Not all that long ago Whistler was a quiet place. A lake-filled valley surrounded by drool-worthy mountains. A slow moving wilderness populated mostly by flora and fauna, and scarcely visited by the world's most invasive species: human kind.
It was in May 1915 that Alex and Myrtle Philip opened Rainbow Lodge as a fishing resort. Around the same time, logging became the main industry in the valley. The remains of Parkhurst village, home of many of the loggers in the 1930s and 1940s, are still visible on the far bank of Green Lake. But Alex and Myrtle Philip were different. They brought visitors. They had a pet baby bear. And they stayed full-time to enjoy the recreation and share it with others.
This was the beginning of a long stream of visitors who would be tempted by the fishing, the snow-covered slopes, the knarly, rooty trails, the lifestyle, the views, and the community. These days around two million visitors stop by every summer and winter, and leave a trail of photos all over social media.
In a new community, where one of the oldest standing buildings is the historical hostel, built in the late 1950s (now The Point Artist-Run Centre), there are just a few thousand individuals who are born and bred Whistlerites. Everyone else arrived as part of their own adventure. This perhaps makes us a community of pioneers. A community that isn't afraid to leave our old lives because we have found a new place to set down roots.
With that in mind Pique thought we would offer up a short A to Z of what makes Whistler unique and irresistible.
On a per capita basis, Whistler has one of the highest percentages of professional, semi-professional, aspiring professional, and post-professional athletes on the continent. These athletes are sponsored by everyone from energy drink companies, to ski/snowboard/bike companies, to, well, their parents or Employment Insurance. Whistler also has a truckload of Olympians and Paralympians.
This is a town where ski school is cheaper than daycare, where school children ski as much as ski bums, and where companies list the 30cm rule in their hiring packages. In summer the trails are filled with the pitter-patter of tiny pedals: armour-clad infants tearing up the singletrack. And as for the amateurs, you'll find them in the grocery store discussing dehydrated food recipes for their next multi-day mountaineering trip, or the swing weight of a ski pole.
The Black Tusk is the lava plug of a volcano that exploded 170,000 years ago; after this it became the seat of the Thunder Bird — known for shooting lightning from its eyes. There's hardly a marketing photo of Whistler that doesn't include the Black Tusk volcano: the distinctive blacktopped mountain often enveloped by a dramatic sky of stratocumulus clouds.
Damn are we a tight group. After the construction flurry started in 1965, people flocked to the area forming the beginning of today's community. By the '70s ten per cent of Whistler lived in squats, many communal — and jamming six to sixteen people into one house is still the norm for most seasonal 20-year-old, or so, workers (this is probably the only way to survive on $10.25/hour).
There's a maximum of one degree of separation between the entire population: this means that, if you've been here more than a year, you'll have at least one mutual friend in common with all of Whistler's residents. This is amazing if you are looking for a buddy to do sports with, or if you need a hand pushing your vehicle on a snowy day, but if you only have ten minutes to buy a week's worth of groceries: good luck.
Whistler is a town of around 10,000 permanent residents and 781 licensed dogs. The 9,219 residents without dogs either a) share responsibility for a dog or b) live in rental accommodation so they nurture community canines instead.
In Whistler it takes a village to raise a dog. At Whistler Animals Galore between 10 and 40 people from group b) drop by every day during the visiting hours of 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to spend time with the shelter animals and walk the dogs 354 days a year (WAG is closed on statutory holidays). Each dog accompanies visitors on two or three daily walks.
To celebrate Whistler's love of dogs there are dog beaches, dog spa services, dog parades. This year Cheakamus Crossing opened a dog park at Bayly Park. Whistler dogs, more non-human persons than pets, have similar pastimes to their licensee holders: they have season passes to the mountain, raw food diets, and Halloween tickle trunks. They accompany their human companions skiing, snowboarding, sledding, hiking, and to work. Since 1978 highly trained avalanche dogs have volunteered on the mountain. Many local dogs have Facebook and Instagram accounts, or at least a hashtag, where they connect with their friends.
* We believe there might be a small underground movement of dog non-enthusiasts. They can usually be found hiking 21 Mile Creek (where dogs are not allowed).
People in Whistler are educated. Not only do most of us have a degree, or two, or sometimes even three, but we also collect online courses, distance courses from Vancouver institutions, first aid and outdoor/nutrition/sports qualifications. Rarely content with just one profession, the one-job life is rare in Whistler too — between two and five jobs aren't unusual.
Seasonal workers flock here after finishing degrees in Australia, England, South Africa, and Eastern Canada to run chairlifts, stack supermarket shelves, and sing songs with kindergarteners in ski school. The sandwich artist spreading your mustard might well be using PhD-level math to calculate the physics of airway gas movement in your throat while you ask for a pickle.
