Pants? We got Pants!

Building and growing Rainbow Lodge into a bustling resort amidst the vast and isolated Coast Mountain wilderness, Myrtle Philip and her husband Alex had to draw upon an almost endless supply of resourcefulness, ingenuity, and old-fashioned hard work.

There was no shortage of tasks to be completed, much of it incongruous of the social expectations of a lady at that time. Thankfully, Myrtle wasn’t the type to be inhibited by such expectations, and she more than pulled her weight in the lodge’s year-round operations. Thus arose that eternal question: “What to wear?”

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Myrtle Philip in typical riding garb.

Well, as Myrtle recalled during a 1971 oral history interview that is preserved in the Whistler Archives:

“I used to try and wear dresses, but they weren’t practical. I had to go and do outside work, maybe harness a horse or something. You just can’t do these things in skirts.” When asked if she ever wore an apron, Myrtle bluntly replied “No. Never. To hell with it!”

And while Rainbow Lodge is generally remembered as a fishing lodge, as Myrtle explains, horseback riding quickly became a popular activity for lodge guests as well.

Fast-forward to late January and we were pleasantly surprised by a visit to the museum by Kristi King of Pemberton, BC. Kristi brought with her an old pair of leather riding breeches that had been given to her by Myrtle Philip! Kristi’s family had been close with the Philips, and since Kristi was an avid horse-person as well, Myrtle had decided to pass them on when she no longer had use for them.

Museum staff with Myrtle's overcoat and riding pants.

Museum staff with Myrtle’s overcoat and riding pants.

In the early days of Rainbow Lodge, Myrtle made most of her clothes herself, including her riding breeches. These leather pants, however, were made by the Berlin Glove Company, of Berlin, Wisconsin. Founded in 1869, B.G.C. specialized in high-end, western-style leather goods and apparel. While we are uncertain when Myrtle acquired these pants we suspect that it was later in Myrtle’s career, perhaps the 1940s or 1950s.

But wait, there’s more! A fascinating and under-appreciated aspect of the Philip’s life story is that, while they were certainly at home welcoming guests to this remote mountain valley, they were equally at ease donning formal attire and rubbing elbows with Vancouver’s social elite. They frequently entertained Vancouver’s well-connected and well-to-do up here at Alta Lake, and enjoyed trips to the big city to visit with their many friends.

Along with Myrtle’s riding pants, a formal overcoat that belonged to Myrtle was also included in the archival donation. Myrtle’s rugged, mountain lifestyle would have gone completely unsuspected by passersby while adorned in this full-length, black-sequined coat.

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We don’t have any photos wearing this specific overcoat, but here’s an image of her and Alex looking rather sophisticated at the Rainbow Lodge 25th anniversary celebration at Vancouver’s iconic Commodore Ballroom, 1940.

Considering Myrtle’s revered position in our community’s history—if anyone could lay claim to being the founder of the community of Alta Lake, it would be her—we were naturally thrilled to receive these new donations to our archives.

Stephanie Sloan – Freestyle Superstar

Whistler is home to an exceptional amount of ski champions, media stars, and otherwise accomplished athletes. One of the most under-appreciated is Stephanie Sloan. Many people know Stephanie as the wife of the late ski racing legend Dave Murray of Crazy Canuck fame, or perhaps as the mother of Olympic skiercross competitor Julia Murray. Fewer realize that Stephanie is actually a more decorated competitive skier than either of them, combined!

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Stephanie competing in the bumps, Whistler, late 1970s. Greg Griffith photo.

From 1976-1981 Stephanie competed on the World Cup freestyle circuit, earning 57 podium finishes and claiming the overall world championship 3 times. Moguls was her strongest discipline, but as the overall title combined results from aerials and ballet as well, she was definitely no one-trick pony!

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Getting upside-down in aerials. Laax, Switzerland, 1979.

