NAMING LOCAL MOUNTAINS
Turn in any direction and mountain peaks dominate the views of Whistler Valley: snow-capped triangles, forested ridges and one toothy black spire. In winter, snowfall brings their staggering beauty to life. And just like people, they all have their own names. But how do you name a mountain? After the gods? An endemic species of flora and fauna? Its unusual shape?
Our local peaks all have a story about how they were named. Whistler’s best-known local “hill” is the eponymous mountain that became famous worldwide as host mountain resort of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Whistler Mountain was once named London Mountain after the London Mining Group, which had staked mining claims on the mountain’s north slopes. Locals referred to the mountain as “Whistle” or “Whistler” after the hoary marmot, the largest North American ground squirrel, which lives in the high alpine and makes a distinct whistling sound to warn other colony members of possible threats.
In 1966, Karl Ricker made a successful petition to the Geographic Names Board to have the name changed. He claimed that all the advertising and Vancouver newspapers made reference to “Whistler Mountain” and confused visitors when they checked their maps and found London Mountain. Thus, the name was changed from a place that suggested fog to the nickname of a personable rodent. Blackcomb Mountain was also named after a creature’s defining peculiarity. An early settler believed the mountain’s dark, peaked upper ridge resembled a rooster’s comb.
Whistler and Blackcomb once operated separately, and competitively. You had the option of buying an individual ski pass for Whistler or Blackcomb, or you could combine the two and purchase a Dual Mountain pass. In 1986, Intrawest bought Blackcomb’s assets, which meant one ski pass was valid for both mountains. Sadly, that ended the era of visitors asking, “Where is Dual Mountain?”
Many mountains in the area are named for their unusual appearance. From the Sea to Sky Highway you can see Black Tusk, a dark spire jutting into the heavens. The extinct stratovolcano formed more than a million years ago, and it is the remnant hard lava core that thrusts upwards like a great black tusk.
Wedge Mountain, located north of Whistler Village, is named for its broad wedge shape, and is the highest peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park at 2,895 metres (9,497 feet). Just north of Wedge is Mount Weart, named for J.W. Weart ( July 17, 1861 – February 10, 1941), the Garibaldi Park Administrative Board’s chairman.
“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to."
- W.C. Fields
Between the two peaks rests Armchair Glacier. From the south end of Green Lake, the two mountains form the perfect armchair for a giant, complete with massive armrests.
From Whistler Village, cast your gaze east, between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, skyward to Singing Pass, where you’ll see the pyramid-shaped Overlord Mountain. As the highest peak in the Fitzsimmons Range at 2,625 m (8,612 ft.), the imposing dome “overlords” all other surrounding peaks.
The origin of Rainbow Mountain’s name is unclear. Since Alex and Myrtle Philip opened a fishing lodge named Rainbow Lodge in 1914, many presumed the lodge and mountain were named for the abundance of lake trout. Rainbow trout, however, were first introduced to the lake in the mid-1920s. Perhaps the mountain — and many other landmarks in Whistler — were in fact named after the frequent appearance of rainbows. Alex Philip was known for his romantic naming habits, which is evident in The River of Golden Dreams and Bridge of Sighs.
Over time, whether a name sticks or not seems to have less to do with what you are named, and more to do with the name you’re called — as in the case of our beloved Whistler Mountain.
WEDGE MOUNTAIN AND ARMCHAIR GLACIER