Runs were cut on Whistler (precisely where 2010’s Olympic runs will take place). A rugged road from Vancouver—the Sea to Sky Highway—was built. On Feb. 16, 1966—44 years to the day before this year’s men’s super combined—Whistler Mountain opened with a gondola (where the Creekside Gondola is today), a long double chair up to treeline and two T-bars, which are still in service.
The ski area’s 4,280-foot vertical was the largest in North America; the high alpine realm it accessed—sprawling, treeless, glaciated—was in a ski class all its own. With snow into May, $4 weekday lift tickets and land that cost about $1,000 per acre, Whistler was a hit with regional skiers. More lifts went up, and daylodges soon joined them. The era of funky A-frames and skiing hippies had begun.
By the mid-1970s more Olympic bids—for the ’72, ’76 and ’80 Winter Games—had failed, but Whistler was well on its way to hitting critical mass. Vancouverites built weekend cabins and set their families free on the slopes. The local squatters, hippies and ski instructors had a baby boom. Soon the community needed more infrastructure. With this in mind, the valley was incorporated as a “resort municipality,” and construction began on a second ski resort on the adjacent peak. Blackcomb Mountain (then owned by a subsidiary of the Aspen Skiing Company) opened in 1980.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Whistler is that its village sprang whole from one corporation’s blueprints, like a theme park. In fact, it was the Resort Municipality of Whistler, with the input of local residents and the B.C. government, that developed the plan for Whistler Village and its pedestrian core.
The idea was to create a vacation-friendly town center, full of vitality and tourist beds coexisting in visual harmony with its surroundings. Eldon Beck, who was instrumental in the design of Vail Village, drew up Whistler’s village plan. Just as Wilhelmsen had once hiked the mountain before cutting runs, Beck hiked the landfill on which Whistler Village would be built. He climbed trees to get a better look. Then he designed a car-free town center where vacationers could meander and flow like water in a mountain stream.