Her and husband Dave both retired from the World Cup scene around the same time, and transitioned into post-competitive life as coaches and mentors for the sport. While Dave is well-remembered for his namesake ski camps, Stephanie made a huge contribution to the sport as well through the women’s-specific camps which she launched during the 1982/83 season.

While teaching skiing to women was nothing new, there were few, if any, women-only programs focused on all-mountain techniques and able to cater to advanced skiers. As this newspaper clipping from The Province indicates, these were well-rounded clinics for serious skiers.

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Stephanie Sloan (at left) leading a group of ladies at one of her 7UP sponsored women’s skiing camps.

With their winter programs established, the next step was to operate year-round carrying on Whistler’s heritage as a premier destination for summer glacier skiing. Stephanie and Dave launched hugely successful summer skiing camps, with friends and colleagues from the Canadian National teams making up a large portion of the coaches. While lots of serious and high-performance training happened on the Whistler Glacier during the summer, Stephanie couldn’t resist a little fun and did photo shoots while skiing in a bathing suit nearly every summer.

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We were fortunate enough to have Stephanie into the museum this past week, sharing her many stories and photos from her life, both competing on the world tour, then growing the sport of skiing with Dave here in Whistler.

To learn more about her storied career, make sure to swing by the Whistler Museum on Sunday February 21st for our next Speaker Series event. The topic will be “Celebrity Athletes and the growth of modern skiing.” Speaking alongside Stephanie will be John Smart, former Olympic freestyle skier and founder of world-renowned Momentum Ski Camps, and Rob McSkimming, VP-Business Development and former Snow School Director for Whistler-Blackcomb. See you there!

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When: Sunday February 21st; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

 

Whistler’s first ski lift (Petersen home video)

If you were asked to name Whistler’s first ski lift, you would be likely to answer the original Creekside Gondola, one of the t-bars, or the original two-person  Red Chair.

You would also be wrong.

No, that distinction goes to a modest little rope tow, installed by the enterprising Alta Lake pioneer Dick Fairhurst in 1960, almost 6 years before Whistler Mountain opened for business. The rope tow ran under the power lines behind Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge on the west shore of Alta Lake (later used as a hostel and today home to The Point Artist-Run Centre). The rope tow ran for more than 800 feet. Powered by an old Ford V8 motor, it could pull four skiers up at a time.

Aside from the wonderful footage of the ski lift and skiers (though snow conditions appear to be sub-par), you also see a little Snow-cat machine that belonged to Dick. Dick was enamoured by snow machines of all sorts and would later become a dealer for Bombardier snowmobiles. He was also a founding member of the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club which still exists today, operating a club cabin on Brohm Ridge near Mount Garibaldi.

Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst's slopes, early 1960s.

Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst’s slopes, early 1960s.

It may not be the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, but this humble little ski lift lays claim to a very special and under-appreciated honour as the first lift in the Whistler Valley.  We’re extremely fortunate to have this short clip, another gem from the Petersen Family home video archive. Enjoy!

 

Pacific Ski Air – Whistler’s First Heli-ski Operation

With our upcoming Speaker Series about the origins of heli-skiing in Whistler, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into the Pacific Ski Air story.

Among the many ski industry-altering innovations that have occurred here in Whistler, it is often under-appreciated that, as far as we can tell, Whistler was the first ski resort to offer heli-skiing. Hans Gmoser’s CMH, the first commercial heli-ski operator, was based out of an abandoned logging camp before opening their first purpose-built backcountry lodge in 1968. Pacific Ski Air, meanwhile, began shuttling skiers up from the Whistler Valley to exhilarating ski descents on the massive north-facing glaciers of the Spearhead Range during the 1967-68 winter.

