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Discordant notes on Whistler’s Flute

Following contours or drawing lines in the sand; Do firm boundaries make good parks?


By G.D. Maxwell

On opening day of 1987, all the buzz in the valley was directed toward upstart Blackcomb Mountain. There was a new base of operations, the renamed Rendezvous restaurant was three times larger than it had been the previous season, and three new, high-speed, detachable quads were running – Wizard, Solar Coaster and 7 th Heaven.

On Whistler Mountain, things were calmer. The Peak Chair had been installed the previous season, as had the Village Gondola. Highway 86 had been cut around the back side of the peak. Most long-time locals and weekend warriors were thrilled at the prospect of skiing Whistler Bowl and the terrain opened up by Peak Chair; others grumbled the easy access would spoil their favourite haunts and that dilettantes would be poaching the best lines without having hiked to earn them.

Almost lost in the noise of the ensuing season was a change to the boundaries of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Blackcomb gained acreage in the Crystal zone and Blackcomb Glacier Provincial Park was carved out of Garibaldi and brought within the mountain’s Controlled Recreation Area (CRA). On Whistler, former park lands comprising Symphony and Flute basins were now within the mountain’s CRA.

The effect of the new park boundaries on Blackcomb was almost immediate. Showcase T-bar and Crystal Chair opened the next season, giving skiers immediate access to vast new terrain.

On Whistler though, Symphony remained a bit of a hike off Peak Chair or the T-bars and Flute was the backcountry. Even after Harmony Chair was installed in 1994, Flute remained out-of-bounds and without benefit of either avalanche control or Ski Patrol. It was the near-backcountry trek of choice and a truly wicked place to be on a powder day. Future development maps of Whistler Mountain showed Flute serviced by lifts… but the future was, well, the future.

In 2001, the future finally arrived. "When Flute basin was allotted to Whistler back in ’87, it was so far beyond the planning of the day that there wasn’t much attention placed on it. By 2001, when we were interested, we noted issues with the boundaries," Arthur DeJong, planning and environment resource manager for Whistler-Blackcomb explained.

"The problem was a jog in the boundary that took out the natural base station topography." The jog excluded a bench of land at 1,525 metres above sea level. The bench offered both topography to build a chairlift base station without necessitating substantial earth moving and it seemed to be within the natural flow of the land. "Skiers are like water; they follow gravity," Arthur said.

"We went to B.C. Parks and told them if we didn’t change the boundary, we’d have to do a massive cut and fill, that the bench was the environmentally sane way to go. They thought it made sense and would have less impact on the environment by putting it there so they agreed."