A dream job you probably didn’t know existed

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line.

It’s a stormy January evening in 1987. At the top of the Red Chair (also known as Tower 18), an empty chair swings around the bull wheel, its weight rocking it back and forth before propelling it back down the mountain. It disappears quickly into the blinding snowstorm. 23-year-old Janet Love Morrison picks up the phone, and calls the mid-station: “Last chair arrived, number 62, we’re clear.” She hits the red button and steps out of the shack. It’s 5:30 p.m., pitch dark. Now that the last person has downloaded, she zips up her coat a little higher, steps off the ramp and heads for the Roundhouse. She locks the front doors up for the night, questioning the necessity. By day the restaurants are filled with thousands of skiers; by night the high plateau belongs to the packer drivers, her, Gordy Rox Harder and a few ravens.

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the late 1980s, Janet and Gordy lived as alpine caretakers on top of Whistler Mountain for almost two years. Clearing the Red Chair lift was one part of their unique and – as one can imagine – very coveted job. Gordy earned his salary as a carpenter and Janet got paid eight dollars an hour, free rent, hydro, and ski passes. Priceless, of course, are the moments when they were the only souls in their mountain kingdom, enjoying V.I.P. seats in front of the afterglow scenery while the whole valley was in the shadow yet. They also had the best opportunities to ski fresh powder. Janet remembers that she sometimes would ski to the valley as soon as it was light: “The valley gondola opened at 7 a.m. to upload staff and I would get in a couple of alpine to valley runs in complete aloneness.”

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home on top of Whistler Mountain: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Janet and Gordy remember that getting groceries was always an interesting affair. In between them and the grocery store in the village, there was a 45-minute trip up the four lifts from the village to the top of the mountain. “We never wasted a trip, every time we were in the valley we’d bring something up” they recall. If they had been done a big shop in Squamish everything was loaded onto the Creekside Gondola, and then offloaded at mid-station and reloaded onto the Red Chair. “One of us would go ahead on the Red Chair, while the other loaded numerous milk crates full of our groceries. Who ever got off at the top would unload the crates. Then we would ski them over to our apartment.”

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. In 1987/88, there were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (2,100m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Express Lift was installed from the village to the alpine, and the position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.

Ice harvest on Alta Lake

Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. The cold, slippery truth is that our local ice deserves more consideration than that. Wrap up warm, and we’ll take you back to the times when the ice harvest was a hard, but fun, event in our valley.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground together with Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Since amenities were few before the 1960s, ice was one of the only ways to keep things cool and food from spoiling. Ice blocks were cut out of the frozen Alta Lake during February, when the ice was thickest. In the 1920s, it would take Myrtle and Alex Philip, the owners of Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge), about two weeks to get enough ice to last the summer. The ice cutting was very hard work – as one can imagine due to fact that our early settlers had no modern tools. “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw” noted Myrtle on the back of her photos. Blocks were cut out of the chilled Alta Lake, loaded onto a sled, and pulled to an ice house where the blocks were kept to provide refrigeration through the summer months.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A couple of small ice houses dotted the valley’s landscape at this time. Ice houses were double-walled, tightly insulated structures packed with sawdust, capable of keeping large amounts of ice through the warm months. At first, Myrtle and Alex built their ice house near Rainbow Lodge. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled.

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

Of course, the hard work had to be duly celebrated. In her book Whistler Reflections, Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum, remembers that after the ice-cutting work Alta Lake locals like Alex Philip would gather at the cabin of Bill MacDermott, an American who settled on the south end of Alta Lake in 1919: “His jugs of homebrew would be brought out from under the floorboards to help celebrate.”

Good Shit Lolly Pot

There’s no doubt that you’ll come across some weird toilets when you’re traveling. Guess what? We didn’t even need to travel to stumble upon one of the most unusual loos of the world. All that was needed was a quick dig in our photo archives to bring up some quite impressive pictures of the so called Good Shit Lolly Pot that was built on a raft at Alta Lake in the summer of 1969.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake in the hippie summer of 1969, Whistler Museum, Benjamin Collection, 1969.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake in the hippie summer of 1969, Whistler Museum, Benjamin Collection, 1969.

Can you imagine sitting there and gazing out on the lake? John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum, remembers that Gordie Allen and Drew Tait, his friends and housemates at the Tokum Corners squat, decided to live on a raft at Alta Lake for the summer of 1969. It was located at the southeast side of Alta Lake, close to where Wayside Park is today.

The two free spirits even built a little rain shelter on the raft. They found this old broken toilet somewhere in the valley, mounted it on their raft and called it Good Shit Lolly Pot. You couldn’t use it, remembers John. But it was still a great (s)pot to enjoy stunning views during this hippie summer of 1969.

