Category Archives: Beyond Skiing

There’s so much more to our story than just skiing.

End of Season Rituals

The last days of the season are a time of celebration, a time to look back on the season’s achievements: epic lines, friendships forged, late nights, and metres of pow slayed. Whether it’s squeaking in a few more slushy turns, perfecting a goggle tan, or raising a glass with friends, almost everyone has some kind of ritual about hanging up their planks for the season.

For some, the end of the season simply means a quiet transition, putting a board away and swapping it for a bike. For others, a migration to the southern hemisphere begins, where the season will start all over again.

For many Whistlerites, participation in ‘Gaper Day’ marks the end of a season well shredded. Gaper Day encourages general ski hill tomfoolery, and has been around in some form since 1996. Formerly ‘Ski in Jeans Day’, the last day of the season celebration came to be called Gaper Day in order to allow people to unleash their stylistic creativity. Not just jeans, but retro ski outfits and costumes are encouraged. As Gaper Day founder Jamie Bond put it,  “you can do whatever the hell you want”, it’s basically a way for people to “[get] silly and keep it real all day”.

Since skiing in Whistler first opened in 1966, the warm whether and sunny days of spring have been accepted with open arms and bare skin (in varying degrees). In 1969, Jane Ferris was at the forefront of the trend of stripping down to celebrate spring in style (pictured).

Life’s a mountain and a beach! Jane Ferris stripping down for a day of spring skiing in 1969. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

So whether your tradition is to dress up, undress, or eke out those last few turns, know that you, in your own way, are contributing to the rich tapestry of Whistler’s spring skiing history.

Raise a glass to another season well spent and the imminent arrival of summer!

Whistler BBP: Before the Bike Park

As you might have heard, the Bike Park re-opens for the season next Friday. Since officially opening in 1999 the bike park has rapidly grown from an awkward, uncertain program to what many would argue is now Whistler’s biggest summer draw.

A Crankworx competitor warms up on the road gap feature in 2005. Believe it or not, the features have only gotten bigger since. Whistler-Blackcomb photo.

Today the bike park is a behemoth. It certainly merits recognition as an important and growing part of our valley’s history. In anticipation, the museum has been beefing up mountain bike content in our archives to make sure that the sport’s prodigious rise is properly documented, and so that we can bring you more mtb-related content in the future.

We recently had long-time bike guide Tom Radke come to talk about the origins, trials, and tribulations of the bike park over the years. Tom has been guiding bikers on Whistler Mountain since 1992, and has been involved in the Whistler Bike Park since its inception, so he knows a thing or two.

It was a completely different world when Tom began. At first, Tom was guiding for Whistler Backroads which had a contract to run mountain bike tours on Whistler. A handful of trails had been built by devoted bikers like Eric Wight (who ran Backroads Whistler, and still does today), Rob Cocquyt and Dave Kelly (now with trail-design firm Gravity Logic). The trails included Fantastic, Golden Triangle, and Ripping Rutebaga (largely merged with Dirt Merchant now), but they hardly resembled today’s trails and just as much riding was done on the gravel access roads.

There were also a handful of trails on Blackcomb near staff housing and the sliding center, and separate guides leading tours there.

A racer on Blackcomb Mountain, 1990.

Here’s a clip of some mountain biking on Blackcomb in 1988 to give you a sense of what mountain biking was like in that era.

Biking on Whistler was put on hold for the summer of 1998 when they built the new Roundhouse Lodge, and the following summer Tom and a few others approached Whistler Blackcomb with the prospect of taking over the bike park and growing it into something bigger. Upper management was hesitant at first, but thankfully they were supported by Ski School general manager Rob McSkimming. Tom recalls, “thank god Rob  was an avid biker… If it wasn’t for him, we were just, you know, dead in the water. “

One major problem was simply that the mountain bike world wasn’t ready for what Whistler’s visionaries were up to. Bike design and the general riding ability of mountain biking community had to catch up before the park could become commercially viable, so fueling the growth of the sport was part of the game-plan from the beginning.

Scoring gear sponsors for the rental shop was huge because equipment wasn’t cheap, and few people had the legit downhill bikes necessary to ride the bike park’s gnarly trails. It almost didn’t work out, as Tom actually made the first sponsor connection on an airplane leaving Las Vegas after a completely unsuccessful trip to the Interbike Conference. Whistler Bike Park simply didn’t have the cachet that it does today.

In order to entice (and retain) riders–and calm the lawyers–they offered free lessons with all gear rentals. It was obviously a successful program, as demand led them to grow the guiding crew from 5 to 100 over the years.

It was a steep learning curve for everyone involved, and they made full use of the expertise they gained. Tom’s initial guide-training program turned into the widely recognized Instructor Development Program (IDP) certification course. Meanwhile, Whistler’s trail-building know-how led to the creation of Gravity Logic, a trail design and consultation firm that has been responsible for spreading the Whistler magic at new bike parks from Costa Rica to Finland.

