Challenging Mother Nature: Glacier Skiing & Riding

With daily temperatures reaching 20°C, lakes warming up, and the faint hint of sun tans beginning to appear, this can only mean one thing… summer is coming. Despite Whistler Blackcomb boasting the longest ski season in North America, June 7th 2015 marks the end of an extended ski season in Whistler for many. However, this is not the case for those die-hard skiers and boarders that defy the stereotypical image of a summer spent laying out on the beach with a cold drink in hand. For those wanting to get their ski/ride fix while simultaneously working on their tan (or goggle tan, to be more exact), you’re in luck as glacier skiing atop Blackcomb Mountain opens this year on June 20th.

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One of two T-bars servicing the Horstman Glacier

While taking a look through our archive, I came across a 1980s video on summer glacier skiing on Whistler peak. It would seem that “ski bums” have been finding ways to escape the bustle of the mountain base and extend their ski season into June and July since the inception of Whistler Mountain in 1965, even before the merging of Whistler and Blackcomb in 1997/98. If you thought the trek from the base to Blackcomb’s peak was extensive, involving a ride up two chairlifts, followed by a bus ride to the base of the 7th Heaven Express, this is rather a simple means of transportation compared to what those dedicated snow bunnies did to reach some summertime snow in the 1980s.

Summer-Ski-Camp-1969

A photo of Toni Sailor’s Summer Ski Camp, 1969.
Back row from left to right: Dan Irwin, Yves Benvene, Roddy Hebron, Andy Shall, Dag Aabye, Wayne Booth, Toni Sailor, Al Menzies.
Front row from left to right: Alan White, Nancy Greene, Karen Dotta, Colin Haffrey, Roy Ferris.

As the video reveals, the trek from Whistler base to its glacier used to involve a 45 minute ride up the chairlift, followed by a 20 minute hike at 6000 feet across the face of Whistler mountain. Unlike today, in which Horstman Glacier is open to anyone looking to get some T-shirt clad skiing and riding in, glacier skiing during this time of year was only available to those registered in a ski camp. With less time-consuming transportation routes to Blackcomb’s peak now in operation and the ever-growing popularity of Whistler Blackcomb, glacier skiing has gone from being exclusive to those that are very serious about the sport to being accessible by all. That being said, due to the vertical of the glacier, its terrain park features, and world-class race training facilities, it tends to draw a crowd of more advanced/expert skiers and riders.

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Whistler’s summer ski camps offer world class race training facilities, drawing some of the best ski racers in North America

Regular operating hours for the Horstman Glacier are from 12:00 pm to 3:00pm daily, but for those that are eager to get a start on their summertime training, participating in one of Whistler’s many ski camps has its bonuses. These include earlier upload times and select private ski areas. Some of the more long-standing camps include the Camp of Champions, Treeline Summer Camps (formerly the Dave Murray Summer Ski and Snowboard Camp), and Momentum Ski Camp.

While I remain strictly a winter skier, I find the dedication of those willing to challenge mother nature and look for a different way to spend their summer months to be inspiring. As a relatively new Whistler local, I am delighted to become a part of a community that simply loves skiing and snowboarding.

Post by Alexandra Gilliss

Hippie style of smokin’ salmon

You may think that a fridge is only used for conventional things such as keeping cucumbers, Coca-Cola, and beer cool. However, there are many other uses for old refrigerators. In the museum, we have a fridge that serves as a chronological monument documenting Whistler life from the beginnings of our ski town to the famous destination resort it is today. Gordy Harder’s fridge truly is a tribute to the spirit of the early ski bum – and, of course, “stickermania” at its best.

Bruce Prentice and Bob Sanderson (r.) smoking and hanging fish. Whistler Museum, Benjamin collection, early 1970s

One more purpose of a fridge is – believe it or not – salmon smoking. In the early 1970s, this old fridge actually garnished the backyard of the Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, a property which is now owned by Roger McCarthy. Back then, using an old fridge was a common way of smoking a fish or meat, remembers long-term local and president of the Whistler Museum, John Hetherington.

Someone would get an old fridge from the dump, cut a hole in the side for the stovepipe leading from an airtight stove, and light a fire. An airtight was a cheap heater stove made of a sheet of metal, he recalls. Ask Bruce Prentice or Bob Sanderson. Maybe they will share their fridge construction plan for the white dragon with you. Enjoy!

What is “round” about the Roundhouse Lodge?

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the “flying saucer-shaped” original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1967

Have you ever sat at the Roundhouse Lodge and — while munching a delicious burger — asked yourself why this light-flooded but pretty square-cut, mid-mountain venue is called “Round”-house?