The History of Whistler’s Lifts

Article by Diana Caputo for Whistler Museum

We all remember when Whistler Blackcomb announced that they would exchange the 25 year old Village gondolas with new and bigger ones in the fall of 2014. The old cabins found new owners all over the world. But do you know the history of all the  lifts at Whistler Blackcomb? Slide on and take a gondola ride through the ages.

The original Red Chair in the 1970s, Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection

The original Red Chair brought skiers up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992, Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1970s.

The first lifts were built on the south side of Whistler Mountain (what is now known as Creekside). By fall 1965, several lifts were installed, including a four person gondola, a double chair lift, and two T-bars.

With the opening of Blackcomb in 1980, a long-lasting rivalry started between both independently owned mountains. This led to a race to build lifts with the motto “higher, faster, and safer” in mind.

Whistler was large, highly departmentalized, more Canadian and European as well as more traditional. New to the business of skiing, the Vancouver based Hastings West Group took over  Garibaldi Lifts Limited. In contrast, Blackcomb was young, tight, US-dominated and half controlled by the Aspen Corporation, whom were already experienced in the ski business. Blackcomb ski runs were designed to follow the fall line whereas Whistlers runs were designed more so to side-run the mountain.

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain in 1985, Whistler Museum.

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain in 1987, Whistler Museum.

In the following years, a marketing battle between both mountains was up and running. When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it became North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”. The new area opened up, including four powder bowls, wide open glacier skiing, and it also provided visitors with a vertical mile (1,609 meters’/5,280 feet) of skiing. A year later, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift called Peak Chair, opening Whistler’s highest peak (1,530 meters’ (5,020 feet). The new alpine area provided experts with some of the most challenging runs in the world. In 1996, Whistler became the only resort in history to be simultaneously named No. 1 by Snow Country, SKI and Skiing magazines. However, even more exciting was the news announced March 1997 when Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain merged to form one big mountain company, which is today well known as Whistler-Blackcomb all over the world.

With the Peak2Peak opening in 2008, Whistler-Blackcomb finally broke two world records and is recognized in the Guinness World Record Book 2015 as the highest cable car above ground (436 meters above the valley floor) and the longest unsupported span between two cable car towers (3.024 kilometers). For skiers and boarders it is now easier to access the high alpine terrain on both mountains. But even for sightseers it is redefining the mountain experience in winter and summer by very impressive views and an incredible experience.

Those 50 years of lift history show: Competition drives innovation; but when two former rivals team up, they can move mountains and bring great peaks closer together.

Explore Whistler’s lift history on the map.

For a description of the location numbers in the map see the tables below.

For a description of the location numbers in the map see the tables below.

Map locations 1, 2 & 3: It all started in Creekside

In January 1966, Whistler officially opened to the public with its first lifts, a four-person gondola manufactured by the Swiss company, Mueller Lifts Ltd., to the mid point of the mountain, a double chair lift called Red Chair to the upper tree line, which were both active until 1992, and two T-bars, T-Bar I on the top part and a Valley T-Bar. In 1968, the Valley T- Bar was relocated, and a new T-Bar 2, which still runs alongside T-Bar 1, was installed. Four years later, the two-person Olive chairlift was created alongside the Creekside Gondola, which was replaced in 1992 by the Quicksilver Express Quad Chair. The lift was shut down in 1995 and replaced by the 6-person Creekside Gondola that has been running since. The Redline Express Quad became the new version for the Red Chair and Little Red Chair and was itself replaced by the current Big Red Express in 1997.

In January 1966, Whistler officially opened to the public with its first lifts, a four-person gondola manufactured by the Swiss company, Mueller Lifts Ltd., to the mid point of the mountain, a double chair lift called Red Chair to the upper tree line, which were both active until 1992, and two T-bars, T-Bar I on the top part and a Valley T-Bar. In 1968, the Valley T- Bar was relocated, and a new T-Bar 2, which still runs alongside T-Bar 1, was installed.
Four years later, the two-person Olive chairlift was created alongside the Creekside Gondola, which was replaced in 1992 by the Quicksilver Express Quad Chair. The lift was shut down in 1995 and replaced by the 6-person Creekside Gondola that has been running since.
The Redline Express Quad became the new version for the Red Chair and Little Red Chair and was itself replaced by the current Big Red Express in 1997.

4, 5 & 6: The ancestors of the Emerald Chair

A Blue double Chair lift from today’s bottom of Harmony to the top of Emerald started running in 1966 until its removal in 1995. In 1968, a new double Green Chair 1 was installed and lengthened two years later. Alongside of it a new one, called Green Chair 2 came to live in 1975. Both Green Chairs were replaced by only one quad Chair lift in 1989, which was itself replaced by today’s quad Emerald Express in 1997.

