Many of us who have skied on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains — from first-time visitors to long-term locals — have been curious about one or other of the weird and wonderful ski-run names found on our mountains. There is a plethora of intriguing runs to choose from. Some, like "Burnt Stew" or "Pig Alley" seem inexplicable, others like "VD Shoots" just seem alarming!
But when you scratch beneath the surface you discover that the names of our runs reflect our rich history and culture, telling Whistler's story from pioneer times to the present day.
Whistler Museum has been carefully recording the stories behind the runs for some time now. Here we share some of our favourites.
Pony Trail is the oldest run on Whistler Mountain. When the ski hill was being built in the summer of 1965, workers would take materials and supplies up the mountains by pack horse. The pony trail was the route cut for the horses to use. Because it took the easiest route possible, it was the perfect candidate to become Whistler's first green run.
McConkey's is named after Jim McConkey, the ski-school star of early Whistler Mountain. With a magnetic personality and his shock of white hair, "Diamond Jim" is a Whistler legend. McConkey had already had a long and distinguished career in the ski business when, in 1968, Franz Wilhelmsen asked him to be Whistler's new ski Director.
In the spring of 1968 McConkey took a chance, moved to Whistler, and invested all his money in building a ski shop there. His decision to come to Whistler turned out to be a good one. New technology in skiing equipment, meant more people were taking up skiing, and consequently there was a great market for instructing. Jim managed the ski school until 1980 and the rental and retail operations until 1985.
Whistler Mountain honoured Jim by naming a run after him on Dec. 15, 1994 — the same day that the Harmony Express chairlift was opened. This was clearly not enough for some, as there is also an unofficial McConkey's on Whistler Mountain — a large unpatrolled area near the Peak to Creek.
A true fun-lover with an infectious joy for mountain life — McConkey's catchphrase "Every day's a bonus" is one we can all learn from.
Franz' Run is named for Franz Wilhelmsen, was one of the founders of Whistler Mountain and president of the company for its first 23 years. Already a successful Vancouver businessman, Franz's vision and drive meant that the dream of a ski hill on Whistler Mountain became a reality. In 1983, Whistler honoured its "father" by naming his favourite ski run "Franz' Run." The chairlift Franz' Chair was also named after him in 1998.
Chunky's Choice is for Chunky Woodward, one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. and the head of Woodward's Department Store. It was his favourite run.
Jimmy's Joker is named after one of the loggers working on Whistler Mountain felling the trees to create ski runs. One afternoon in the summer of 1966 it was cloudy and particularly foggy. Jimmy was meant to be cutting down trees to create what is today, Franz' Run, but got disoriented. By the time he realized he was lost, he had cut enough trees to make a new ski run. His mistake became a great joke among the other loggers and the run was consequently called Jimmy's Joker.
Burnt Stew has one of the best stories to explain it. In the summer of 1958, before Whistler Mountain became a ski hill, long-time locals Florence Petersen, Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were on a backpacking trip around the mountain. After setting up camp one evening they started cooking dinner in an old Billy can over a fire, built into the rocks of a dry creek bed. Nobody remembered to stir the pot, however, resulting in the terrible burnt smell after which the area is named for.
Ego Bowl is named from the inflated egos of those whose skiing could be easily admired by onlookers from the Green Chair above.
Seppo's Run has a place in most locals' hearts. Seppo Makinen logged many of the early runs on both Whistler and Blackcomb. He was an unstoppable workhorse with incredible strength who helped clear many of the runs on Whistler Mountain. In 1980 Seppo cut his last run. The wild, off-camber descent quickly became a locals' favourite on big snow days, and was named "Seppo's" in his honour.
Whenever nostalgia causes long-time Whistler locals to reminisce about the old days, the conversation invariably leads to Seppo. It says a lot about this community that one of the most cherished figures in our history was not a politician or "founder" in the traditional sense, but a generous and warmhearted Finnish logger.
