Museum Musings: When two became one: a history of snowboarding in Whistler

This week, the 20th annual World Ski & Snowboard Festival drags Whistler out of bed, pulls the mountain crowds onto the local dance floors, up to the high altitude playgrounds and into the
art galleries.

Skiers and snowboarders celebrate the one great thing they have in common: their love for snow. But “wetbutts” and “two-plankers” haven’t always been at peace. Until 1988, snowboarders were mountain outcasts. When Whistler-based Olympic gold medalist Ross Rebagliati started snowboarding in 1987, snowboarders were not allowed to ride anywhere in Canada. “Snowboarders were looked down upon at first by the ski industry and the general public,” remembers Ross in the museum’s documentary Whistler: A people’s history. “It was a new thing, and nobody knew anything about it.”

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Way back in the 1980s, at a time when other resorts were blaming snowboarders for everything evil, Blackcomb Mountain welcomed them with open arms. Ross was the first snowboarder that was allowed to ride Blackcomb’s lifts. The new sport found its home early in our valley, he said. “When we were first allowed to snowboard here, they did not just sell us the tickets and say, ‘that’s it.’ They embraced the whole idea, the culture. They took the initiative to build snowboard parks and created things specifically designed for snowboarders.”

Dano Pendygrasse, a snowboard photographer who moved to Whistler in the late 1980s, remembers that skiers didn’t go on jumps at that time. It was just the snowboarders that hit the natural banks. “When we saw the first ski tracks going up the stuff that we did, we thought, ‘No way! They are figuring it out. It was kind of scary,’” he recalls in the documentary First to Go Up by Lenny Rubenovitch, which tells the story of the first snowboarders allowed to ride on Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains.

Skiers weren’t happy with snowboarders, and they would tell them so. They had skiers hurl abuse and lifties throw shovels at them. They were even spat on from the lifts.

In fact, the boys (and in the beginning it was only a handful of them) encountered a lot of struggles as this new sport took hold. Skiers weren’t happy with snowboarders, and they would tell them so.

In 1988, Whistler Mountain would still not allow snowboarding. Ken Achenbach and Doug Lundgren, who highly influenced Canadian snowboarding, remember their first time riding Whistler Mountain in an interview with the Snowboard Canada magazine.

They were filming a snowboard movie on Blackcomb, and were allowed to continue filming on Whistler Mountain while Blackcomb was closed down for three days for lift maintenance.

While going up the Whistler gondola with the head of lift safety, the head of ski patrol and the head ski instructor they were told, “You Blackcomb punks better enjoy these three days because you’re never coming here again.”

Indeed, they had to wait two more years until Whistler Mountain let them up. Fortunately, the recognition of snowboarders has changed a lot since then. In the mid-1990s, snowboard classes and camps were integrated into Ski School, and Whistler-Blackcomb announced a snowboard coordinator to better address riders’ needs. By now, Whistler Blackcomb has won many awards for their outstanding terrain parks, and it’s definitely an awesome place to ride — no matter if you have one or two planks under your feet.

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