Whistler’s Very Own Easter Parade

This past weekend, with the Easter holidays, the closing events of WSSF, the Whistler Cup and still more snow on the mountains, there certainly wasn’t a lack of activities to occupy residents and visitors of any age.

Despite the snow, the Easter bunny put in an appearance on Blackcomb Mountain, 1982.

The Easter holidays have a history of being a busy weekend in Whistler.  In the 1970s the list of Easter activities offered by the Chamber of Commerce and Garibaldi Lifts was an impressive one for such a small town, including fireworks, Easter egg hunts and various skiing events such as skiing displays and obstacle and costume races.  Residents and visitors to the area alike could enjoy a torch light parade ending with a bonfire and hot dog roast in the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The weekend also included dancing and live entertainment at local establishments such as the Christiana Inn, L’Apres and the Mt Whistler Lodge.  For those who chose to attend, all Easter services were held at the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel on the mountain, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Easter services were held on the mountain in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Events varied from year to year.  Some years advertised prizes for an Easter Bonnet contest and in 1970 the Vancouver Garibaldi Olympic Committee was actively promoting a bid for the 1976 Olympics and used the popular weekend as an opportunity to get more people on board with a slide presentation on the bid at the Roundhouse.

The 1976 bid for the Winter Olympics was one of the most promising early bids put forward for Whistler.

One of the most popular events over the Easter weekend was Whistler’s own Easter Parade.  When thinking about parades in Whistler the first to come to mind is usually the annual community parade on Canada Day.  During the 1970s, however, the Easter Parade was not to be missed.

Traditionally an Easter parade was an informal and somewhat unorganized event in which people dressed in their new fashionable clothing in order to impress others.  Irving Berlin wrote “Easter Parade”, a popular song inspired by the Easter parade in New York, in 1933 and a film by the same name starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland was later constructed around the song in 1948.

Though the Easter Parade in Whistler may not have been designed to showcase anyone’s new finery, it did include carefully thought out floats and some illustrious leaders.  In 1971 the 52 floats were led by Miss Vancouver Ardele Hollins, Miss PNE Judy Stewart and members of the RCMP.  The following year the parade was led by none other than then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Coral Robinson, Pierre Trudeau and Dennis Therrien at the Easter Parade in 1972 sitting in a security detail car.

Whistler’s parade was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  Interested parties were told to “plan a float, come as a marching group, or just get dressed up in a crazy costume and join the fun.  The more the merrier!”  Community groups and local businesses, as well as individuals, created elaborate floats and costumes such as the Jolly Green Giant and the original gondola.  The 1974 parade was captured on film by the Petersens and can now be watched on our YouTube channel as part of the Petersen Film Collection along with other unique moments in Whistler’s history.

Speaker Series: 30 Years of Flying Over Whistler

If the idea of soaring above Whistler held aloft by a polyester or nylon canopy and a harness appeals to you, paragliding might be just the sport for you.

Described as a cross between hang gliding and parachuting, paragliding evolved through the 2950s and 60s before first being marketed as a sport and recreational activity in 1965 and gaining popularity through the 70s and 80s.  Unlike hang gliders, paragliders have no rigid structure, using instead a wing or canopy made of fabric and forming cells which are inflated by the incoming air.  Suspension lines from the wing are attached to the harness in which the pilot sits and the pilot steer using brakes attached to each side of the wing.

A paraglider flies over Whistler Village.

Though invented by an American, the sport of paragliding was quickly adopted by Europeans while gaining far fewer early converts in North America.  Like most sports, however, it was only a matter of time before paragliding was introduced in Whistler.

A paraglider with Blackcomb Mountain in the background.

Janet and Joris Moschard, already accomplished paragliders, moved to Whistler in 1987 and began flying in the valley.  A year later Janet and Joris opened Parawest Paragliding and in December of 1988 they began teaching the sport on Blackcomb Mountain, the only mountain resort in North America to offer lessons on this “exciting new aeronautical sport”.  If you skied Blackcomb in the late 1980s and 90s, you may have seen the brightly coloured paragliders spread out on a run and watched as beginners and experienced pilots took off on their skis and soared down the mountain above you.

