From Fishing To Freeskiing
It was fishing that drew the first tourists to Whistler – to Rainbow Lodge on Alta Lake to cast for trout with legendary guides Alex and Myrtle Philip. By the early 1920s, Rainbow Lodge was the most popular summer destination west of the Rocky Mountains.
Then winter hit. In 1960 a group of Vancouver businessmen, led by Franz Wilhelmsen, formed Garibaldi Lifts Limited with the aim of developing an alpine ski area on London Mountain (across the lake from Rainbow Lodge). Their dream: to host the 1968 Olympic Games. While it would take another 50 years and four Olympic bids before Whistler would realize its Olympic dream, Wilhelmsen and his cohorts pursued their ski area plans with great vigour.
And so it was that London Mountain was soon renamed Whistler Mountain (in honour of a local alpine marmot, who "whistles" when it communicates) and officially opened to the public in January 1966 at the current Whistler Creekside base. Boasting the biggest vertical drop in North America and a ski season that stretched from early November until late May, Whistler Mountain opened with a four-person gondola, a double chairlift, two T-bars, and a day lodge, and virtually re-invented the modern ski experience.
But there was still more to come. When neighbouring Blackcomb Mountain opened for business on December 6, 1980, it featured 5 triple chairs and an additional 1,240 vertical metres (4,067 feet) of skiing. Whistler Mountain responded by developing a whole new network of runs on its northern flank. Meanwhile, a modern new community, Whistler Village, had sprung up on the bench between the two areas. Independently owned, the two mountains cultivated a healthy rivalry. When Blackcomb installed the 7th Heaven T-Bar, for instance, providing visitors with a vertical mile (1,609 metres/5,280 feet) of skiing, Whistler Mountain responded with the Peak Chair, a high alpine lift that increased its vertical to 1,530 metres (5,020 feet). Between the two mountains, skiers and riders had lift access to three glaciers and at least a dozen alpine bowls. Suddenly, big-mountain skiing was no longer exclusive to the European Alps.
In 1991, Whistler Resort became the first mountain resort outside of the USA to be named No. 1 by a major American ski magazine. Five years later, in 1996, it became the only resort in history to be simultaneously named No. 1 by Snow Country, SKI and Skiing Magazines (and went on to be named No. 1 by Skiing Magazine for 13 years in a row).
But the biggest news was yet to come. In March 1997 Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (which owned Whistler) and Intrawest Corporation (which owned Blackcomb) merged to create one of the biggest and most exciting mountain resort companies in the world.
As if to underscore that claim, local rider Ross Rebagliati become the world's first snowboard gold medalist at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. He joins snowsport heroes such as Steve Podborski, Rob Boyd, Eric Pehota, Brian Savard, Victoria Jealouse, Britt and Michael Janyk, Ashleigh McIvor, Maelle Ricker, Marielle Thompson and many others to call Whistler Blackcomb's slopes home.
Never one to rest on its laurels, exciting new announcements continued to come forth. A whole new village at Whistler Creekside, the original base area, began development in the spring of 2000, including the launch of a new day lodge and the long anticipated re-opening of an all-new Dusty's Bar – now as famous for its BBQ offerings as it is for its sun-splashed après-ski parties.
In 2004, Whistler Mountain added 1,100 acres of 'inbounds backcountry' terrain with the addition of Flute Bowl, bringing the total acreage across both mountains to 8,171 acres. And in 2006, a new high-speed quad chairlift was added in Symphony Bowl, creating the Symphony Amphitheatre and bringing lift access closer to the top of Flute Bowl.
Spanning the distance between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, the world record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola opened in December 2008 and with it, launched a breathtaking, 4.4-kilometre journey to infinite possibilities. Redefining the Whistler winter and summer experience at Whistler Blackcomb by creating limitless new ways to get up-close-and-personal with the mountains, the engineering marvel breaks three world records:
- Longest unsupported span of 3.024 kilometres
- Highest lift of its kind at 436 metres above the valley floor
- Completes the longest continuous lift system on the globe
In February/March 2010, Whistler finally realized its 50 year dream of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Whistler Blackcomb’s Creekside Base served as the Alpine Skiing Venue with two courses on Whistler Mountain hosting the disciplines of men's and women's:
- Giant Slalom
- Super Combined
The men's races took place on the renowned Dave Murray Downhill, while women's races took place on a new course, which started on Wild Card, cut across to Franz's Run and connected at the bottom of the Dave Murray Downhill. Both courses continue to be available for the public to ski and ride.
Whistler Blackcomb was founded on the dream of hosting the Olympics, and that same spirit of friendly athletic competition has carried the ski area through to the 2010 Winter Games and beyond. Just because the Games are over, doesn’t mean the action stops. Whistler Blackcomb continues its long tradition of hosting epic ski and snowboard competitions to this day with events such as the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, the Peak To Valley Race, and the Showcase Showdown.
In January 2013, Whistler Blackcomb announced the existing Harmony high-speed, quad chairlift on Whistler Mountain would be replaced with a new Doppelmayr high-speed, detachable, six-pack chairlift and the existing Crystal Chair on Blackcomb Mountain would be replaced with a high-speed quad chairlift with a dramatically altered lift aspect line. Both new chairs opened to the public in December 2013. The new Harmony 6 high-speed chairlift is capable of transporting six people on each chair and has an increased uphill skier capacity of 50 per cent; going from 2,400 skiers per hour to 3,600. The new Harmony 6 chair kept the same alignment as the previous Harmony lift and continues to service terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl, adjacent to the Peak Express.
The new Crystal Chair was renamed the Crystal Ridge Express and is now a high-speed quad chairlift that continues to deliver skiers and riders to an elevation of1,827 metres (5,994ft) next to the Crystal Hut, however the aspect of the new lift line is dramatically different, and originates 158 metres (518ft) lower than the previous Crystal triple chair. The new bottom terminal location along the Blackcomb Glacier Road ski-out eliminates the need to utilize the Excelerator Chair to access many Crystal Zone trails including Ridge Runner, Rock ‘N’ Roll, and gladed trails like Outer Limits. This new lift alignment also makes it even quicker for guests to return to the Glacier Express chair in order to access Horstman Glacier, Blackcomb Glacier and Spanky’s Ladder. The new Crystal Ridge Express has increased the skier carrying capacity from 1,800 skiers per hour to 2,400.
But Whistler Blackcomb is not just about innovation in engineering. Since 1992 Whistler Blackcomb has been focused on the development and execution of an environmental management strategy with the goal of developing a model of environmental and social stewardship for ski and mountain resort operations. Since that time, the company has been recognized for its efforts with countless awards, and has the honour of being named one of Canada's Greenest Employers for seven years in a row (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015).
50 YEARS OF GOING BEYOND
The winter of 2015.2016 will mark Whistler Blackcombís 50th anniversary. Originally opening for skiing in the winter of 1966, the resort has been going beyond to leave its mark on the ski and snowboard industry since day one. From being one of the first resorts to allow snowboarders to ride the lifts, to breaking Guinness World Records with the construction of the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, to achieving its dream of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010, Whistler Blackcomb has many milestones to celebrate.