Here is the answer to the brain-twister: Today’s Roundhouse Lodge had a much smaller, flying saucer-shaped precursor that perched atop Whistler Mountain just across from where the Valley View Room is located today.

When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966 there was no cafeteria. In the first season, hot drinks, soup and sandwiches were served off a picnic table using a Coleman camp stove in the so-called Red Shack at the top of the Red Chair.

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1966

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, summer 1966

The original Roundhouse was built in the summer of 1966 and opened in the following winter. It was a copy of a building in California and was designed as a warming hut with a huge fireplace in the middle where the skiers warmed their feet. No food or washrooms were in the design for the original building. Back then, Skiers couldn’t use inside toilets, only outhouses on the hill below the Roundhouse. John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and ski patroller in the late 1960s, remembers that part of their job was to shovel out and clean the outhouses. “Ugly job” he says.

Early plans for the original Roundhouse. Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

Early plans for the original Roundhouse: Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

The ironic truth is: They built the Roundhouse on a large rocky knob that wooed them with a magnificent all-round view but then left them high and dry. They couldn’t find any water on that knoll. Two hydraulic engineering companies were engaged to study the area – without any success.

They were so desperate that they brought up a professional water dowser from Vancouver Island. Hugh Smythe, a teenage ski patroller at that time who went on to become the CEO of Blackcomb Mountain and all of Intrawest, remembers actually being with the dowser when he located the water which was one year after the original Roundhouse was built. “We found a number of locations but the best was just below where the Peak2Peak terminal is now” he recalls.

The dowser wandered around for a while. Just beside the Roundhouse his willow stick bent down like crazy, and he declared that there was running water about 30 feet below. The next spring they brought up a company with a water drilling rig. And guess what? They really found water. Relieved, a pump was sunk that brought up enough running water for the kitchen and the toilets of the Roundhouse.

The old Red Chair. In the back is the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

The top of the old Red Chair with the original Roundhouse in the background. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

In the following years, there were constant renovations done on the building. When first built, the Roundhouse stood on posts with the wind blowing freely beneath the building, making it almost impossible to heat. One of the major alterations was digging out and enclosing a lower floor. Indoor toilets were installed. The fireplace was removed to make room for a kitchen. They wired the place for electricity, and installed a large diesel generator in the basement which was stolen during a later winter in the 1970s, remembers John.

Finally, in 1998 the original Roundhouse was replaced by the new palatial building. Though, the original Roundhouse hasn’t disappeared entirely. Pieces of it became part of the wall of fame in today’s Roundhouse.

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Whistler’s coolest snowcat

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line

It’s tough to imagine Whistler Mountain without snowcats. The way their eyes flash in the night as they crawl over the dark mountain slopes, hissing every now and then… Hissing? Of course, we are talking about Schoki, the snow-loving feline that lived on top of Whistler Mountain with Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder who were the alpine caretakers in the late 1980s – yes, back in those days the mountain actually had caretakers.

Snowcats just being snowcats… Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Snowcats just being snowcats… Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

The three musketeers had their 600 sq ft home in the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. Shortly after moving up there, Janet and Gordy got the button-eyed “panther” from the SPCA in Squamish. Janet had spent some time in Switzerland. So they named the cat “Schoki,” the Swiss German expression for “chocolate”. The fluffy lap-monster was a welcomed staff member as there were mice in the building that also contained the ski patrol room, staff lunch room and several maintenance offices.

Like her truck-sized, fully tracked “brothers” there was no hill to steep and no snow to deep for Schoki. She loved the snow. Janet and Gordy couldn’t let her out during the day. But after the skiers and the staff had gone for the day, she’d head out. “She used to follow me to Tower 18, the top of the Red Chair, to shut down the lift and back”, recalls Janet. “She was like a dog how she’d follow us around.”

Gordy and Janet’s fellow mountain dweller really was a “queen of the hill”. She was an independent. Her favourite spot was on the windowsill. From there she would enjoy the scenic mountain views, taunt the avalanche dogs, and bewilder unsuspecting skiers. Janet remembers hearing skiers going by the kitchen window on the Little Red Lift calling out in surprise, “There’s a cat up here! I think we should tell someone there’s a cat up here!”

Growing up in the alpine, Schoki was tough and loved the snow. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Growing up in the alpine, Schoki was tough and loved the snow. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

But the funniest adventure was when Janet and Gordy had to take Schoki to the vet. “Gordy put a blanket in his backpack, and she nestled in there and we skied to the valley. Part way down her little head peeked out of his backpack; it was quite the sight to see a cat peering out of a knapsack cruising down Gondola Run, which is today’s Dave Murray Downhill” laughs Janet.

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.