Operating in both the summer and winter months, Parawest Paragliding offered tandem flights for those wishing to simply experience flight and one-day beginner courses for those looking to fly themselves.  Students began at base-camp with an introduction to the harness, described by one as sitting in a Jolly Jumper®, before gradually learning the steps to flying on the hill and ending the day having taken two or three short flights.

Janet and Joris recently donated several videotapes of media coverage of Parawest Paragliding and local paragliding events to our archives.  Including media interviews with Whistler locals, stunning views of the Whistler valley in the 80s and 90s and coverage of Parawest’s Annual meet and Costume Events, these tapes are currently being digitized and will provide a great visual aid when discussing paragliding in Whistler.

A paraglider comes down to land near Whistler Village.

Wednesday, April 19 the Museum will be welcoming Janet and Joris Moschard, as well as other paragliding pioneers in the area, to share tales, knowledge and footage from their thirty years of flying over Whistler as part of our Speaker Series.  Doors will open for the event at 6 pm and their talk will begin at 7 pm.  Tickets are available at the Whistler Museum.

The Whistler Answer Has Turned 40!

“For those tired of questions… the Whistler Answer.”

If you heard bursts of laughter and rad tunes echoing over Alta Lake on Saturday night, it wasn’t some high school house party – it was the sound of those early Whistler hippies and ski-bums partying the night away at The Point for the 40th anniversary party of the Whistler Answer.

Partygoers at The Point last Saturday, April 1 for the Answer anniversary party.

Marketing itself as the satirical flipside of the Whistler Question, the Answer was a local alternative newspaper dreamed up by Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith as a comedic response to the more serious Question.  The winter of 1977 was cold but desperately lacking in snow, causing many residents to head for warmer climates.  The Answer acted as a kind of letter from to travelling Whistlerites and catered to the town’s hippie ski-bum culture with a tongue-in-cheek style attributed by many to editor Robert “Bosco” Poitras (then Colebrook).  The early issues were created completely by hand at a local squat – hand-written, hand-drawn and hand-pasted with Scotch tape and white glue.

Publication began in 1977 and ended in 1982, although it was revived from 1992 – 1993.  Flipping through the Answer provides a window to the “Old Whistler”, an idyllic era that pre-dates our valley’s current hyper-development and insane visitor numbers.

In the same way, Saturday night’s Whistler Answer 40th Anniversary party at The Point was a wormhole to a Whistler in the days of the Answer, with all its lively local characters and a reunion performance by Foot in the Door, the band of Answer publisher Charlie Doyle, Mark Schnaidt and Rocco Bonito.

Charlie Doyle and band members perform at the Whistler Answer Benefit at the Mountain House Cabaret in 1981, during the Answer’s first run.

The night started out with a dinner of Bushwoman’s Chinese Cuisine followed by some hilarious tales from Doyle and others about the publication.  Several readers stepped up to share their favourite Answer passages – including an insightful book review of the local BC-Tel phonebook.  In the midst of these retellings, the party was crashed by three nude-suited hippies covered in bush and branch – supposedly the three individuals pictured canoeing in the Answer’s first issue front-page article: “Missing on Alta Lake”.  An auction was also held for original copies of the Whistler Answer and Whistler’s superhero comic “Localman” with proceeds going to the organizers of the event.

The first issue of the Answer featured a photo of three canoeing individuals “lost” on Alta Lake.  Find the full issue online at the link below.

Foot in the Door then took to the stage to bring back some choice tunes from the days of the Answer, to the joy of the dancing crowd.  The show also included improv acts by Get to the Point Improv and more great music by Some Assembly Required and the Skunk Cabbage Revue.

Foot in the Door reunited to perform at The Point for the Answer’s 40th Anniversary.

The packed heritage lodge was full of hugs, laughter and old friends meeting again in what can only be called the closest we’ll ever get to reigniting the spirit of the infamous Toad Hall parties we at the Museum hear so much about.