Today, A-line is probably the most recognizable downhill mountain biking trail on Earth, to the point that the name “A-line” now signifies more than the trail itself, but a whole style of trail design featuring tons of flowy dirt jumps and berms.

The “Boneyard” area in 2003. Check it out in a few weeks to see how far the features have progressed. Whistler-Blackcomb Photo.

The Whistler Bike Park has no intention of resting on its impressive laurels. This year marks their first incursion into the high-alpine, and you can be sure that they will continue to be standard bearers in the mountain bike world for years to come.

Name Whistler’s history!

Local historian Florence Petersen has been quietly working away on her book on Whistler’s pioneers for the last three years and with the help of the Whistler Museum, she hopes to get it published in the next few months. There’s only one problem…. it doesn’t have a name!

Whistler’s pioneers searching for a good name.

The book tells the story of Whistler before skiing came to the valley. Myrtle Philip and Rainbow Lodge are of course featured, but there are many other early residents whose tales are told here, including trappers, loggers, prospectors and summer cottage owners. It covers the period from about 1900 to 1965, the year the ski-hill was built.

The book can’t be published without a title, so we are running a competition in the hope that you lovely people in internet-land might be able to help us out.

If you have a good idea for a title then we would love to hear it.

There are lots of ways to enter!

-       post a comment on our blog post here

-       email collection@whistlermuseum.org

-       write on our Facebook wall at http://www.facebook.com/WhistlerMuseum

-       tweet us at @WhistlerMuseum

If we select your title you’ll win a free museum membership and a copy of the book signed by the author, and, of course, the GLORY of naming a book! Closing date for entries is March 1st.

Love and romance — Whistler style

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we thought we would share one of Whistler’s lesser known love stories.

Bob Jardine first came to Whistler around 1921 with his family. He spent his childhood here, attending the first school in what was then Alta Lake. Later, at the age of 21, he joined the Air Force, where he spent the next 28 years. It was during his time with the Air Force that he met Stella Stracken.

Bob Jardine: quite possibly the handsomest Whistler pioneer

Bob worked in the fire department and Stella worked in the air man’s canteen as a steward. Although Bob knew Stella slightly, they never really spent a lot of time together.

One day, Bob received a telegram from his brother, which stated that he was going to be in Vancouver and asked if Bob would be able to go and meet him. The Jardine brothers hadn’t seen each other in five years, but the Air Force wouldn’t give Bob the time off.

During an argument with his superior over the matter, he was asked if he wanted a discharge. Bob said yes and he was given $100 for clothes and 30 days leave. So Bob went to Vancouver and had a month-long party with his brother. However, Bob became lonely and began looking for some work to fill up his time away from the Air Force. He ended up getting a job as a telephone lineman with the PGE Railway.

One day he went to work on a telephone pole near Function Junction. His boss asked him to climb the pole and make sure the lines were properly hooked up by calling the Vancouver operator and then ask to be connected to an outside number. Jardine pulled out his address book and happened across the name Stella Stracken. He couldn’t even remember who the girl was.

Bob decided to call the number anyways and her mother happened to answer the phone. He asked where Stella was and was informed that she had gone to work. He asked Stella’s mother to inform her daughter that he was coming to Vancouver that weekend and intended to take her out to dinner. That’s right — Bob Jardine scored a date with a girl he barely knew from the top of a telephone pole without even speaking to her directly.

So, Stella showed up for the date and Bob took her to a café. Not long into the date, Bob said, “This is a helluva time to mention this, but why don’t we get married?” At Stella’s justifiably shocked expression, Bob went on to say that they were never going to make a better connection with anybody else like the one they were making at that very moment, with each other.

Somehow, over the next two hours Bob convinced Stella to marry him. They were married for 58 years until Stella passed away.

Bob and Stella on their wedding day.

A short history of the Whistler Museum

Happy Birthday to us!

In the summer of 1986 Florence Petersen began fulfilling a promise. You see, Florence had made a promise to Myrtle Phillip and Dick Fairhurst that their stories would not be forgotten. Phillip and Fairhurst were concerned that the early days of the valley would be forgotten entirely as skiing became the dominant activity.

That summer Florence, with a group of dedicated volunteers, set to work in creating a museum in Whistler. Unfortunately, Myrtle Phillip passed away in August of that year, and did not get to see the new museum become a reality.

Florence (at left) and Myrtle share a laugh.

As items for the museum were gathered, a temporary showcase was constructed in an 11 by 14 foot room in the back of the Whistler Library. In February 1987, 25 years ago, the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) became an official non-profit organization.

By January of 1988 the WMAS, located in Function Junction, had its own temporary space in the old municipal hall building, renovated through the generosity of the Whistler Rotary Club. The museum, which officially opened in June of 1989, showcased replicas of Myrtle Phillip’s sitting room, information on Whistler’s natural history as well as exhibits on skiing and pioneer life.

Florence poses with the new Museum sign in 1988 – this same sign adorns the side of the Museum today.

Between June and September of that year, the brand-spanking-new museum had attracted over 2,000 visitors. That number increased to over 3,800 visitors the following summer. Not too shabby Florence!