A Blue double Chair lift from today’s bottom of Harmony to the top of Emerald started running in 1966 until its removal in 1995.
In 1968, a new double Green Chair 1 was installed and lengthened two years later. Alongside of it a new one, called Green Chair 2 came to live in 1975. Both Green Chairs were replaced by only one quad Chair lift in 1989, which was itself replaced by today’s quad Emerald Express in 1997.

7 & 8: History of Franz’s Chair

In 1972, a new double Chair lift, Orange Chair, ran from the top of the Creekside Gondola up to the Roundhouse until 2009. In 1978, the Red Chair got a little brother called Little Red Chair on its right side that was a bit shorter. It was removed in 1992, but Franz’s triple chair came up in the same place six years later in 1998.

In 1972, a new double Chair lift, Orange Chair, ran from the top of the Creekside Gondola up to the Roundhouse until 2009. In 1978, the Red Chair got a little brother called Little Red Chair on its right side that was a bit shorter. It was removed in 1992, but Franz’s triple chair came up in the same place six years later in 1998.

9: The Whistler Village Gondola and its early sisters

When Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980, Whistler Mountain directly responded by building the Village Chair as well as developing a whole new network of runs on its northern flank. A 10 Person Village Gondola renewed the Village Chair in 1988. All towers and the complete structure remained in the same location until today, only the cars were replaced in 2014 by new 8 passenger cabins.

When Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980, Whistler Mountain directly responded by building the Village Chair as well as developing a whole new network of runs on its northern flank. A 10 Person Village Gondola renewed the Village Chair in 1988. All towers and the complete structure remained in the same location until today, only the cars were replaced in 2014 by new 8 passenger cabins.

10 & 11: Developing the Olympic Chair

In 1980, Whistler Mountain also built the Olympic Chair and the Black Chair to develop the new network of runs on its northern flank. The Olympic Chair was shortened nine years later where it remains since then. Removed in 1999, the Black Chair covered the area from the top of Olympic Chair up to Roundhouse for 19 years.

In 1980, Whistler Mountain also built the Olympic Chair and the Black Chair to develop the new network of runs on its northern flank. The Olympic Chair was shortened nine years later where it remains since then. Removed in 1999, the Black Chair covered the area from the top of Olympic Chair up to Roundhouse for 19 years.

12: Reaching out to Whistler Peak

One year after Blackcomb had installed its Alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar to become North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift, called Peak Chair. In 1998, one year after the merge of Whistler and Blackcomb, a new quad Peak Express that is still in use today replaced the 12 years old 3-person Peak Chair.

One year after Blackcomb had installed its Alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar to become North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift, called Peak Chair. In 1998, one year after the merge of Whistler and Blackcomb, a new quad Peak Express that is still in use today replaced the 12 years old 3-person Peak Chair.

13, 14, 15 & 16: First chairlifts on Blackcomb

Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980 with 5 chairs, including Fitzsimmons, a triple chair that ran from the Village to Base 2, replaced by today’s Excalibur Gondola in 1994. Skidder was located were the current Tube Park area is. Cruiser, a triple Chair, covered the second section of today’s Excalibur Gondola. Cat Skinner still runs today. Choker was replaced in 1994 by the quad Excelerator Express that is still in use today.

Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980 with 5 chairs, including Fitzsimmons, a triple chair that ran from the Village to Base 2, replaced by today’s Excalibur Gondola in 1994. Skidder was located were the current Tube Park area is. Cruiser, a triple Chair, covered the second section of today’s Excalibur Gondola. Cat Skinner still runs today. Choker was replaced in 1994 by the quad Excelerator Express that is still in use today.

17: History of Jersey Cream

Only two winters after opening the mountain, Blackcomb established Jersey Cream a 2 person chair in 1982. I was replaced by the current quad version in 1989.

Only two winters after opening the mountain, Blackcomb established Jersey Cream a 2 person chair in 1982. I was replaced by the current quad version in 1989.

18: Up to 7th Heaven

When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it opened up a new area offering immense above tree line skiing including four powder bowls and wide open glacier skiing. To keep up with Whistlers Peak Chair, Blackcomb removed the old 7th Heaven T-Bar and has build a new 7th Heaven Express, a 4 person Chair, running along a complete new and longer lift line, that is still in use today.

