A Woman Ahead of Her Time: The Original Sightseeing Gondola Rider

Nowadays you don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy the fantastic vistas that Whistler Blackcomb has to offer. Non-sliders are very welcome to enjoy the thrill of riding the lifts and, of course, the spectacular experience of the Peak to Peak gondola. The summer months are packed full of sightseers and hikers, but it is not uncommon in winter for people to ride the gondolas “on foot,” and there is even a special ticket price for this kind of sightseer.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980. Whistler Mountain Collection.

However, in the early days of Whistler Mountain, the “on foot” visitor had not been thought of. A middle-aged woman pioneered the concept in the 1960s. She arrived at the base of the Creekside gondola (the only gondola at that time) wearing her snow boots and a fur coat, and asked to purchase a return ticket. She took her place in the line-up and proceeded up the mountain to the dismay of the staff, who were quite taken aback by this passenger without skis. When she alighted from the gondola she calmly proceeded to the chair lift. The operators were extremely confused, but dutifully stopped the lift to allow her to sit down comfortably. Once the chair had started up they realized that disaster might be looming when the chair reached the ski-off ramp as the sightseer had no skis to ski-off with! They hurriedly called the top station operator so that he was forewarned, and he too stopped the lift so that the unorthodox rider could descend from her perch in comfort.

Creekside Gondola, 1966. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The woman was completely unruffled and she chatted amiably with the staff about how much she had enjoyed the ride, the beautiful mountain views, and watching all the skiers. She then enquired as to where the T-bar was located! The idea of the fur-clad woman skidding up the slope on her snow boots must have crossed the lift operator’s mind as he pointed towards the T-bar bowl. The woman blinked and said, “No, I mean the tea bar, I was told there was a tea bar up here and I would like a nice cup of tea!”

Much laughter ensued from both the staff and the woman herself when the misunderstanding was revealed. In hindsight however, we must admire the woman as being ahead of her time. These days it’s perfectly normal to ride the lift without skis and enjoy a nice cup of tea in the Roundhouse.

The Black Tusk

One of the most distinguishable mountains in BC is the Black Tusk. Visible from many different heights in Whistler and the Garibaldi region, it is often talked about and almost always identified aloud when viewed in any form; people can’t help themselves from calling out “Black Tusk!” when they see it in pictures or from afar. Aside from its distinct and fascinating appearance, the Black Tusk has quite an interesting geological history.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

In the last two million years volcanoes and glaciers have added dramatic scenery to the landscape of Whistler and the surrounding area. The topography of BC has been continually modified by glacial and steam erosion and the eruption of volcanoes. The Black Tusk, a local volcano that erupted about 170,000 years ago, is a reminder of our volcanic past. The Black Tusk is a stratovolcano, meaning it is made up of many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. Centuries of erosion have stripped away its outer cone of bombs and ash, leaving behind solidified lava of its central conduit that now forms its narrow summit spire.

black-tusk-dec-2014

Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The Black Tusk reaches 2,319 m (7,608 ft) above sea level. Alike to well-known mountains such as Cerro Torre in Patagonia, the Barbarine in Germany, and the Vajolet Towers in Italy, it is a pinnacle, giving it its sharp and unmistakable structure. Pinnacles are individual columns of rock, isolated from other rocks or groups of rocks, that form the shape of a vertical shaft or spire.

The mountain hosts two significant glaciers that start from approximately 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and flow northward to below 1,800 m (5,906 ft). Both glaciers are heavily covered in debris due to the crumbling nature of the Black Tusk’s rock.

To the Squamish people, the Black Tusk is known as t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en, meaning “Landing Place of the Thunderbird,” while for the L’íl’wat, the mountain is called Q’elqámtensa ti Skenknápa, meaning “Place where the Thunder Rests.” It is said to be named after the supernatural bird Thunderbird. The story goes that the jagged shape and black colouring of the Black Tusk is due to the Thunderbird’s lighting, or as another account goes, by the Thunderbird’s talons that crashed into the peak.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Pro Patrol at Whistler Film Festival 2014

Whistler Film Festival and Whistler Museum are excited to present a screening of Pro Patrol followed by a talk by Roger McCarthy about the early days of ski patrol. The event is on December 7th from 4pm to 6pm at Whistler Museum.

Pro Patrol is a 1980 film that was the first of director Curtis Petersen’s career. The film is a short documentary on Ski Patrol on Whistler Mountain, filmed in 1979. It won several international awards for the budding film maker and became an iconic film of early days on Whistler Mountain.