To browse all issues of the Whistler Answer in full, check out the Whistler Museum’s digitized versions of the colourful local paper: http://www.whistlermuseum.org/whistleranswer

Whistler’s Weasel Workers

Behind every major race held on Whistler Mountain is a pack of Weasels.  The volunteer organization began in the 1970s when Bob Parsons and a crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.

The term “weasel” was bestowed upon the crew due to their work on the Weasel, a section of Dave Murray Downhill that was too steep for the older snow cats to make it up.  Instead, race workers would flatten the section by treading up and down the Weasel on foot.  Though the organization was formally registered as the Coast Alpine Event Club in 1984, the name is rarely used.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

In the early years of the Weasel Workers, most of the volunteers were parents of members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club but as the races they worked on grew so too did membership in the organization.  Since the 1970s, as well as working on World Cups and other races in Whistler, the Weasels have sent volunteers to help build courses for World Cup races in Lake Louise, Alberta, and Beaver Creek, Colorado, World Championships in Europe and the Winter Olympics in Calgary and Salt Lake City.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

When the Winter Olympics were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003 the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team in preparation of the alpine events to be held on Whistler Mountain.  Working as a Weasel has always required dedication and the willingness to work hard despite the sometimes challenging conditions Whistler winters can create; hosting the Olympics in Whistler was no different, though perhaps on a slightly more tiring scale.  Weasel Workers were routinely called to be ready and up the mountain for 3 am and the long days of shoveling sometimes lasted until 10 pm after which race workers would often walk over to the Weasel House that offered beer, wine and Weasel Wear.  As a 1993 article in the Whistler Answer stated “How do you spot a Weasel Worker?  They’re the ones on race day who look like they could use a good sleep.”

Weasel Workers continue to work on races in Whistler and send volunteers to events around the world.  Most recently a group of Weasels went to Korea in advance of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics next winter.  Three long-serving members of the Weasels joined us this past Wednesday as part of our Speaker Series.

Dennis Waddingham, one of the original Weasel Workers under Bob Parsons, and Owen Carney provided an interesting history of the Weasels (aided as well by Weasels in the audience) and Colin Pitt-Taylor’s photos and stories from their trip to PyeongChang earlier in March provided a preview of some of the venues and events to come in 2018.  Thanks to all three, as well as Pat Taylor for operating the photos and keeping it all moving, and to everyone who joined us for a great evening – we’ll be announcing more details of our next Speaker Series in April soon!

Why Curl When You Can Ice Stock Slide?

Over the decades Whistler has been home to clubs and teams for pretty much any sport you can name – skiing, swimming, squash, soccer, hockey, field hockey, baseball, tennis, rugby – you name it and someone in Whistler has likely played it.

Ice stock sliding, a sport more commonly associated with European countries such as Germany and Austria than a Canadian ski resort, was introduced to Whistler during the cold and dry winter of 1976/77 by Stefan Ples, a long-time resident and member of the Tyrol Club who started skiing Whistler Mountain before Franz Wilhelmsen even envisioned it as an Olympic venue.

“Ice Stock Sliding” on the River of Golden Dreams (Whistler News Winter 1979-80)

Ice stock sliding (also known as esstock sliding or Bavarian curling) is similar to curling, though an ice stock and a curling stone differ in weight and ice stock sliding uses a different kind of running surface.  Ice stocks are made from wooden blocks with an iron band and a handle on top.  Teams of four slide ice stocks over a surface (usually ice though asphalt can also be used by adding a special plastic surface to the bottom of the stocks) aiming either for a target called the daube or for the longest distance.

In Whistler ice stock sliding began, as many thing have, on Alta Lake, which was particularly smooth and clear due to the weather that winter.  Ice stocks were supplied by Ples, who built them himself.  The sport was enthusiastically received and became so popular that a tournament was incorporated into the Whistler Winterfest events of 1977 and the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club (WISSC) was formed to organize and control the growing sport.  Games continued as long as the ice on Alta Lake was suitable and floodlights enabled play to go on into the nights.