When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it opened up a new area offering immense above tree line skiing including four powder bowls and wide open glacier skiing. To keep up with Whistlers Peak Chair, Blackcomb removed the old 7th Heaven T-Bar and has build a new 7th Heaven Express, a 4 person Chair, running along a complete new and longer lift line, that is still in use today.

19: History of the Magic Chair

In 1987, a skiers learning area for beginners on Blackcomb was accessible by the Magic Chair, which has been replaced by the current triple Chair version in 1994.

In 1987, a skiers learning area for beginners on Blackcomb was accessible by the Magic Chair, which has been replaced by the current triple Chair version in 1994.

20: Opening the Harmony Bowl

With the new Harmony Express quad Chair Whistler Mountain has been offering a new terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl and down to the Peak Express since 1995. This area now known as the Harmony Zone provides a wide variety of beginner to expert terrain. In 2014, a high-speed six person chair lift replaced the quad chair to dramatically improve the uphill capacity by 50 percent. The old quad chairs were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express.

With the new Harmony Express quad Chair Whistler Mountain has been offering a new terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl and down to the Peak Express since 1995. This area now known as the Harmony Zone provides a wide variety of beginner to expert terrain. In 2014, a high-speed six person chair lift replaced the quad chair to dramatically improve the uphill capacity by 50 percent. The old quad chairs were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express.

21: Preparing the way to the Glacier

Since 1987, skiing on the Horstman glacier, named after Henry Horstman who arrived in the valley in the year 1913, is possible with the same-named T-Bar that is still operating. Additionally, faster mountain access directly from the Blackcomb Base combined with new runs has been provided by the currently running high-speed quad chairs Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express Chair lifts. Only two years later Blackcomb expanded further by implementing the new triple Crystal Chair lift and the Showcase T-Bar. Both T-Bars, Horstman and Showcase, doubled the summer glacier skiing capacity. Blackcomb came up with the current version of the Glacier quad chair in 1992. In 2013, the quad chairs of the former Harmony Express were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express which replaced the old Crystal Chair. The new chair follows a longer lift line which increased the capacity to the Crystal Zone.

Since 1987, skiing on the Horstman glacier, named after Henry Horstman who arrived in the valley in the year 1913, is possible with the same-named T-Bar that is still operating. Additionally, faster mountain access directly from the Blackcomb Base combined with new runs has been provided by the currently running high-speed quad chairs Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express Chair lifts. Only two years later Blackcomb expanded further by implementing the new triple Crystal Chair lift and the Showcase T-Bar. Both T-Bars, Horstman and Showcase, doubled the summer glacier skiing capacity. Blackcomb came up with the current version of the Glacier quad chair in 1992. In 2013, the quad chairs of the former Harmony Express were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express which replaced the old Crystal Chair. The new chair follows a longer lift line which increased the capacity to the Crystal Zone.

Installation of Peak2Peak, Symphony, Fitzsimmons & Garbanzo

Shortly after modernizing the Whistler Peak access, two new quad Chair lifts, the Fitzsimmons Express and the Garbanzo Express, were installed to allow easier access from the Village up to the mid-station respective the Chic Pea Hut. In 2005, a new high-speed quad chairlift, today’s Symphony Express, was added on the Whistler side. It has provided a whole new beginner and intermediate terrain around Symphony Bowl and a closer access to the top of Flute Bowl. The new world class Peak2Peak Gondola opened in 2008. It provides visitors with double mountain access on a peak level. The gondola has the worldwide longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometers). With its 436 meters above the valley floor it is the highest lift of its kind.

Shortly after modernizing the Whistler Peak access, two new quad Chair lifts, the Fitzsimmons Express and the Garbanzo Express, were installed to allow easier access from the Village up to the mid-station respective the Chic Pea Hut.
In 2005, a new high-speed quad chairlift, today’s Symphony Express, was added on the Whistler side. It has provided a whole new beginner and intermediate terrain around Symphony Bowl and a closer access to the top of Flute Bowl.
The new world class Peak2Peak Gondola opened in 2008. It provides visitors with double mountain access on a peak level. The gondola has the worldwide longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometers). With its 436 meters above the valley floor it is the highest lift of its kind.

Many thanks go to Rod Nadeau and Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners Ltd. who helped gather information about Whistler’s lift history.

A hard winter’s baby boom

Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.

Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler's famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler's book "Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town"

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie's truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie’s truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…

Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?

A Question of Snow

When talking about a lack of snow in the valley, Whistlerites often recall the winter of 1976/77 which was undoubtedly the worst season since Whistler Mountain opened for business.

The snow, Whistler’s most valued winter guest, was seen only rarely in the neighborhood that year – but made it to the front page of the Whistler Question every week. In November 1976, the Whistler Question was still a “youngster”. Only six months old, Whistler’s local weekly paper consisted of not much more than ten text heavy pages stapled together.

