Whistler is wonderful. Every ski magazine says so. Gourmet restaurants, cool bars, amazing hiking trails and of course, world class skiing. Sometimes I forget, taking it for granted. I’ve been coming for ages. Watching the Olympics was a life highlight. John brought me here for our first holiday together and my kids know every slope. Finally, it was time to learn a bit of history. Here are somethings I found out.
1/ It was originally called London Mountain. The fog that regularly blankets the hill reminded the sailors in the British Navy of home when they were surveying the area in 1860. The valley had been a trading route of the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations People for generations. After the British did their mapping, trappers and loggers came hoping to make a fortune. It became a tourist destination in 1914 when Myrtle and Alex Philip opened the Rainbow Lodge for fishing, hiking and boating. The lodge burned down in 1977, Rainbow Lake is named after it.
2/ The Olympics were a long time coming. In 1960 the Canadian Olympic Committee decided they wanted to submit a bid for the 1968 games. So, they went looking for a place. Local businessmen suggested Whistler, the committee agreed. Which is odd. The community had no water, no electricity, no sewage and no road to Vancouver. No surprise, their bid was rejected. Not discouraged, they established the Garibaldi Lift Company and started developing a ski resort. They petitioned to formally change the name of the mountain to Whistler. Locals had given this nickname after the sound made by the hoary marmot. Marmots are basically big noisy squirrels that frequent the area (though I have never seen one as they hibernate 8 months a year!)
Nothing if not tenacious, the Garibaldi Group bid for the 1972 Olympics (Sapporo, Japan won) and the 1976 Games (eventually held Innsbruck, Austria). Whistler was also considered for 1980 Games, ultimately hosted by Lake Placid. Finally, they won the 2010 games.
3/ The town was built on a dump. By 1966 the hill was open for skiing; featuring a gondola, a double chair lift, two T-bars, electricity and a gravel road to Vancouver. After years of squatters, rogue condos and ad hock pop up buildings the BC government decided the burgeoning ski destination needed a town. They chose to build on the old Alta Lake dump. Eldon Beck, the designer of Vail, was hired. Ground broke in August 1978. Rumor has it there is still an old Volkswagen bus, a relic from the dump days, buried under the village. The new village of Whistler became the first place in BC to allow bars to open on Sundays since provincial prohibition was repealed in 1921.
4/It’s not cheap. An adult weekend lift ticket originally cost $6.50. Today a same day ticket is $156 cdn plus tax.