The fledgling company had the huge advantage of working in partnership with Okanagan Helicopters. Originally formed in Penticton, BC with the intent of using helicopters to spray pesticides for large-scale agriculture, throughout the 1950s Okanagan grew into the largest helicopter operator in the world by supporting a variety of resource industries and industrial construction projects in the mountains of British Columbia. By the end of the decade,they owned more than 60 aircraft and had relocated to Vancouver,

Glenn McPherson, President of Okanagan Helicopters, was also on the original board of directors of Garibaldi Lifts Limited, the company that built Whistler Mountain ski resort, so it’s no coincidence that OK choppers feature prominently in early photos of the resort:ARCHIVE WMA_P89_0210_WMSC

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Not surprisingly, OK was also heavily involved in Pacific Ski Air from the start as well, as a partial owner, in partnership with Joe Csizmazia, Al Raine, Jamie Pike, and Peter Vajda. Brian Rowley and Cliff Jennings were the original ski guides.

The bread and butter of the operation was a 2 or 3 run package in the Spearhead Range, primarily on the Blackcomb, Decker, Trorey, and Tremor Glaciers, before finishing up with a drop on Whistler Peak where the guides and clients skied down Whistler Bowl and Shale Slope back down to the Red Chair. Special trips were also made to Overlord Mountain, Rainbow Mountain, the Brandywine area, and north of Blackcomb around Wedge and Weart Mountains.

Pacific Ski Air only lasted a few short seasons, stifled by a number of factors including an inability to secure an operating tenure. Still, the pioneering folks at Pacific Ski Air were among the first to truly appreciate the Coast Mountains’ potential as an unparalleled destination for adventure-skiing.

Join us Wednesday January 20th at 6pm as Pacific Ski Air veterans Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike share more photos and stories from this groundbreaking era.

When: Wednesday January 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

Speaker Series – Origins of Whistler Heli-Skiing

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Ski Guide Cliff Jennings, enjoying perfect powder beneath the mighty south face of Wedge Mountain.

Join us Wednesday January 20th at 6pm as Pacific Ski Air veterans Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike share more photos and stories from this groundbreaking era.

When: Wednesday January 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

For almost any skier, heli-skiing is the ultimate dream.

And up until the early 1960s that’s essentially all it was, until renowned Austrian-Canadian mountain guide Hans Gmoser famously invented the new sport. It began with some experimental reconnaissance flights around Canmore in 1963, and by April 1965 Hans was leading his first commercial trips in the idyllic Bugaboo Mountains, south of Golden, BC.

Gmoser’s company Canadian Mountain Holidays and the creation of heli-skiing is a celebrated chapter in mountain culture lore. Far less appreciated is how quickly some enterprising folk at the fledgling Whistler Mountain Ski Resort followed suit.

Pacific Ski Air began operations during the winter of 1967-68, started by a group of upstart twenty-somethings working in partnership with Okanagan Helicopters. For a shockingly low price you could get multiple runs on the vast north-facing glaciers of Blackcomb Mountain and the Spearhead Range.

Tours were usually capped off with a drop on Whistler Peak, nearly 20 years before the construction of Peak Chair. Needless to say this final lap down Shale Slope, in full view of the resort-bound skiers, was great marketing.

They were quite adventurous days: charting new terrain, learning how to better operate the helicopters in the high alpine in the middle of winter, guerilla marketing for new clients, and, of course, skiing endless amounts of flawless powder.

We are extremely excited to share with you that the Whistler Museum’s next Speaker Series event will feature Whistler heli-ski pioneers Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike, as they share their stories and photographs from this early halcyon era. The evening presentation begins at 7pm on Wednesday January 20th (doors at 6pm). General tickets are $10, while museum members and Club Shred members get their tickets for half price. See you there!

All photos by Cliff Jennings. For more of the amazing images that Cliff will be sharing at the Speaker Series, check out his SmugMug gallery.

 

Florence Petersen Home Video: Driving up to Whistler… in 1958

The Sea-to-Sky Highway is widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the province, if not the world. Driving along Howe Sound one enjoys a nearly constant vista over the shining blue sea, while the climb to Whistler features such marvellous sights as the Stawamus Chief, the Tantalus Range, Cheakamus Canyon, and more.

