Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.
Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.
Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.
“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.
When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…
Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?