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Museum Musings: The season-ending Whistler Blackcomb staff party that became the stuff of legend

'Whistler Mountain had a reputation for excellent staff parties...'
L to R: Andrea Thompson, Scott Paxton and Erin Early in front of the Roundhouse during the 1986 Whistler Mountain staff party.

When I think of Whistler Blackcomb staff parties, I think of Mickey Mouse’s Christmas album and walking around the Whistler Conference Centre collecting little trolls from the Christmas crackers. It was shocking to my six-year-old brain that some of the adults did not want the trolls. Those trolls travelled across the world with me when my family moved to Australia, along with Mickey’s Christmas album, which still comes on the stereo every December, much to my father’s dismay.

While it is hard to believe, some of Whistler Mountain’s other staff parties sound even better. The 1986 year-end staff party will go down in the history books.

At the end of the winter of 1985-86, Canada was coming out of the recession that had gripped the country throughout the early ’80s. Peak Chair had not yet been constructed but was going in over the summer, and the competition between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains was still in full swing.

After Whistler Mountain closed to the public for the end of the ski season, the lifts turned on again for a staff celebration. Ullr was happy, with snow dumping overnight, so the celebrating staff got fresh powder all to themselves.

To get all the staff onto the mountain for the celebration, the gondola from Creekside ran for a few hours in the morning, and then closed once everyone was up. For the rest of the day, the Whistler T-bar and Red Chair were running unmanned, allowing everyone to join the party. With absolutely no lifties, staff could ski down and hop straight onto the lift however they pleased.

Like the majority of Whistler Mountain parties back then, it was a fully catered affair. Booze and food were plentiful, with management flipping burgers and Pika’s overflowing with unlimited free drinks for all. Looking at photos from the event, the outfits scream 1980s spring skiing: Vuarnet shades all around, bright colours, and spectacular goggle tans. With many people dressed up in costume, it is unclear whether there was a theme or the costumes were just out to celebrate the end of the season.

Remembering the festivities, Janet Love Morrison recalled, “There was all this booze and so you’d have a couple of drinks and then you just ski down to Little Red, and load yourself up with no lifties. It was pretty crazy.”

Despite this, there were no serious incidents during the raucous party.

Whistler Mountain had a reputation for excellent staff parties, so much so that locals who did not work for Whistler Mountain paid for a helicopter to the peak so they could join the revelry!

Now living on the Sunshine Coast, photographer and longtime employee of Whistler Mountain, Dave Steers, remembered another side of the event. “The skiing was amazing and it was the last time ever that you could lap the peak and lay down tracks beside your last set.”

Before the chairlift went in, only a small number of people hiked the peak, so you could always get fresh tracks. Once the “weak chair” to the Peak was built, far more people began accessing the terrain.

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