Jolly Green Giant is named after Vancouver and Whistler resident Casey Niewerth. Niewerth owned Skyline Sports on the North Shore. Being in the ski retail business, he would outfit his whole family in suits similar to what he was wearing. One particular ski season green was the fashionable colour so Niewerth (who was over six feet tall), and his children were all dressed in green. This coincided with a Jolly Green Giant commercial on TV, which featured another character called the Little Green Sprout. People seeing the Niewerths on the hill would say "there goes the Jolly Green Giant and his little green sprouts!"
Bagel Bowl was the preferred piste of former Whistler Mountain president Lorne Borgal, affectionately known as the 'Lone Bagel.'
Pig Alley — a shortcut from Whiskey Jack to Ego Bowl was the nickname of the ski patrol's first Ski-Doo, a pig of a machine that always got stuck. The patrol had the trail cut because it was easier to cross over to Ego Bowl and climb that with the Ski-Doo than to climb Whiskey Jack.
Boomer Bowl was named for the effect it had on residents in the Alpine Meadows subdivision — whenever it was avalanche-bombed the windows in Alpine would rattle.
Tokum was named after Tokum Corners — a "skibum" house lived in by John Hetherington, George Benjamin and a number of others. It was named by Rod MacLeod and Bruce Prentice who laid out the run, and who had both lived in Tokum Corners.
Khyber Pass — Here is how local Vincent Massey explains the story behind this area: "We used to hike the peak years before a chair went up the peak. We would go up the T-bar and hike up Little Whistler then hike all the way around the back of the peak to access this killer zone of steep chutes that are a perfect load zone for powder during big storms. We figured it was so far away to get to that the Khyber Pass was an apt name, after the Afghanistan pass. The logging slash down below had not been logged yet, so it was premo tree skiing all the way to Bunbury's road then out to Creekside. This route was pioneered by my father Geoff Massey and John Frazee back in the '60s ."
Olympic (Upper and Lower) were named in honour of Whistler's dream to host the Olympics. This run was marked out by Hugh Smythe long before the Olympics were held in Whistler.
Surprise is a steep area skiers' right of the Shale Slope. One weekend day in the mid-1970s there was an avalanche in this area. At that time very few people other than the ski patrol had avalanche transceivers. One fellow riding the T-bar came on scene saying that he had witnessed a burial and could find the buried skier. He took a probe and within a few minutes located the subject, who was dug out relatively unharmed. Surprise!
VD Chutes — Despite what you might imagine this actually stands for Very Difficult!
The Saddle is named for the saddle shape at the entrance to the run. Prior to the construction of the Peak Chair this area was a cliff. Later it was blasted out and bulldozed to create the run.
Dave Murray Downhill is named for Dave Murray, one of Whistler's skiing legends. Born and raised in Vancouver, his family owned a cabin on Alpha Lake. He became a member of the Crazy Canucks, the Canadian downhill racers of the late 1970s and early 1980s known for their fearless (and sometimes reckless) racing style. Fellow Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski remembers, "He was a much more complex man than just a ski racer. He was a deep thinker who realized skiing was just for the moment. He was a powerful influence on all of us. He gave us a balance and perspective we wouldn't have had without him. He was a creator."
Murray retired from competitive skiing following the 1982 season and returned to Whistler to found the Dave Murray Ski School. The downhill course was named after Dave Murray in 1990.
The Dave Murray Downhill deserves a section to itself as the run is divided into many parts, which allows those working on the races to identify specific areas on the track. Here in order of descent are the names and their stories. There are some sections that we are still not sure about, so if any readers know more, please get in touch with us at the museum!
Waterfall — It is not clear why this section carries this name, but there is a small waterfall in that area in the summer, which is likely the reason.
Orange Cliffs – Named after the Orange Chair that used to run above this section. This section used to be called Double Trouble as there were two jumps one after the other, but the racers, understandably, didn't enjoy having an area called "trouble" on the run.
Love Shack Jumps — The "Love Shack" is a building to the side of the run used for timing the races, the Love Shack Jumps are the section next to the Love Shack.
Caddy Flats — Adjacent to another building for timing races called the "Caddy Shack."
Johnson's Swamp — Ron Johnson who worked on the mountain in the early days and skied there one spring morning found it very wet.
