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Arts & Entertainment

The battle of the peaks

Icons debate what’s better: Whistler or Blackcomb Museum Musings
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Past president of Blackcomb Mountain Hugh Smythe and past president of Whistler Mountain Lorne Borgal.

Ever since Blackcomb mountain opened in 1980 people have been arguing which is better — Blackcomb or Whistler?

Of course, unlike today there was no “Whistler Blackcomb,” the two mountains were entirely separate and run by rival companies.

Franz Wilhelmsen, president of Whistler Mountain, certainly had a strong opinion about which mountain was better. So strong that before Blackcomb was developed Franz commissioned a report that deemed Blackcomb as completely unsuitable for a ski resort. Of course, Franz was hardly what you would call an unbiased party, he was (understandably) far from pleased at the idea of a rival ski resort being built on his doorstep.

It must have been hard for Blackcomb, starting next to another ski resort that had already been operating for 15 years. However, Hugh Smythe, the first President of Blackcomb Mountain, rose to the challenge.

“It was always fun being number two. It was a challenge to figure out how we would compete… We were going to be a customer service organisation from day one and that’s what we felt our point of differentiation was: good food, good service, good experience.” In the first year, skier numbers were disappointing: 54,200 visitors instead of the expected 225,000. Whistler, in comparison, hosted 315,000 that season.

However, after the first couple of years the young upstart began to thrive. Peter Alder was general manager of Whistler at the time has no problem admitting Blackcomb started giving Whistler a run for its money.

In the end, Intrawest, who owned Blackcomb Mountain, bought Whistler Mountain in 1996 and the two mountains finally became united. Now they are even linked together by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

However preferences still rage and the argument is still as hot as when upstart Blackcomb was first developed.

This Friday (Dec. 13) we will be having a ‘friendly’ debate at the Museum to decide once and for all which mountain reigns supreme.

With guest panellists including long-term patrollers Wayne Flann and Cathy Jewett and pro freeskier Matty Richard, the evening should prove a lot of fun. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., the event starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $7 ($5 for members). There will also be a cash bar just to get those arguments stoked a little higher! If you are a diehard Blackcomber or a Whistlerite all the way, come to the Museum and say your piece!

Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum.


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