Petersen went on to work on numerous film projects from documentaries to music videos, and has over 150 feature films under his belt.

Roger McCarthy is one of the stars of the film and was on Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol from 1974-1990. His talk will give insights into working on ski patrol and how the world of mountain safety has evolved over the years.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

Amazingly, in the early days of Whistler Mountain there were only a handful of paid ski patrollers. In 1968 there were just five! On the weekends, when the mountain became much busier, a dedicated team of volunteers, known as First Aid Ski Patrol (FASP), also worked as patrollers. The existence of two patrols–FASP and the Whistler Mountain employees–led to the term “Pro-Patrol” being used to describe the paid staff.  It was only in May 1979 that FASP was disbanded.

Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased through Whistler Film Festival.

Upcoming Events: Feeding the Spirit / The Science & History of Alta Lake

The next couple of weeks are exciting ones here at the museum! We have two events to share, the first of which is happening this evening. Join us tonight for free food and a chance to win stellar prizes from Creekside Market, Prior, Splitz, Whistler Roasting Company, PureBread, and more. Whistler Museum’s annual event, Feeding the Spirit, is a chance for new residents to enjoy some free grub, and mix with long-time locals in an intimate setting.

As part of Welcome Week, the museum, with support from Whistler’s Creekside Market, is aiming to welcome new residents and provide them with a sense of place and community. This event also provides a chance for long-term Whistlerites to recall and share their stories of what originally brought them here and what keeps them in this beautiful playground. Hope to see you there!

Feeding-the-Spirit-Poster-2014

We are also thrilled to announce In Depth & In Writing: The Science & History of Alta Lake, an event you don’t want to miss. Join us for this historical and scientific discussion of environmental change in Alta Lake in the past, present, and future. The event will start at 7:00pm and there will be a cash bar. Free to attend.

in-depth-and-in-writing-poster-2014

During the summer of 2014 Professor Ian Spooner and graduate student Dewey Dunnington from Acadia University, working with members of Cascade Environmental Resources Group (CERG), conducted some exciting research on Alta Lake. Using a core sampling technique, they collected intact samples of the layers of sediment on the lake bottom to better understand how the lake and its watershed have reacted to both natural and man-made change. This technique is known as paleolimnology. Most studies only look at the way the lake exists now – paleolimnology allows us to study the history of a lake too. Every centimeter of sediment represents about 5 years, so some of the material in these samples is as much as 400 years old!

Alta Lake is an important ecological component of Whistler Valley, and since western settlement of the region, has been an essential resource for residents and visitors alike. It is also historically significant – so much so that the town itself was called “Alta Lake” until 1975.  The history of the lake from a human perspective has been recorded in the pictures and writings of the residents of the valley, many of them kept in the archives of the Whistler Museum.

riverofgoldendreams

While we have watched the lake from its surroundings, the lake has also observed us, recording environmental change through the slow accumulation of material as it washes into the lake, year after year. The sediment from the bottom of Alta Lake allows us to better understand how the lake and its watershed have reacted to both natural and human-made change, and will help us evaluate our management strategies going into the future.

On the evening of Thursday, December 4th, Dewey Dunnington will be presenting his findings to the community at the Whistler Museum. To complement this Executive Director of Whistler Museum, Sarah Drewery, will also be presenting on the history of settlement around Alta Lake.

Suitcase Race (Part Two)

The suitcase race discussed in last week’s blog post was co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987. The organizer of this event, Bruce Portner, stated in the article Hundreds pull together for publicity event by Larry McCallum, that many celebrity events do not succeed which is why “the two and one half days will have to be packed with eye-catching, unusual activities to appeal both to the celebrities and the media”. Flinging yourself down a ski hill on top of a suitcase certainly fits into that category. CP Air sponsored the suitcase race and the Star dinner event raised $30,000 for helping to immunize children against polio.

Many stars attended this event including Richard Roundtree who played John Shaft in the Shaft movies, and TV series. He also made appearances on shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Heros. Olivia Barash known for her roles in Fame (1987), Out of the Blue (1979), and Patty Hearst (1988) also attended the events.

suitcase_race028

Richard Roundtree getting ready for the race. Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988 

The next year (1988), the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational Act II took place in the middle of April. The Black Tie Ball promised “A full Hollywood-style variety show” with Dynasty’s own Emma Samms as host, and performances by Platinum Blonde and Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

suitcase_race031

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

The Pepsi Celebrity Act III took place on April 13th to the 16th, 1989. On April 13th, 1989 the Whistler Question published an article stating that the goal of this year’s Suitcase Race, which was sponsored by American Airlines, was for two teams of two racers to sit in a suitcase and “speed down the slope above the Solar Coaster quad chair.” The object was not only to be the first across the finish line but also to “make it down the slope without falling out or flipping over the plastic luggage case.”

suitcase_race035

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Emma Samms returned to Whistler for the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational of 1989. The proceeds of the weekend were once again donated to the Starlight Foundation,  founded in 1982 by Samms and her cousin Peter Samuelson, which grants wishes to chronically ill children.