Ice stock sliding on Alta Lake in the 1970s.

Though one might assume that the coming of spring would have meant a dwindling interest in the sport, members of the club continued to play using an area of blacktop at Valleau’s logging camp that was set aside for them.  That spring the club applied to the school board to have an area for two rinks paved by the tennis courts at Myrtle Philip School.  The asphalt rinks were approved and constructed for September 1977.

The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler. (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

The WISSC incorporated as a society in October of 1977 (three years before the formation of the Canadian Ice-Stock Federation) and included many long-time residents and visitors to Whistler, such as Kay and Pat Carleton (Whistler’s first mayor), Paul and Jane Burrows, Dick and Kelly Fairhurst, Hans and Margaret Kögler, Bill and Elaine Wallace and Andy and Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum) in addition to Stefan Ples.  The mission of the society was to “develop, maintain and manage all kinds of activities of the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club which may benefit in anyway the residents of, and visitors to the Resort Municipality of Whistler.”

In their first year the WISSC played regularly twice a week, sent representatives to Vernon to demonstrate the sport at the Vernon Winter Festival (and were even invited back the next year) and organized tournaments through the winter and spring.  The club continued to be active into the 1980s but we have no records of the sport being played in Whistler in the past few decades, perhaps partly due to the relocation of Myrtle Philip School (and the demolition of the asphalt rinks) in 1992.  During a winter without much snow, however, ice stock sliding provided a welcome alternative to skiing for residents and visitors alike.

Speaker Series: Weasel Workers

Our next Speaker Series will take place Wednesday, March 22.  Join long-serving Weasel Workers Owen Carney, Colin Pitt-Taylor and Dennis Waddingham for a presentation on the origin and history of Whistler’s Weasel Workers, stories of the many courses they have built, and a discussion of their (very) recent trip to Korea in advance of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics next winter.

Tickets are $10 each ($5 for Museum and/or Club Shred members) and can be purchased at the Museum or by calling as at 604-932-2019.

A Look Back at Whistler in 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four.  No, I’m not referring to George Orwell’s seminal work of fiction, nor am I referring to the album released by Van Halen with songs like “Jump”.  1984 was a significant year in the development of Whistler as a year-round resort destination.

In 1982, Whistler Mountain successfully hosted a World Cup Downhill race after several early attempts were thwarted due to bad weather and poor snow conditions.  Two years later, in March 1984, the second successfully held World Cup race would draw thousands to Whistler Village.  It was one of the most successful promotions to date and would help solidify Whistler as a host for future World Cup events throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Spectators at the 1984 World Cup in Whistler Village.

Whistler and the nascent Blackcomb were four years into their competition to attract skiers to the resort and this was reflected in the advertising for both mountains.

The Whistler Golf Course and Club designed by Arnold Palmer opened to much fanfare in 1983.  It had a successful first year in operation, but would the second year draw the same number of visitors to Whistler?

Since the completion of Whistler Village, it had been a struggle to attract visitors to Whistler outside of the ski season.  A key component was on hold due to the economics of the early 1980s with high interest rates and lending institutions not willing to broker terms.  In 1984, however, the construction of the Sports and Convention Centre was back underway.

Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor had been used in many ski and outdoor adventure films, but had started to catch the eye of Hollywood and Japanese TV productions.  This led to a Japanese TV company filming a yogurt commercial here starring Sean Connery.

Sean Connery seen filming a Japanese commercial for Biogurt on the Whistler Golf Course in September, 1984.

“They need a strong, healthy, clean image, and 007 fit the part,” said production coordinator Martin Yokata.

The sport of mountain biking had grown to include officially sponsored events and would begin to attract more events to Whistler that would draw competitors from across Canada and the United States,  As has been detailed in other articles, the Great Earth, Snow and Water race was in its heyday and a number of other festivals and events attempted to draw visitors to Whistler in the spring, summer and fall.

Over the next few weeks, stay tuned for more stories detailing the importance of 1984 and the impact it had on determining Whistler as a year-round resort destination.