Grab yourself a coffee, and check in for a time travel. We take you back to the five-month snowflake hunt of 1976/77, which came as a severe shock to the round 500 Whistlerites that lived in the valley at that time and have never considered snow-making before.

November 24, 1976 : Think Snow!

November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing. There was some snow in the alpine but not enough to ski to the bottom of the old Green Chair which is pretty much where the Emerald Chair is today.  The editors start worrying about the acute shortage of snow on the mountain and the loss of revenue to the businesses in the valley. Spot the snowflakes that the editors have scattered around the paper that week – their share to help augment the snow drought. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

The editors start worrying about the acute shortage of snow. Spot the snowflakes that the editors have scattered around the paper that week – their share to help augment the snow drought. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

December 1, 1976: First consequences

The paper reports that due to the lack of snow, the lift company laid off about 12 employees. “This together with the permanent staff that was not hired in mid-November as usual means that there are about 25 people out of work” says that week’s paper. December 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

The paper reports that due to the lack of snow, the lift company laid off about 12 employees. “This together with the permanent staff that was not hired in mid-November as usual means that there are about 25 people out of work” says that week’s paper. December 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

December 22, 1976: A little Christmas miracle?

Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays. You could ski on the Green Chair and in the t-bar bowl, but had to download on the Red Chair and the gondola. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays. You could ski on the Green Chair and in the t-bar bowl, but had to download on the Red Chair and the gondola. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 12, 1977: One last defiant struggle…

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 19, 1977: The unbelievable happens

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 26, 1977: Frozen Alta Lake becomes the new center of life

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 2, 1977: Time for superstition

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 9, 1977: The first snow gun arrives in the valley

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

March 16, 1977: Guess what…

March 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

March 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

And the moral of the story? Patience wins March powder glory!

Speaker Series: Winterstoke

On March 14th, Whistler Museum is hosting a Speaker Series as part of the Winterstoke Backcountry Ski Festival. Organized by international mountain guide and frequent backcountry snowboarder Ross Berg, Winterstoke offers two days of backcountry skills clinics with topics spanning from ski touring essentials to big mountain skiing—crucial and prominent themes throughout Whistler’s history.

Our presenters for the evening are backcountry specialist JD Hare and ski mountaineer Holly Walker.

Having lived in Australia, U.S.A. and France, Holly Walker moved to Whistler at the age of 23. A former competitor on the Freeride World Tour, she switched her focus from freeskiing competition to ski mountaineering in 2011.

Traveling the world in search of abundant pow and remarkable culture, Holly has climbed and skied in the Andes, Alaska Range, European Alps, Cascades, Himalayas, Pamirs and Tordillos. She is sponsored by Mammut, K2, Clif Bar, Smith Optics, Mons Royale and POW gloves.

On top of her mountaineering success, she has had her photographs and stories published in a multitude of magazines, catalogues and websites. Although this may seem like a dream, Holly has had her share of trauma, having suffered a severe stroke, broken a leg, and witnessed the death of a fellow competitor.

Originally from Toronto, Ontario, JD turned to Whistler as a place to call home. At the age of 18, he nearly became the youngest person to ever summit Mt. Logan, but turned back achingly close to the summit, exercising the discipline that would serve him well throughout his career.

JD is a backcountry specialist in the traditional sense, descending peaks all over the world, including mountains deep in BC’s Coast Range. He is also an excellent technical skier with progressive skills and style.

JD Hare skinning with Mount Waddington in the background. Photograph by Jim Martinello, courtesy of JD Hare.

JD Hare skinning with Mount Waddington in the background. Photograph by Jim Martinello, courtesy of JD Hare.

When JD moved to Whistler he delved deep into his passion for the backcountry, making several impressive first descents in the region in his early twenties. From there, he strayed from normality and embarked on spontaneous and unforgettable trips to the high mountains of Central Asia. Trips to Europe and Japan followed, as well as a string of traumatic injuries, before he settled in to raise a family and begin farming his land in Pemberton.

In recent years, sneaking away from the farm, JD has pioneered some exceptionally steep and committed descents in BC’s Coast Mountains, from the Tantalus to the Waddington Ranges, maturing into a bona fide extreme skier.

We are ecstatic to have Holly and JD speak of their epic adventures of ups and downs. Tickets are $7 ($5 for museum members) and are available for purchase at the Whistler Museum. Doors are at 6pm, and the presentations begin at 7pm. There will be a cash bar, and complimentary tea and coffee. Hope to see you there for some brilliant tales from the backcountry.