Traditionally, two friendly, much intermarried tribes lived around Whistler: the Squamish and Lil'wat nations. The area was first inhabited around 2,500 BC south of Whistler in Rubble Creek near Black Tusk. Trade was important to the two nations, and wool weaving, cedar root harvest and basket weaving were exchanged. If you explore carefully, you'll find culturally modified trees and pictographs in the region. The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre has collected many local crafts, historical artifacts and stories.
Whistler's terrain was mostly used for hunting animals like deer — the remains of cabins used for hunting and gathering can be found. In addition to using the land, they told stories about the area. Transformers were believed to travel up and down the rivers creating distinct features such as Squamish's Chief.
At least that's what they're called officially. The individuals that stop by for a few hours, days, or months are known by whatever marketing term is currently in vogue: visitors, tourists, or — if they've taken the final parking space on a powder day — anything that includes an expletive. But far from being a local town for local people, everyone knows that visitors are the lifeblood of this resort municipality. Their curiosity to worship at one of the world's greatest shrines to outdoor adventure pays (almost) all of our salaries. And once you get chatting, it's hard to ignore that everyone living or visiting here has the same interests in common.
Formerly known as the Sea to Die Highway, the Sea to Sky highway is an hour or so of stunning, curvaceous bitumen. It begins in Vancouver with views over the Squamish inlet, panoramas of the Tantalus range, Shannon Falls (the third highest waterfall in B.C.), the Chief (the second largest piece of granite in the world), and finally Whistler. You'll recognize some of these views from an old Porsche commercial, Happy Gilmore, and Twilight (ahem) as well as a host of other movies. The road to Whistler was built in 1956, first paved in 1965 and then, slightly controversially, widened in time for the Olympics.
Whistler is a passionate town. An opinionated town. A town full of people who quit their jobs, their family ties, their former lives to create a better life. And we defend our right to this new, ideal life vigilantly. This is a place with a life/work balance (emphasis on life). A new chairlift on the mountain is enough to start a multi-year debate. The availability, cost and location of parking causes the type of protests usually reserved for international war. But on a day-to-day basis, sustainability, recycling, healthy eating, outdoor adventure and good coffee are the priorities.
Whistlerites like to leave the terrain they're so fond of, only to return to it again several milliseconds later. You'll find us hucking our meat on jumps built out of snow, dirt, or wood. There are jumps in terrain parks, bike trails, into bubbly pools, out of planes, or through rings of fire. There are jumping contests for various disciplines in the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Crankworx and mogul contests. Some folk even decided to jump out of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola—but think it through first.
Knowing your way in, through, and, most importantly, out of Khyber's is a proud rite of winter passage here. The snowy, cliffy, powder-clogged area was rumoured to have snipers in it during the Olympics (which may or may not be true); this only adds to its badass reputation.
The subject of localness is a touchy one. Since only a handful of people are born and bred locally, plenty of people who claim to be local are dismissed by anyone who has been here a day longer. A motion will soon be passed to figure out this mess by grading localness on a points system*. A permanent address in town gets you five points, a B.C. accent (real or feigned) gets you ten, every year you've submitted your taxes in Whistler gets you an additional point, being educated within the municipal boundaries gets you fifty points, and any genuine Myrtle Philip relic in your home gets you seventy.
*This isn't true at all.
A great name used to describe Canadian Ski Museum Ski Hall of Fame member Jim McConkey, a gladed trail, and the inspirational skier Shane McConkey. A lesser known McConkey is the retired Dr. Patrick McConkey: a man of few words and many knee surgeries. McConkey, one of Canada's greatest knee surgeons to date, was responsible for around 3,500 ACL surgeries on Lower Mainland patients which helped return many Whistler folk to the activities they love best.
*If you are the proud owner of a McConknee, give yourself an extra fifteen local points.
Whistler doesn't really like to admit it, but there are a number of people who live here who are not athletic at all. In a town defined by outdoor activities, this is a terrible, secretive thing. The non-athlete is defined by a lifetime of excuses, fake injuries, and last-minute cancellations. Most of them move to Vancouver to become hipsters.
From 1960 Whistler hoped for the Olympics, but once it was announced the town was divided by pre-Games excitement, and some apprehension. The locals that didn't like the Games left town and rented their homes and office space out for exorbitant amounts of money, and the rest of us stayed to take in the show. Besides, like Leonardo at the Oscars, if Whistler hadn't eventually been awarded the Games, it would have been a little ridiculous. The Olympics were great for marketing, and left us with some cool legacies: the Whistler Nordic Centre, the Whistler Sliding Centre, the Cheakamus neighbourhood, the Lost Lake Passiv Haus, a lot of ring sculptures, and a road with less congestion.