Though problem still remain, the major upgrades leading up to the 2010 Olympics made the highway smoother, more relaxing, and made it easier to enjoy the sights en route. It’s common to hear drivers reminisce about the white-knuckle driving on the older, narrower, windier road.

But let’s take things back a little further. This week we feature a home video made by Florence Strachan (better known as Florence Petersen, after she wed Andy Petersen in 1967) during a drive up to Alta Lake, as the Whistler Valley was known at the time, in 1958. Back then the road was completely unpaved, far more winding and treacherous than almost any living person can recall. And so Florence and friends made a full day of it (not entirely by choice), and recorded this wonderful video of their drive.

Keep an eye out for familiar landmarks, and some big changes that have occurred in the decades since. Enjoy:

 

 

Florence must have had her backpacking gear in the trunk, because later that summer she went on this memorable hike to Burnt Stew Basin:

2015 in Review

With the turning of the calendars, like many, we find ourselves reflecting on the year just passed. In many ways 2015 was the museum’s most successful year yet, and we have much to be thankful for.

We had another strong year for our events and programming. In addition to established favourites like our Valley of Dreams walking tours (June through August), Speaker Series events, multiple children’s crafts events, our annual LEGO competitions, and a bunch of school field trip visits, we launched a new program, Discover Nature.

A tiny Western Toad, as seen during the annual migration. Visitors learned all about these toads and other natural wonders at our Discover Nature booth at Lost Lake.

A tiny Western Toad, as seen during the annual migration. Visitors learned all about these toads and other natural wonders at our Discover Nature booth at Lost Lake.

Conceived in partnership with the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, Discover Nature featured a manned booth in Lost Lake Park all summer, with interactive natural history displays and scheduled interpretive nature walks. We also produced a 15-page accompanying children’s activity book to encourage further learning about our awesome natural surroundings. We look forward to the return of Discover Nature in the summer of 2016.

In terms of general admission, 2015 was our busiest year ever. Furthermore, we managed to squeak by the huge milestone of 10,000 total visitors, not including special events, a few minutes after noon on December 31st! This no doubt has much to do with changing our admissions from a set fee to by donation, as we increased our visitorship by over 50% from last year, but overall admissions revenues experienced a big leap as well.

Having limited physical space for our exhibits, we have to rely heavily on our web presence and social media to help share our stories. We experienced a banner year online as well.

Our Whistorical blog had its busiest year ever coming in just shy of 30,000 views, finishing strong with our two busiest months ever in November and December. Within a week or two we should surpass 100,000 all-time views since we began blogging in May 2011.

The original Red Chair, ca 1970s. Our most popular new blog post of 2015 was a detailed history of all Whistler's ski lifts.

The original Red Chair, ca 1970s. Our most popular new blog post of 2015 was a detailed history of all Whistler’s ski lifts.

Facebook activity has also been at an all-time high, and we managed to attract our 1,000th follower on Christmas Day. Twitter and Instagram continue to be popular and helpful tools for us to share stories, images, news, and events.

And lastly, in September we launched a new online photo gallery and e-commerce website hosted through Smugmug (whistlermuseum.smugmug.com). So far it has been more successful than we even hoped, with more than 450,000 image views in its first four months alone!

Our most popular photo, a classic image of Franz Wilhelmsen and an unidentified friend enjoying a gorgeous spring day in the Whistler alpine, received over 2000 individual views:

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Looking forward to 2016 we plan on using all these media to keep pumping out stories, but we’re also excited to announce some new projects.

First off, we will be launching a new feature in partnership with Mountain FM called Whistler Heritage Minutes. We will be producing a series of short audio clips telling cool stories, facts and other interesting anecdotes about Whistler’s past, to be aired weekly.

And for those who want even more history content in audio form we will be launching our own in-house podcast this month as well. We’ve got an amazing and ever-growing library of audio recordings from oral histories interviews, Speaker Series events and more that we can draw from, and we can’t wait to get them out there to be heard.

A big thank you to everyone who visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, and to all the new stories that will be shared.