In 1995 the Whistler Museum and Archives scored temporary space in a prime location on Main Street beside the library. The new space was 1,000 square feet smaller than that in the Function Junction location, but was definitely more accessible and visible. In the first month alone of operating in the new space, the Whistler Museum welcomed 2,168 visitors.

Thirteen years later, in 2008, WMAS closed its doors to prepare for its fourth move — a new home in the adjacent structure that had previously housed the Whistler Public Library. By the end of 2009 WMAS had re-opened with a brand new interior and brand-new permanent exhibit, with support from the municipality, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the American Friends of Whistler and the community at large.

If you haven’t seen the new Museum, you really are missing out.

So thank you Florence and thank you to the army of volunteers over the years. Without you we wouldn’t have the awesome museum we have today and, frankly, we wouldn’t have these sweet jobs!

To celebrate our birthday, we will be holding a fundraiser at Creekbread. Please click here for all the details.

Forget the Glass Slippers: Whistler Chicks Wear Ski Boots

The tale of Tony and Irene Lyttle really is a ‘Made in Whistler’ story.  The couple first met in the mid 1960s and while it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, sometimes things are just meant to be.  Tony worked for BC Hydro and was also a ski patroller.  Irene was a skier, subletting an apartment from Paul Burrows in Whistler while he was in Europe.  In a 2003 interview Irene was asked how she first met Tony, and romance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind:

“[…] the long and the short of it was that I hitched a ride in the back of Tony’s car, so I basically met the back of his neck.  I wasn’t too impressed, actually, by the back of his neck.  So that’s how we met.  Tony was on the Patrol and I was ‘just the skier’ and he gave me a drive up to go skiing.”

Whistler Skiers’ Chapel in 1989

Despite this inauspicious beginning, Tony and Irene soon became a couple and later engaged in 1967.  They chose Whistler as the perfect place for a wedding. When the Lyttles were asked why they chose to be married in Whistler, they said it just seemed like the natural place to do it. Irene elaborated:

“I don’t know whether it [getting married in Whistler] had been done at all.  I didn’t do it because it was popular.  I didn’t have any church affiliation and I loved mountains and the outdoors, and it didn’t make sense to get married in a church in Vancouver when none of us spent much time there.”

Tony and Irene Lyttle getting married in the Skiers’ Chapel, January 1967.

In fact, the Lyttles may have been the first couple married in Whistler. It certainly wasn’t easy.   Tony wasn’t even in the country at that point  — he was working for the Aspen Ski Corporation at the time.   Also, everything had to be brought up from Vancouver a treacherous 2.5-hour drive in the best weather.

The challenge was how to get all the guests up to Whistler in January.  Some guests travelled all the way from Nanaimo to attend the wedding.  One of Irene’s friends was only two weeks away from delivering a baby and still managed to make the trip. Tony himself brought the priest up to Whistler in a sports car during a snowstorm!

Irene Lyttle on her way to the wedding alter, January 1967.

While all their friends joked that Irene would wear ski pants to the wedding she was determined to wear a white wedding dress. However, one of the wedding ushers placed her white mid-calf ski boots in the aisle.  As the now married couple prepared to make their exit, Irene stopped, pulled up her skirt, removed her fancy white satin heels and, like the Whistler version of Cinderella, placed her newly married feet into the ski boots. She then proudly left the chapel with her patroller prince.

Wow – a wedding on the mountain and a bride wearing ski boots.   Maybe there’s hope for romance after all.

The Post of Whistler’s Christmas Past

Christmas has always been an hectic time here in Whistler, as so much energy goes into welcoming and entertaining guests. This was as true 90 years ago as it is today. Scanning through our archives this week, I was surprised by how few Christmas images we actually had. It seems as if everyone was always too busy to get the camera out! In any case I managed to find a few good ones for this week’s post.

Christmas was always a major production at Rainbow Lodge. Myrtle and Alex were renowned entertainers, and for Christmas they pulled out all the stops. These two images show calm before the storm that was the annual dinner. Although it would be nice to have pictures of the actual dinner and guests, these photos are especially valuable because, of the thousands (literally) of images we have of Rainbow Lodge, only a handful of them are actually inside!

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.

As gracious and popular hosts, the Philips always had a long list of friends and associates who sent them Christmas cards:

A 1947 Christmas Card from Rainbow Lodge friend, Paulene Johnson, featuring Binkie the Dog!

In later years, Christmas was a more relaxing experience for Myrtle as she didn’t have the responsibilities of entertaining at Rainbow Lodge.

Myrtle Philip and friend Mollie Boyd at Myrtle Philip School to enjoy a performance of “Christmas at Rainbow” by local school children. It must have been the best Christmas present ever for Myrtle to watch the theatrical ode to her life’s work performed in a school named in her honour!

And even though for most Whistlerites, Christmas is far more work than holiday. we hope you all have a chance to kick back with friends (and if you’re lucky enough, family too) and treat yourself as well. Happy Holidays!

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.