Good God Whistler knows how to party. Through the year Whistlerites go to party, after party, after party: St Patrick's Day, Australia Day, the WSSF, Halloween, Cornucopia, Deep Summer Photo Challenge, Deep Winter Photo Challenge, New Year, Gaper Day, as well as birthdays of everyone you know from work, the mountain, your favourite coffee shop, and yoga class. Parties tend to fall on non-weekend days, which confuses city folk, but suits the non-conventional schedules of most residents. If you're keen to drink underground, there's a different bar worth visiting every night of the week.
Turning everything into a number is popular. We know the number of centimetres of new snow, our heart rates as we run the trails, the number of metres we've descended every day this year, the number of bears living nearby, the minutes we will wait in a line up, and that we're the number one place to live in the world (according to various outdoor magazines).
Runs (and trails)
The mountains and valleys in this area are a warren of runs, trails, and singletrack for all our favourite pastimes. You can spend years discovering one discipline's trails only to find that there's another tangle of trails worth investigating.
When asked, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability lauds three projects: 1) the Meadow Park Sports Centre retrofit where renewable energy (underground heat and solar) is used for around 70 per cent of the pool heating and 30 per cent of the domestic hot water. 2) The Farmers' Market's community contributions, which include awards to the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Foundation, Whistler Food Bank, Pemberton Arts Council, and the Whistler Arts Council. And finally, 3) the Lost Lake Passiv Haus which is 90 per cent more energy-efficient than an average Canadian home. Other than big projects like these and the Fitzsimmons Renewable Energy Project, you'll see Whistler locals biking their commute to work, or the mountain (bonus points for spying a bike that includes a ski rack), and most people carry a large reusable coffee cup (this also appeals to our frugality).
Toad Hall Poster
The photo was taken by Chris Speedie in 1973 when the Soo Valley Lumber Company cabins were about to be demolished. The poster epitomizes Whistler in the '70s. The 14 nude ski bums, who lived communally in the cabin for a total rent of $75/month, are covered by only the odd helmet, sock, ski boot or abundance of body hair. Many of the people in this photo still live here today.
In Whistler, underlayers are crucial not only to your ability to stay warm in the winter, but also philosophically. You will have an opinion: merino vs. synthetic, expensive vs. Re-Use-It Centre, technical vs. pajamas. Once you make a decision on the first layer that sits next to your skin, you are expected to stick by it. After a decade in town, you will notice the gravity of this decision: some people wear the same first layer indefinitely.
Originally in Creekside, what we now call the village is built around a winding, quaint trail designed in 1977 on the garbage dump between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Some smart town planning legislation ensured most development was controlled, which meant we didn't end up looking like a free-for-all sprawl.
Whistler and Blackcomb
You know the stats: 8,171 acres of powder-blessed terrain, a vertical mile of awesomeness, a zillion different routes to move down these two lust-inducing lumps of Cretaceous rock, lava and earth. In fact, these twin mountains are probably the reason that you're in Whistler reading Pique. Whistler Mountain's summit was first skied by Pip Brock in 1933, first opened as a ski resort in 1966, and Blackcomb opened its proverbial doors in 1980. Later on they opened a bike park. What you don't know about the two mountains is: oh yeah, pretty much everything to be said has been said already. You'll just have to go hunting around them for whatever you want to find.
Most Whistler inhabitants have a collection of these in their medical file. This means that the staff in the Whistler Health Care Centre are spectacularly adept at treating broken wrists, collarbones, ribs, femurs, sculls, and other orthopedic injuries that make up around 43 per cent of the over 18,000 annual ER visits.
Everyone in Whistler does yoga. And, if you don't, you're probably pretending to make time to fit it into your schedule. Yoga kills three birds with one stone by providing a little spirituality, mixed with body conditioning, and stretching. Between the Wanderlust Festival, Yama Yoga, White Gold Yoga, Loka Yoga, Yoga Cara, Jivamukti Yoga, and Neoalpine YYoga studios there's more than enough classes for everyone.
New Whistlerites, like bears, have a hibernation period when they get most of their rest. This happens in the fall when parties are scarce and it's too rainy to go outside much (bears, as you know, hibernate a little later). After a few years most Whistlerites have quit the weekly (nightly?) parties for chirpy 5 a.m. workouts, training for an endurance adventure, or just office work for their flexi-hours job.
Thanks to the Whistler Museum, SLCC, WAG, and Whistler Centre for Sustainability for providing photos and information.