On Thursday, February 15, the museum was thrilled to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson (KR) as our speakers for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.

The three began the evening with a look at the years of planning, partnerships and collaborations that went into creating not only the Olympic Bid but also the Games themselves.  Hosting the Olympics is a huge undertaking and, like anything you plan for, it seems some of the best stories are the ones that you don’t expect.

KR, Mo Douglas and John Rae at February’s Speaker Series.

From the volunteer staying in Birken who was determined to come work the Olympics despite a recent kidney transplant to the absurdity of asking the RCMP to please pull over and ticket speeding VANOC cars who were enjoying being the only ones on the road to knocking on the doors of the National Japanese Olympic Committee to borrow mittens for a medal ceremony, the stories of the three speakers demonstrated that some things cannot be planned for.

KR was the festival director for Whistler Live. The Whistler Live team had the task of planning, creating and broadcasting programming for 8 to 15 hours every day of the Olympics in six different venues, all controlled from one studio.  This included live performances, interviews, street entertainment, photography, films and, of course, the Olympic sports.  According the John Rae and KR, scheduling the programming began with the sports which included trying to find a way to show all Sea to Sky athletes.  Other content was slotted in around the sporting events.  As competitions and other events could be postponed and rescheduled without too much notice, running Whistler Live was a delicate balancing act, one John Rae described as “a chess game that was being played every day.”

The Whistler Live stage and screens in crowded Village Square. Photo: Anastasia Chomlack/RMOW

The first day of Whistler Live didn’t entirely go smoothly.  First, the horses that were supposed to lead the parade of Canadian athletes into Village Square went home sick.  The rest is best put in KR’s words.

We’re just trying to get this group back and we’re learning how to switch out the CTV feed and the Hairfarmers were playing, and that was great, and then all of a sudden, we’re kind of getting into our groove, and this big [notice] on the screens comes up and it’s like ‘I’m sorry, Bell Expressvu is no longer in service.’

After running to the studio, where people were running to fix the problem, KR was told by the director “I want you to run to the stage, and I want you to start talking, and I don’t want you to stop until we fix this.”  Thankfully the Whistler Live team was able to return the feeds just as the Canadian team rounded the corner into Village Square.  The next day it was discovered someone at Bell in Toronto had noticed Whistler Live had multiple accounts on the system and were consolidating them, taking away the feeds.

We’d like to thank everyone who came out on Thursday, especially our speakers.  Keep an eye out for more untold stories of the Whistler 2010 Olympics.

The 1976 Winter Olympics: A Dream Almost Realized

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gathered in Amsterdam to choose the winning bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver/Garibaldi, Denver (USA), Sion (Switzerland) and Tampere (Finland) were all in the running to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

However, Vancouver/Garibaldi ended up being taken out of the running because the IOC chose Montreal to host the Summer Olympics in 1976.  The Winter Games were awarded to Denver, Colorado instead.

The logo for the 1976 bid drew heavily on the design of the relatively new Canadian flag.

But the political climate the changing in the 1970s and in the face of growing environmentalist movements and concerns over the expenditures made to host an Olympic Games, Denver decided to hold a referendum on hosting the mega-event.  The “No Games” side won the referendum – and to this day, it is the only city and state to reject the Olympic Winter Games after successfully winning a bid.

The referendum was held on November 15, 1972.  It left the IOC in a lurch and the Olympic Committee, thinking it easier to have the Games remain in North America, offered them to Vancouver/Garibaldi.

The Government of Canada was willing to chip in $10 million to help Vancouver and Garibaldi host the 1976 Winter Olympics, as long as the provincial government provided matching funding.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.

Dave Barrett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the first NDP government in British Columbia, had been in office for two months when the issue of hosting the Games came up.  He felt the money would be better spent on other priorities as opposed to hosting the Olympics.

W.A.C. Bennett, who had just lost to Barrett and was the leader of the Social Credit Party, claimed he would have given the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee the money.

John Fraser, President of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) at the time, felt that, because of the recent government change and as local support for the Games was at an all-time low following the initial bid rejection, it wasn’t the best time to host the Winter Games.  They too passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Whistler today would look very different if the 1976 bid had been successful.

Other commentators were disappointed, but at the same time relieved that the Garibaldi area and Whistler would be able to develop at a more leisurely pace.

John Jerome wrote an article in Skiing in 1971 titled, “I’m Glad Whistler lost the Olympic Bid – Glad, do you hear?”  In it he said “… I felt their immense disappointment keenly; I knew how bloody hard and long they had worked for that award; I loved them for their effort.  But deep down inside I was glad they failed.”

The IOC ended up reusing a past host site to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.  This was the first time in the modern Olympic Games that a site hosted the Olympics twice.