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 February 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 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:
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 (2009, 2010, 2011).
The Fitzsimmons Creek Renewable Energy Project was launched in December 2009 in partnership with Innergex Renewable Energy and Ledcor Power Group and is a significant addition to Whistler Blackcomb's existing efforts towards reducing its energy consumption and waste. The Run-of-River project is powered by the Fitzsimmons Creek and is located entirely within Whistler Blackcomb's operating area. It can produce up to 33 gigawatt hours of hydro electricity per year, which is the equivalent of powering more than 3.000 homes or the ski resort's year-round operations, including 38 lifts, 18, restaurants, and 270 snowguns.
Whistler Blackcomb was recognized for its efforts with this project when awarded the Golden Eagle Award in April 2010 for Overall Environmental Excellence by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). Whistler Blackcomb was also honoured as a top three finalist in three Silver Eagle categories: Excellence in Energy Conservation/Clean Energy, Excellence in Environmental Education and Excellence in Stakeholder Relations.
Today, Whistler Blackcomb is a four season resort with a world-renowned Mountain Bike Park on Whistler Mountain, a 22-feet Olympic-sized halfpipe on Blackcomb Mountain, and five Terrain Parks to fuel progression at every level from beginners to elite athletes. The mountains play host to countless festivals and events each year including the legendary TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival each April, and Kokanee Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival each August. And of course, the crowning glory came when Whistler Blackcomb played host to the world as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. A dream 50 years in the making will be celebrated for many decades to come.