The many contributions of Lorne Borgal 

Former Whistler CEO dies in 'tragic' plane crash

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WHISTLER MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES. - DIGGING IN Lorne Borgal, centre, then CEO of the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, breaks ground for an addition to the Roundhouse in this photo published in the August 23, 1984 edition of the Whistler Question. Also pictured are project manager Roger McCarthy (left) and director of skiing Dave Murray.
  • Photo courtesy of the Whistler Museum and Archives.
  • DIGGING IN Lorne Borgal, centre, then CEO of the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, breaks ground for an addition to the Roundhouse in this photo published in the August 23, 1984 edition of the Whistler Question. Also pictured are project manager Roger McCarthy (left) and director of skiing Dave Murray.

Even though Hugh Smythe had his hands full in the lead up to the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980, there was something about Lorne Borgal that Smythe knew was worth waiting for.

Borgal—who died in a plane crash north of Smithers on May 4, along with two others—had interviewed for an administration position with the upstart mountain, but couldn't start until he finished his MBA at Stanford University five months later, Smythe recalled.

"We were trying to staff up on our side, and really needed some people around, but I thought, 'You know what? Lorne is the right guy. I can probably hang on for five months until he gets here,'" Smythe said.

It wasn't as if Borgal was coming with a huge background in ski area management, either.

"What I was interested in was his academics that he had, that could be really helpful to us in marketing, the finance side, leadership, human resources and that," Smythe said.

"And I was really impressed with his personality—he was a positive, upbeat, articulate guy, and you don't get into Stanford unless you've got a lot of smarts.

"He seemed like a good fit for us."

The decision would prove consequential not only for Blackcomb, but for the Whistler resort as a whole.

With Blackcomb, Borgal was something of a jack-of-all-trades, taking on marketing, sales and accounting, as well as launching the various businesses associated with the mountain.

"When you're developing a project the size of starting Blackcomb up from scratch ... it's a major job, and it takes a team to do all that," Smythe said.

"But I would say that Lorne was a major contributor, a very important part of that team in those early years."

In 1983, Borgal jumped ship, taking on the role of CEO of the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation—but there were few hard feelings from Smythe.

"He did an awesome job (at Blackcomb), and it was a major compliment to his reputation that he had gained, and what he had learned and everything at Blackcomb, to go over and take over the role of CEO of Whistler," he said.

"And to some degree, it upped the game even more."

When Borgal arrived at Whistler Mountain, he wasted little time making changes—partially in response to the competition from his now-former employer.

In response to Blackcomb installing a T-bar up to Seventh Heaven, Borgal oversaw the installation of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain in 1986 (which is where Highway 86 gets its name).

"And 1987, Blackcomb put in the wizard and solar (chairs), so that really changed things," said longtime Whistler ski patroller Cathy Jewett, who described those days as the "era of Coke and Pepsi."

"They would keep doing amazing things and we would have to do something more amazing, and so Lorne had this audacious idea of putting (the Whistler Village Gondola) in ... we now have one of, if not the largest continuous system of gondolas now with the Blackcomb Gondola."

Borgal would also host weekly meetings for staff with beer and snacks, in which he would roll out maps of the mountain and ask for the opinions of his employees, Jewett said.

"It was a really exciting time to be here, and what was so great about that time was the leaders that we had like Lorne, like Hugh, where we had access to the decision makers, and they listened," she said.

Borgal worked for Whistler Mountain until 1989, when he left the resort, but his name lives on in the alpine to this day—Whistler's Bagel Bowl is so named for Borgal's playful nickname, "the Lone Bagel."

Smythe said he lost track of Borgal around the time he left the resort, only starting to see more of him in recent years.

The pair caught up over lunch at the Roundhouse less than two months ago, where Borgal excitedly told Smythe all about his new aerial mapping company, Precision Vectors Aerial Inc.

"We had a lot of fun together in those early pioneering years at Blackcomb, and he was a big contributor," Smythe said.

"It's such a tragic loss."

Andy Watson, the spokesman for the BC Coroners Service, said in a statement that the service is investigating the death of the pilot and two passengers after the Cessna 182 went down on Saturday, May 4.

A fourth person who was on the plane survived the crash and was taken to a Vancouver hospital, Watson said.

Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Sophie Wistaff said a team of investigators will be gathering information and evidence looking into what may have caused the crash.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre said it received a transmission from the plane's emergency locator Saturday morning, prompting a search about 100 kilometres northeast of Smithers.

When the site was found, a rescue technician was lowered by cable from a helicopter to check for survivors and the operation was turned over to police.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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