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.

A Prime Minister in love

Throughout the decades, the grandeur and excitement of Whistler has inspired a lot of couples to spend their honeymoons at our beautiful valley hideaway. Roots of Whistler’s honeymoon history date back to the 1920s when Rainbow Lodge was one of the main destination accommodations for newlyweds on the west coast. Alex Philip, proprietor of Whistler’s first lodge, would paddle honeymooners down the River of Golden Dreams in a large canoe, often by moonlight, where they could snuggle up and soak in the valley’s natural beauty.

After an afternoon of skiing, the Prime Minister and his bride attended the Sunday Catholic service in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

After an afternoon of skiing, the Prime Minister and his bride attended the Sunday Catholic service in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

The most famous honeymooners in Whistler are undoubtedly former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his bride, Margaret. Pierre Trudeau was a 48-year-old bachelor when he became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. In March 1971, the hearts of many Canadian women were broken upon the announcement that Trudeau had married 22-year-old ‘flower child’ Margaret Sinclair. They surprised the media with their secret wedding in Vancouver, and afterwards drove directly to Whistler for a three day stay. Here, the newlyweds took a skiing honeymoon, media in tow, with everyone excited about the refreshing hipness of Canada’s First Couple.

Clearly, such esteemed guests required ‘above-and-beyond’ service. So, Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain, and Jim McConkey, Whistler’s prominent ski school director, served as the newlyweds’ personal ski instructors during their stay.

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

The couple stayed at the Sinclair family condo in the Alpine Village complex near the base of the lifts. “This was the second ski holiday at Whistler for Mr. Trudeau” proudly reported the Garibaldi’s Whistler News later in their 1971 spring issue, including three pages of colorful, side-filling photos of the couple. The news also commented on the couple’s ski skills: “Mrs. Trudeau is a good and stylish skier who is able to keep up with her husband. At one point during their stay at Whistler, Trudeau announced that his wife was a better skier than he is. ‘It’s not true, it’s not true’ she laughed.”

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Victor Irving, a RCMP officer in charge of the Prime Minister’s security at that time, shares a sweet anecdote of the Whistler honeymoon in the book Pierre: Colleagues and Friends Talk about the Trudeau They Knew. He remembers to drive the Trudeau’s to the Sinclair condo in Whistler after the secret wedding which was by then no secret anymore. “The next morning I received a request from them for ice cream and all the Vancouver papers. I delivered these, leaving the happy couple kneeling on the living-room floor reading the papers. (Pierre still owes me $5.75.) “

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Also, Margaret remembers that first honeymoon morning in Whistler in her memoirs Changing My Mind: “We were woken next morning at 6:30 a.m. by the telephone. The queen was calling to congratulate Pierre; she had got the time difference wrong. Later came a telegram from the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. Scary, but also the stuff of fairy tales.”

Looks like, when it comes to fairy tales, our enchanted Whistler is the right place to be.

Speaker Series: Canoeing the Horton River

Speaker-Series_Feb-2015_web-version

In July 1991 four adventurous souls completed a three week canoe trip on the Horton River in the Northwest Territories. Among them was long term local and President of the Whistler Museum board, John Hetherington, as well as Whistler Ski Patrolman Pat “Dago” Coulter.

The Horton River is one of the most remote rivers in North America, though it deserves great renown. The river has several distinct features: it empties into the Arctic Ocean at a point further north than any other mainland river in Canada, it runs alongside the Smoking Hills (it broke through the Smoking Hills to Franklin Bay around 1800AD, cutting off the last 120 kilometres of river), and it is now in the process of creating a new delta.

The four expeditioners experienced a snowstorm in July, a close encounter with a grizzly, several caribou, coils of smoke from the Smoking Hills, and barren tundra (among other things). Hetherington reminisces: “For the last week of the trip we paddled through the night by the light of the midnight sun, to avoid the strong daytime winds. At the Arctic Ocean we walked to an old DEW Line station, watched icebergs drift by, and had a huge caribou herd migrate by our campsite.”

As part of the Whistler Museum Speaker Series, John Hetherington will be sharing photographs and stories from this remarkable adventure. The event, “Canoeing the Horton River,” will take place on Wednesday, February 18th, from 7 to 9pm (doors are at 6pm) at the museum. Tickets are $7 each ($5 for museum members) and can be purchased by telephone or in person from Whistler Museum. There will be a cash bar and complimentary tea and coffee.

Anyone interested in the Canadian Arctic, canoeing, adventure sports, or anything to do with the Canadian wilderness should not miss this one.

