Whistler’s success is the result of passion and innovation of Whistler’s residents and visionary leaders from Whistler’s first settlers, to those who developed the area into a world-class resort and Host Mountain Resort of the 2010 Winter Games.
Squamish and Lil’wat Nations
Centuries before Whistler became a ski area and world class resort, First Nations people traveled through the Whistler area for hunting, gathering and trading. The Whistler valley was an isolated wilderness, frequented by the Lil’wat Nation from the Mount Currie area and the Squamish Nation.
Learn more on the Squamish Lil'wat Culture Centre website.
Rainbow Lodge and Garibaldi Lift Company
In 1877, a trail was completed that linked the Pemberton Valley to the Pacific coast, drawing prospectors and trappers. One trapper, John Miller, enticed Myrtle and Alex Philip from Vancouver to the north shore of Whistler's Alta Lake, where they built the successful Rainbow Lodge in 1914 as a fishing and holiday camp. Later that year, the Great Pacific Northwestern Railway pushed through the Whistler valley en route to Prince George.
Other pioneering spirits soon followed and more lodges and teas houses were built around Alta Lake, as well as farms, logging camps and mills. By the late ‘40s, Rainbow Lodge was the most popular honeymoon spot west of the Rockies and the tiny community of Alta Lake was lively and sociable throughout the mid-century, despite being accessible only by rail or float plane.
In the ‘60s, a group of Vancouver businessmen launched a bid to host the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Whistler. The bid failed, but the dream spurred one member, Franz Wilhelmsen, to open the Garibaldi Lift Company as a ski area with a gondola, chair lifts and two T-bars on the west side of Whistler Mountain in 1966. Avid skiers began the trek up the old hydro road, paved that same year, and built A-frame cabins around the Whistler Creek base.
Building a World Class Resort
By the mid-1970s, local visionaries, dreaming of the Olympics, began plans for a world-class summer and winter resort.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was incorporated on September 6, 1975 as the first designated resort municipality in Canada. At the time of incorporation, fewer than 1,000 people lived in Whistler.
The newly elected mayor and council, along with municipal staff, local residents and the provincial government, started planning for the development of what would eventually become Whistler Village.
The Whistler Village Conceptual Plan consulting team began work in 1978 to develop Whistler Village. Eldon Beck, the architect who was instrumental in the design of Vail Village in Colorado, created the foundation of the Whistler Village plan as a car-free town centre, where people would meet and meander among an array of magnificent views.
As a result of this foundational work, Whistler Village, Blackcomb Mountain and the north side of Whistler Mountain opened for business in December 1980.
A World Class Resort
In 1992, Whistler received the first of its numerous accolades when it was named the Number One Ski resort in North America by Snow Country Magazine. The accolades continued, as locals strategized and planned their growing resort community, adding summer amenities and a mix of recreational pursuits. In 2005 Whistler was declared one of the most liveable communities in the world.
On July 2, 2003, Whistler’s dream to host the Olympics at last came true, as 5,000 cheering residents jammed Village Square to hear the International Olympic Committee select Vancouver/Whistler to host the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. This was the first time in Olympic history that the International Olympic Committee bestowed the designation Host Mountain Resort upon a community.
Looking to the Future
Today, Whistler is home to 10,447 permanent residents and is visited by approximately 2.7 million guests annually. Whistler’s passionate resort community is forever focused on the future. Following the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, Whistler’s spot on the world stage as a year-round resort is firmly established, and new initiatives continue to move Whistler forward, including the Audain Art Museum, the Learning and Education Report, the Economic Partnership Initiative Report, the Recreation and Leisure Master Plan, Whistler Village 3.0 and more.
In September 2015, Whistler celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Resort Municipality of Whistler's official incorporation with a range of festivities, an Instagram photography contest, and by publishing a series of stories recounting the higlights.
Learn more about Whistler's history by visiting the Whistler Museums and Archives website.