The 1989 event boasts stories of Tommy Lee of Motley Crue getting a Ski Esprit instructor to help find gloves that he dropped from the chairlift, as well as Lee nearly taking out the race shack at the bottom of the Orange race course on Whistler Mountain. Another story from the event describes Gil Gerard (who played Buck Rogers in the Buck Rogers TV show) accidentally stabbing Sean Vancour with his ski pole.

racebringstarsdown

The Whistler Question April 20th, 1989

After Act III had concluded there was a lot of talk about the event not continuing. As far as I can find, from digging through the Whistler Question archive, there were no more Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational’s or suitcase races held on Blackcomb Mountain.

suitcase_race022

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Suitcase Race (Part One)

For those of us at the Museum who have not worked, or lived, in Whistler for long, it is always great when people who had lived around Alta Lake in the early days drop in and say hello. It is wonderful to get firsthand experiences of Whistler’s history and to take our eyes out of the archives. This is what happened last week when a couple came in to see if the Museum had a book they were looking for. Through our discussion they told me about a suitcase race that was held on Blackcomb Mountain in the 1980s. This peaked my interest, as anyone traveling down a ski hill in a suitcase sounds amazing. I went to the Whistler Library to dig through old copies of The Whistler Question to see what I could find. There was surprisingly little information to be found about what I assumed would be a hilarious event to bring athletics and non-athletics together.

suitcase_race027

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

 

It seems that the first one took place on March 10th, 1984 and was called the Samsonite Media Celebrity Race. The event description in the Whistler Question went as following:

To be held on Blackcomb Mountain, possibly the downhill of the decade ­– a definite “photo opportunity.” Celebrities and press alike compete on a treacherous two-part course. The course is a downhill designed for racers piloting the latest in Samsonite’s Nagahide bobsled. Only Samsonite could take this beating. Definitely a spectator’s event. Free admission, refreshments available.

My favorite part of this is that there are very little clues as to what is going to take place but that “Only Samsonite could take this beating.” On March 15th, 1984 there is a small mention of how the event went in The Whistler Question’s Notes from All Over section. Stating that the MC of the event, Greg Lee, did a great job announcing the race in both French and English and that Dennis Waddingham’s racing helmet was a good idea.

suitcase_race034

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

A year later, on March 14th, 1985, an article was published in The Whistler Question about the event now called the Chillers Suitcase Slalom.

Sliding down a mountain on pieces of metal and fiberglass is one thing. But how about doing that in a suitcase? For a slightly different downhill experience, the Chillers Suitcase Slalom on Blackcomb is the prefect solution. Organizers are calling it a soapbox derby on snow. The jury’s still out on what the competitors will call it. The suitcase slalom will take place on a specially prepared 100 m course on Chair 2 Sunday March 31 at 2 p.m. Teams of two with each participant sitting in one half of an open suitcase race head-to-head against another team. Blackcomb provides the suitcases. The race is designed for anyone working for a Whistler business…“It will be the best laugh of the spring,” say organizers.

In the April 4th 1986 The Sports Column by Mike Youds, Youds pokes fun at the National Ski team stating that the team “ought to bypass summer training camps and enlist team members in hotel and restaurant jobs to get them in shape.” He goes on to report that the teams in the hospitality trades performed much better than any profession or trade in the race. “Even the airline industry, with two of the Murray brothers on the team (no on could boast as much air time as these guys have) couldn’t catch up with the likes of the Creek House Canines and the Highland Highballs.”

This event was then co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987, which I will discuss in Part two of the Suitcase Race Blog next week.

suitcase_race036

Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Big Kids LEGO 2014

On October 16th the museum held its Big Kids LEGO Building Competition. It was an evening full of childlike imagination and adult beverages, as 16 competitors built their best interpretations of the theme “What is Whistler missing?”

Although not all final creations are included in the slideshow below (some were destroyed before we had a chance to snap a picture), everyone did an amazing job. This was our most creative and inspiring year yet! Thanks so much to all our participants and spectators. Until next year!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.