The 2015-16 ski season marks Whistler Blackcomb’s 50th anniversary. As North America’s largest and winningest ski resorts, there’s a lot to look back on. Over the years, many well-known and lesser-known skiing and snowboarding firsts have occurred at Whistler. Here’s a recap of the most noteworthy and surprising things that have happened at Whistler in the last 50 years.
1. Whistler Blackcomb was originally established to be a host of the Winter Olympics
In 1960, the Canadian Olympic Association visited British Columbia looking for potential sites for the 1986 Winter Olympics. The Association was impressed with the area that is now known as Whistler, so local businessman, Franz Wilhelmsen organized the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association to pull together a formal bid. At this time, there was no road, no electricity, no piped water or sewage, so the bid was rejected. The undaunted Wilhelmsen pushed ahead to develop the area into a world-class resort.
Wilhemsen formed Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC), the original name of the resort. From 1962 to 1965, GLC raised funds for development on the south side of Whistler Mountain. By 1965, the company had enough money to start development in the Creekside area. The new resort opened in 1966 with a four-person gondola to the mountain’s mid-station, a double chairlift to the alpine tree line and two T-bars.
A popular apres-ski bar at the base of Whistler Mountain still bears the resort’s original name, GLC.
2. Whistler Mountain once had another name
Around the same time that GLC broke ground, they decided they didn’t like the name of the mountain, which was London Mountain in 1965. They changed it to Garibaldi Whistler Mountain because of the whistling sound the marmots make as they greet summer hikers.
3. A large addition to Highway 99, aka the Sea to Sky Highway, was specifically built for access to Whistler
Beginning in 1964, GLC funded and extended the single-lane gravel hydro service road—which was the only way to access Whistler at the time— into a two-lane road from Squamish to Whistler. Back then, the trip from Vancouver to Whistler took five to six hours. In 1969, the two-lane gravel road was paved.
See what it was like to drive to Whistler in 1958.
4. Roundhouse Lodge dates back to Whistler Blackcomb’s early days
The Roundhouse Lodge, atop the Whistler Village Gondola, has been around almost as long as skiers have been schussing on Whistler Mountain. The first shovels hit the ground in early December 1966, and the doors opened to the public in March 1967.
Breaking ground at Roundhouse Lodge.
5. Whistler Blackcomb submitted four unsuccessful bids to host the winter Olympics
Finally in tip-top shape, GLC, along with Vancouver, submitted a bid in 1968 and won the Canadian nomination for the 1976 Winter Olympics. However, when Montreal was awarded the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the bid for the winter location ended. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) would not allow both winter and summer games to be hosted in the same country. This was the first of four official Winter Olympic bids that didn’t pan out. The resort eventually won and hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
6. Heli skiing was introduced to the resort just two years after Whistler Mountain opened
In 1968, Jim McConkey, father of the late ski-movie hero Shane McConkey, arrived on the scene, and with him came heli-skiing. McConkey, who also served as the Director of Ski School, is accredited with pioneering heli skiing on the many surrounding glaciers and peaks.
7. From the late-60s to mid-70s, Whistler Blackcomb was a hotbed for counterculture lifestyle
Back then, Whistler was a magnet for ski bums and hippies who wanted to live on the cheap and ski as much as possible. Whistler’s original freeskier, Dag Abbey, was known for his signature style and skiing many first descents on an off the mountain.
8. Avalanche control was pioneered by Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol
In the early 70s, Whistler Mountain Manager, Hugh Smythe, designed new avalanche control methods. He began throwing explosives from helicopters and built the avalaucher gun, a technique which is still used today.
The avalauncher gun was developed in Whistler. | Photo: Whistler Museum
9. The first ever quadruple backflip on skis was performed at Whistler Blackcomb
On April 13, 1975, Steve Corbett pulls off the first ever quadruple backflip on skis on Whistler Mountain’s Camel Humps run. His feat ushers in an era of boundary-pushing culture at Whistler.
10. Blackcomb Mountain was one of the few resorts that embraced snowboarding in the late 80s
When snowboarding was in its early days, many ski resorts shunned the one plankers, but not Blackcomb Mountain. Not only did the resort allow snowboarders on the lifts, but it also built terrain parks and special features catered to snowboarders.
11. A segment of the classic ski movie “License to Thrill” was filmed on Blackcomb
In 1988, legendary ski movie director Greg Stump brings the world’s top “extreme skiers” Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt to Blackcomb for the first time.
12. The first boarder cross event was held on Blackcomb Mountain
In 1991, Blackcomb Mountain put up the prize money and the labor hours to build the first ever boarder cross course, which was the brain child of Steven Rechtschaffner and partner Greg Stum. Snowboard Cross is now an Olympic event.
13. Whistler won title at the No. 1 Ski Resort in North America for the first time in 1992
Snow Country magazine named Whistler the top resort in North America for the first time in 1992. In 1996, Snow Country again awarded Whistler the No. 1 spot, as did SKI and Skiing magazines. Whistler Blackcomb has gone on to receive this prestigious accolade numerous times, including this season (2015-16) and last (2014-15).
14. Blackcomb Mountain and Whistler Mountain were two separate ski resorts until 1997
Until 1997, Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain were separately owned, operated and marketed resorts. That year, Intrawest, who had purchased Blackcomb a decade earlier, also bought out Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation to form what is now the largest ski resort in North America. After the purchase, Intrawest immediately began major upgrades and build outs, including the replacing the old Peak Chair and Garbanzo Express with high-speed quads. In 2000, Intrawest began developing Creekside area with a new village layout.
15. The first twin tip ski was developed in Whistler in 1997
Inspired by what snowboarders were doing in the terrain park, two Whistler freeskier coaches, Mike Douglas and Steve Faring convinced Salomon to develop the first twin tip: the 1080.
16. The first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in snowboarding was won by a Whistler Blackcomb athlete
In 1998, Whistler rider Ross Rebagliati won Gold at the first-ever Olympic snowboarding event, which was a giant slalom race.
17. Whistler Blackcomb broke a Guinness World Record with the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola
In 2008, Whistler Blackcomb unveiled its engineering masterpiece, the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which connects Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb. The gondola broke the Guinness Book of World Records as the “highest cable car above ground” (1,430 feet) and “longest unsupported span between two cable car towers,” (1.9 miles).
Now that you’re versed in Whistler Blackcomb’s history, it’s time to book a trip and experience the resort’s rich skiing past first hand. Our 65+ Mountain Travel Experts can help you customize and book your flights, rental cars, lodging and more. They’re standing by at 800-610-8911. You can also get started by filling out a form for a free custom quote.
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Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now living in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com as Director of SEO + Content, I've been able to combine a litany of skills, passions and interests. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.