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Museum Musings: Off the lip—the rise of snowboarding in Whistler

'For anyone who thought it was a fad, well, they were wrong'
A snowboarder cruises across the slushy and chilly water at the 1994 Slush Cup.

What’s your favourite mountain, Blackcomb or Whistler? As many know, this has been a hot debate since Blackcomb’s opening in 1980. It amped up even further when snowboarding was welcomed with open arms on Blackcomb Mountain in the winter of 87-88. Whistler Mountain proceeded with caution before it allowed boarders to shred the slopes a season later.

According to Dave Murray in a 1988 interview, “the mountain doesn’t have any problems with snowboards on the mountain in the long-term, but in the short-term, Whistler is very concerned with looking ahead and planning relatively slowly when new innovations come into play.”

Whistler Mountain waited to see how the sport did on Blackcomb before snowboarders were invited to Whistler, largely due to the popular perceptions of snowboarders at the time. Snowboarding was already booming in the United States by the time it reached Canada in the early 1980s. The sport attracted a younger crowd, and a few black sheep would come off as reckless and rude. Many skiers believed it was dangerous for them to be allowed on the mountain, and that it would result in injuries and constant issues.

Some skiers didn’t act too kindly toward them, either. Snowboarders Ken Achenbach, Dano Pendygrasse and Doug Lungren recall being spat on and sworn at, and one skier even threw a shovel at them. There were even fist fights between boarders and skiers in the Blackcomb terrain park, which was run by snowboarders at the time.

But, snowboarding was in its early days—it needed time and space to innovate, integrate, and evolve.

On Blackcomb, Dave Perry, VP of marketing, recalled they did extensive research into how it was going in the U.S. before allowing snowboarders on the mountain. Their research showed there was not actually a problem.

“We’ve got a considerable number of snowboarders on the mountain, they tend to congregate in certain areas, they’ll find a spot with a tube shape with a big winddrift or something and play there,” Perry said.

“They don’t mix on the main runs as some people think.”

Blackcomb’s support, and later Whistler’s, was crucial to the boom snowboarding enjoyed in Canada, with many pegging the resort as the centre of Canadian snowboarding.

For anyone who thought it was a fad, well, they were wrong.

A lot has happened in the last 30-plus years, but snowboarding is still a relatively young sport, meaning the museum does not have as much information or records of it as we do for sports like skiing. In the last decade, however, the museum has received some great content about snowboarding, along with cool artifacts, and will be using these to recognize the sport and a few of the riders involved.

On Jan. 31 (from 6:30 to 9 p.m.), the Whistler Museum will open our latest exhibit, Off the Lip: the Rise of Snowboarding in Whistler, where we revisit the beginnings of snowboarding in Whistler and the impact it had on the resort and the sport. Off the Lip will be on exhibit until April 30.

This is also a chance to showcase some of the amazing photographs we have from collections, including Greg Griffith, Blackcomb Mountain, and the Whistler Question. Over the course of the exhibit, we will share several images of snowboarders we were not able to display. For many, we have little information on the riders, and are hoping you might be able to fill in the gaps with names and other details.

As professional hoarders, we are always looking to expand our knowledge of subjects, so let us know if there is anything you are inspired to share or show us.

We hope to ignite memories through our exhibits, and there are two subjects to do with snowboarding we are particularly curious about: did you take a snowboard lesson with world champion freestyle skier Stephanie Sloan? Were you part of the Rad Mad Mom’s Club, a group of women who hit the slopes with Whistler Mountain’s first snowboard instructor, Greg Daniells?

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