Bear Cub — Next to the run named Bear Cub
Toilet Bowl — This amusing name was for a very narrow area that suffered a lot of congestion (it has subsequently been widened significantly). In the days that Woodfibre pulp mill was in operation on Howe Sound you could often smell the pollution from the mill at this point in the mountain, adding to its 'charms.'
Carousel — The origins of this section also remains a mystery.
The Weasel — We don't know why it was called the Weasel, but the name Weasel begat the name Weasel Workers — the volunteers who work on the races. The area is very steep and the older snow cats were not able to make it up there to groom. The race workers would have to tread up and down the Weasel on foot to flatten it out and therefore called themselves the Weasel Workers.
Expressway — Where the course crosses the run "Expressway."
Fallaway and Fallaway Flats — This corner falls away down the slope forcing racers to ski on one leg through the turn. and is then followed by a flattened area.
Sewer — Beneath the toilet bowl!
Coaches Corner — It is considered one of the best places for coaches to see their charges racing down the run.
Roy's — This section is named after a Weasel Worker who was killed on the road to Vancouver.
Fortna's Courner — This is named after a racer called Fortna's who had a bad crash in this spot.
Timing flats — Where the timing lights were.
Franz's leap — A jump named after Franz Wilhelmsen.
Rod's Revenge - Peter Müller was the Swiss ski racer who skipped the line up to the gondola to the ire of Rod McLeod, the lift supervisor. Müller was forced to apologize. The next day Müller was just about to win the race when he fell on a bump right at the end. The bump was thereafter known as Rod's Revenge. This was probably the 1986 World Cup.
After 1989 the course was changed. Hot Air was built and the finish line was moved further up the hill to ensure there would always be snow. Before this time the finish line was right at the bottom of the mountain, almost by Dusty's.
For the 2010 Winter Olympic Games the men's course at the bottom was altered and new sections were named:
Boyd's Chin — This is obviously named after Rob Boyd's impressive jawline.
Murr's Hop — This was named after Dave Murray, who was affectionately nicknamed "Murr."
When Blackcomb first opened all the runs were named with a logging theme in mind. This was intended to reflect the logging heritage in the valley. As you can see from the names below the importance of forestry to the area has been captured forever.
Jersey Cream referred to the extra good timber — the cream of the crop. This run was originally names Hooker — the name given to a foreman of a logging "side." However, the name was changed, as (unsurprisingly) it was not considered politically correct.
Stoker was a person employed to fuel the steam engines used to pull the logs.
A Cruiser was a logger who surveyed standing timber for volume.
Catskinner was the name given to a driver of a machine with caterpillar treads.
The Bite referred an area in the curve or slack of a cable. When the cable pulls a log, the slack snaps out causing this area to be very dangerous.
Cougar Milk was a term referring to the grease used on logging equipment.
Undercut was a notch made in the tree to make sure it fell in the desired direction.
A Skidder was any type of heavy vehicle used in a logging operation for pulling cut trees out of a forest in a process called "skidding."
Springboard referred to a board that hand fallers stood on above the broad base when felling a large tree.
The Choker was a short length of wire rope used to wrap around the log to be yarded to the landing.
Gearjammer was a nickname given to a heavy equipment operator.
School Marm referred to a tree stem that branches into two or more trunks or tops.
Xhiggy's Meadow was named after Peter Xhignesse. "Xhiggy'"worked on ski patrol from the time Blackcomb first opened in 1980 and was quickly promoted to be the first avalanche forecaster for Blackcomb Mountain. He was extremely dedicated to his job and made sure every step possible was taken to ensure the safety of staff and guests. Sadly, he was claimed by cancer at the young age of 33. Even in his last few days of life he still made sure to spend hours educating his successor on running ski patrol. Arthur DeJong remembers him with great respect: "He drove excellence amongst ski patrol... he defined responsibility to me. When I hit a real challenge I think of Xhiggy, giving his all." There is a plaque commemorating Peter Xhignesse on Blackcomb Mountain.
7th Heaven was named by Blackcomb President Hugh Smythe after he figured out that the lift servicing it was Blackcomb's seventh lift. "The 7th Heaven T-bar (which was built in 1985 and replaced in 1987 by the 7th Heaven Express) was the seventh lift built on Blackcomb, making 7th Heaven a really appropriate name that reflected the outstanding ski experience of that highest region of the mountain," he said.