Kids Après

Our popular Kids Après is back for Family Day Weekend, February 7th to 9th from 3-6pm. This is a great chance to bring your youngsters by the museum to experience a bit of culture, colouring, button-making, LEGO, and more. Entry is always by donation. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

We’ll also be holding Kids Après everyday during March Break this year. Hope to see you and the kiddies joining in on the fun!

KiddiesApres_2015_Family-Day-Weekend

Plans for Lost Lake: Then and Now

By guest blogger, Diana Caputo

In 1980 Alta Lake Sports Club compiled a proposal to build cross-country ski trails in the Lost Lake area. At that time cross-country skiing was on the rise and was already a major sporting activity, with many competitor resorts progressing with new terrain for the sport.

The goal of the initial idea was to offer cross-country ski trails suitable for a variety of purposes; the Floodlight run was designed for evening skiing, and runs to support competitions were in the works. It was important to provide grooming and separate hiking trails in winter but also attract hikers, walkers and runners in summer.

The network of trails proposed were split into three areas:

  • School Ground to Lost Lake
  • Northwest of Lost Lake
  • High plateau north of Lost Lake
alsc map003

Proposal for the Construction of Crosscountry ski trails in the Lost Lake Municipal Park, 1980.

The proposal went ahead, although not to the exact specifications. So what has been changed and what is it like today?

Comparing the two maps we can see traces of the original proposed trails in the current landscape; however, today Lost Lake offers much more than originally envisioned. Even the cross-country ski trails boast a wide range of skill-levels. Although the former idea of the Floodlight run is not as originally intended, there are currently four kilometres of lit trail constructed for night skiing. Besides that, there are many snowshoe and Nordic hiking trails provided in winter; although, on the down side, winter walkers are not permitted nowadays.

As soon as the snow hits, it is quite busy on the Lost Lake trails. Unfortunately, the snow conditions over the last two years have been less than ideal, which has caused delays for opening day. Because of this recent pattern of reluctant snowfall, the Municipality of Whistler is considering installing snowmakers to avoid delays in the coming years.

In summer the Lost Lake Park provides much more than planned back in 1980. Lost Lake attracts hikers, runners, dog-walkers, and bikers, with its great multi-use trail network. Lost Lake even offers a disc golf course, sandy beaches, docks, and BBQ areas. Not a bad place to spend your summer days.

[Click to view summer map]

Lost Lake Park also offers cross-country ski, snowshoe, and bike rentals, as well as lessons, and guided tours of the area. I can’t stress enough how enjoyable and impressive the park is in both summer and winter. We’re fortunate to have such a place here in Whistler.

The Post Office Post

This morning I woke up to beautiful, massive snowflakes falling over Whistler, and a substantial layer of powder already formed on the ground. It’s days like these that entice me to look through our archive for some old photographs of deep snow. Our collections are full of such pictures, and today I found a few especially endearing ones of Whistler’s first post office (covered in snow, of course).

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads "First winter, 1914-1915." Philip Collection.

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads “First winter, 1914-1915.” Philip Collection.

Before the PGE Railway ran to Whistler (then Alta Lake) in 1914, mail was sent and delivered by people passing through the valley to and from Vancouver – a less than reliable system. The completion of the railway made way for many conveniences such as mail delivery. In anticipation for the PGE Railway, Myrtle and Alex Philip (proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, Whistler’s very first resort lodge) included a post office in a small alcove in the lodge, and the office was later moved to their newly built general store. Myrtle became Alta Lake’s first postmaster in 1915, and she would often wake up before dawn to collect the mail packet from the train.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Although the progress of the PGE allowed for a more reliable mail delivery service, there was still one major issue; the first post office address was Summit Lake, B.C., which was often confused with another Summit Lake in the province. Thus, mail was frequently sent to the wrong destination. This conflict immediately prompted a name change to “Alta Lake, B.C.,” which made delivering and receiving mail a little more consistent.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

In the beginning, mail came in on all trains, four times per week. On Monday and Thursday the mail came direct from Vancouver. On Wednesday and Saturday it came from Vancouver via Ashcroft and Lillooet and was usually a lighter load. The PGE had a mail car with a mail attendant on the train. Everyone in town gathered at Rainbow on mail days to collect their mail, pick up their newspapers, and of course, socialize.

Myrtle Philip remained postmaster for almost 40 years. In 1948, after Alec and Audrey Greenwood purchased Rainbow Lodge, the position fell to Audrey.