Frozen Alta Lake

Winters at Alta Lake were a quiet season for the small community without the crowds of summer visitors.  Whistler Mountain did not open for skiing until 1966 and until then downhill skiing in the valley was uncommon.  Instead winter sports centred on and around Alta Lake.  In addition to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, activities that took place on the frozen lake itself were popular within the small community.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

With the right conditions skating was a common pastime that could quickly become a community gathering with a bonfire and marshmallows.

In 1924 Sewall Tapley built an iceboat for his daughter Myrtle after she injured her leg.  He used a few boards, old skate blades and a sail and thus introduced a new activity to Alta Lake.  With a good wind the iceboat could easily outpace the skaters.  While the iceboat did have a tiller attached it was not an effective means of steering.  Instead, Myrtle recalled, “we’d crash into the snow bank on the other side of the lake, get out and turn it around to get home.”  In the 1980s a new generation tried sailing on Alta Lake, this time using “windskiers” which hopefully had much better steering capabilities.

Wind skiing was a new sport for Alta Lake. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1985.

The lake continued to be a community gathering spot for Alta Lake residents through the 1950s and into the 60s.  In the January 5, 1960 edition of the “Alta Lake Echo”, the weekly newsletter put out by the Alta Lake Community Club under various named from January 1958 until June 1961, it was noted that “a good crowd turned out Friday night to skate and spectate at Rainbow Rink.  Cabin 8 was cosy and warm for the less hardy types and those whose feed would not fit the available skates.”  The evening ended with hot dogs and hot chocolate provided by Alex and Audrey Greenwood, then owners of Rainbow Lodge.

The same newsletter also reported on the annual New Year’s hockey game that was postponed “due to poor player condition after New Years Eve.  Rescheduled for 2 pm Jan. 2nd, game commenced promptly at 3:30.”  On the side of the Alta Lake Amatoors were Frantic Fairhurst (foreward front and centre) and Non Stop Crankshaft, Capricious Croaker, Gummed Up Gow and Fearless Ferguson (all playing defence).  The Rainbow Rockets lineup featured Sky Scraper Skip (“centre, right and left, fore and back”), Spud Murphy (“goal defence and generally against Alta Lake making a goal”), Gallopping Greenwood, and GoGetter Gordon.

A game of hockey on frozen 19 Mile Creek, November 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Despite having fewer players, Rainbow took an early lead that they kept for a final score of 7-1, though the accuracy of the score is questionable.  According to the sports report, “before the first half of the first quarter was over the judges retired to the warmth of Cabin 8 and the score was rather hard to keep track of.”  Clearly the residents treated this game with the utmost professionalism.

The opening of Whistler Mountain shifted the focus of winter sports away from Alta Lake, though it took only one winter with very little snow to return people to the lakes.  According to the Whistler Question, in January 1977 Whistler Mountain closed due to “adverse weather conditions”.  Instead skating, hockey and even ice stock sliding kept the community busy.

Ice stock sliding, a sport introduced to Alta Lake during a particularly bad snow year, remained popular in Whistler for some time. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1980.

Today, if the lakes have a safe layer of ice, ice skating and hockey games can still be seen on lakes throughout the valley.

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2 responses to “Frozen Alta Lake

  1. Reading about Myrtle’s iceboat reminded me that I built something very similar in about 1963, when I was 13, out of 2X4s and old skate blades and the mast from my sailboat (which I bought from Sala Ferguson. At that time it was the only sailboat on the lake, although Dick Fairhurst soon afterward acquired and restored a somewhat bigger, faster vessel, which I also enjoyed sailing). At the time, I was very much under the influence of British children’s author Arthur Ransome and his series “Swallows and Amazons.” One book in the series, “Winter Holiday,” was all about ice sailing in the English Lake District. Unfortunately, the ice was not optimal the year I built mine, and after dragging it down to the water, it steadfastly refused to budge. I did, however, enjoy ice skating on the lake in other years, when the ice set before it snowed. However, it was a rare year where you could actually skate all over the lake. I remember a few times when we created a “rink” on the ice in front of Cypress Lodge by fishing buckets of water out of a hole and flooding the ice to make a smooth surface. I also remember one year when the adults drove a car onto the lake and we made it spin around and around on the ice.

  2. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Weeks of December 17th, 24th, 31st, 2017 and January 7, 2018 | Unwritten Histories

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