Hugh thought of the name because of an experience he'd had as a young man. He was skiing in Stevens Pass in Washington on a really dreadful day around 1964. The snow was terrible: "When it hit you it sort of knocked you over." As he got to the top of the chairlift the lift operator came out of the shack, a bearded man with a deep voice, and said: "Welcome to seventh heaven." Years later that lifty's words came back to Smythe when naming the area.
Arthur's Choice is named for another Whistler Blackcomb employee who continues to make a difference. Arthur De Jong started working for Blackcomb Mountain as a ski patroller when the ski hill first opened, in 1980. At that time the Crystal Chair was not yet built and so the areas around the Crystal Zone were outside Blackcomb's ski boundaries. These prime skiing areas, with their fine tree-powder runs did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by Blackcomb Ski Patrol. De Jong remembers fondly: "We knew there was great skiing out there for a long time".
The Crystal Chair opened in 1989. This coincided with a changing attitude of the next generation of skiers and snowboarders who were growing more adventuresome than their predecessors. Skiing in the trees became popular and more and more people started to enjoy it. Unfortunately, the danger of tree wells is very real, especially when the forest is dense. Blackcomb Mountain needed to make a decision: Were they going to try to discourage tree skiing (which probably wouldn't work) or would they make efforts to make tree skiing safer?
Their answer was to introduce gladed skiing, which gave the guest a much safer option of tree skiing. De Jong, who was by now Blackcomb's mountain manager, led the new policy of glading. When the work had been done, the marketing director at the time, David Barry, asked De Jong to pick his favourite of the new gladed areas. He selected a particular run because he knew the Whistler kids would love it; a gladed run with plenty of features and character, which was both challenging and fun. Barry therefore proclaimed that the run should be called "Arthur's Choice."
Another fun fact relating to these new glades, was that there was a small amount of revenue generated from selling the lumber from the thinned forests. This money was put towards building the first alpine hiking trails on Blackcomb on the south side of 7th Heaven.
Ross' Gold is named after Ross Rebagliati who grew up in North Vancouver, but called Whistler his home for over a decade. Ross was a snowboarder who won a gold medal at 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. As this was the first Olympic snowboard event, Ross was the first Olympic gold medallist snowboarder in history. He was presented with a lifetime pass to Whistler Blackcomb and was able to choose a run to be named after him.
The original name for Ross' Gold was Gandy Dancer — this is a term used for early railroad workers who laid and maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines. A worker would lift his gandy (a long handled tool) and force it into the ballast to create a fulcrum, then throw himself sideways using the gandy to check his full weight so the gandy would push the rail toward the inside of the curve.
Bushrat is a technical chute off of Chainsaw Ridge, and was named after John Hetherington., a.k.a. "Bushrat," who had previously worked on the Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol with Ken Newington, Blackcomb's first ski patrol director. He named this run for Hetherington soon after the area opened.
Ladies First on Blackcomb Glacier was named after Whistler ski patroller Cathy Jewett. Jewett was out ski touring with a group in 1984. She dropped in first and instantly set off an avalanche that she rode down the slope until she managed to self-arrest. So, although she was theoretically "first," she didn't really ski it that day!
Garnet, Diamond, Sapphire and Ruby bowls, on the backside of Blackcomb after you climb Spanky's ladder, were named by Peter Xhignesse and former Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly. They figured that since they had a Crystal Ridge these were much more precious runs so deserved more value in the namesake.
Husume — HuSueMi should be the correct spelling, as the name is made out of three names run together: Hugh Tucker, Dr. Sue Hopkins, and Miguel Guerico who claimed the first decent in 1983.
Saudan Couloir / Couloir Extreme was originally named Saudan Couloir after the early French extreme skier Sylvain Saudan. A very popular extreme ski racing event used to take place on this run in the late '80s/early '90s. Unfortunately, Saudan was not pleased by the mountain using his name without his permission and Blackcomb subsequently changed the name to Couloir Extreme.
The Whistler Museum is located next to the library on Main Street. Visit us to discover more fun stories about Whistler! Open daily from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Late night openings until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.
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