Category Archives: Mountain Culture

Life in the mountains.

Crankworx Numero Uno

Eighteen years ago the first Crankworx was held in Whistler Village to roaring success. As the Crankworx World Tour is back in town this month we are throwing back to the original Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival, which started in Whistler in 2004.

We cannot talk about the start of Crankworx without first mentioning Joyride and Whistler Summer Gravity Festival. Joyride Bikercross was first organised by Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye in 2001. Four riders simultaneously jockeyed for lead at full speed down the course featuring tight turns and fast jumps. It instantly drew the crowds. Joyride continued in 2002, then was incorporated into the week-long Whistler Gravity Festival in 2003 – combining all the disciplines of gravity-assisted mountain biking including Air Downhill and Slopestyle. In 2004 the Whistler Gravity Festival rebranded to Crankworx.

Crankworx started as a way to pull together all gravity-assisted mountain bike disciplines and events, bringing all the best mountain bikers together. The idea was also to showcase the bike park. Rob McSkimming who was the managing director of Whistler Mountain Bike Park at the time, approached Mark ‘Skip’ Taylor who had experience working on the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. According to Rob in 2004, “Crankworx was designed so we could strive to be on the progressive edge of mountain biking.”

In 2004, Crankworx took place July 22 to 25, with concerts, pro-rider shows and an expo throughout the four days. Events included the Air Downhill along A-Line which was in its third year. The bike park had newly opened the terrain to the top of Garbanzo and the Garbanzo Downhill was another signature event, along with the BC Downhill Championship and the Biker X.

Definitely the most popular for spectators was the slopestyle. The course, which Richie Schley helped design, featured a road gap, wall ride, massive teeter-totter, step up to scaffolding, and huge gap jumps and drops. Prior to the event Rob McSkimming said of the course, “You should see what they are building for the Slopestyle session. It looks like an Olympic facility. There are some features in there that are hard to imagine riding let alone throwing tricks on.”

There were many memorable moments during the competition. Kirt Voreis left an impression, falling off his bike on top of the teeter-totter. He was able to keep both himself and the bike on the teeter-totter and continue the run after the fall.

Spectators will also remember Timo Pritzel from Germany who went really big, massively overshooting the funbox transition near the bottom of the course and flying over the scaffolding. As the Whistler Question explained, “He did clear the scaffold, but bailed his bike in mid-air and landed the old-fashioned way, which looked to most of the spectators like a guy jumping out of a two story building.” He broke his wrist and ankle in the crash, and placed second in the competition.

In an impressive underdog story, Paul Basagoitia took top honours in the 2004 slopestyle when he was 17 and relatively unknown. He had a background in BMX, no sponsors and no bike, so he borrowed a bike from friend, Cam Zink, and went on to win the contest. In an in interview from Pique Newsmagazine at the time, he said, “It was awesome, it was only like my fifth time on a mountain bike, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Paul Basagoitia during Crankworx 2004 where he came first in the slopestyle. According to an article in The Red Bulletin, following his victory Paul said, “I would like to thank my sponsors, but I don’t have any sponsors, really.” Andrew Worth Collection.

Still on the progressive edge of mountain biking, the evolution of the Crankworx from 2004 to today is evident in the village this week. Whistler has again come alive in celebration of all things mountain biking and no doubt legends will continue to be created.

Expo 86 – Putting BC on the Map

Expo 86 is widely credited as turning Vancouver from a sleepy regional city into the international destination that is it today, while also increasing the awareness of surrounding areas including Whistler and Victoria.

Expo 86 was a big deal throughout BC. Here Expo Ernie, the Expo astronaut mascot, is being paraded through Whistler in March 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

In 1986, Vancouver threw a party and the world accepted the invite. The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, usually just called Expo 86, ran from May to October and had a visitation of over 22 million people, far exceeding original estimates. Many hopes for the region were pinned on Expo, which also far exceeded its initial budget. Full colour brochures were distributed extensively to encourage Expo visitors to travel to Whistler. According to the Whistler Question ahead of the opening of Expo on May 3 1986, the brochures were to be as ‘ubiquitous as the Gideon bible in Lower Mainland hotels and information centres this summer.’

Telemark Skiers, Luise and Pascal, and the Whistler Singers, during a performance of Whistler – Let the Spirit Grow during Expo 86. Expo 86 Collection.

World Expo is a long-running exhibition designed to highlight global achievements. Over 40 nations from around the world descended on Vancouver with their pavilions centred around the theme of transportation and communication.

Opening week of Expo saw over 55,000 people join the celebration in Vancouver, including hundreds of Whistlerites, and special guests the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana. In the first week a group of talented Whistler locals, including the Whistler Singers, performed Whistler – Let the Spirit Grow, a song, dance and comedy production created for Expo and performed in the BC Pavilion. They had previously performed the witty well-orchestrated theatre piece for the community at Rainbow Theatre in the lead up to Expo, finishing with a standing ovation.

Sandy Boyd, the ‘downhill comedian’ in Whistler – Let the Spirit Grow. Expo 86 Collection.

Despite the visitors flocking to Vancouver, Whistler did not initially receive the influx of guests that it had anticipated. At the beginning of July, two months into Expo, visitor numbers were down for Whistler when compared to May/June 1985. At this time, summers were already quiet, and this was not the world-stage premiere that Whistler had been hoping for. Additionally, visitors who booked accommodation in Whistler expecting to commute to Expo daily were often sadly mistaken, wiping their brows as they arrived after the long and windy drive. However, the nice weather eventually arrived and visitation picked up with August and September becoming the busiest summer months yet for Whistler.

While the visitor numbers were not dramatically different, the Expo in Vancouver brought a different clientele. The usual visitors from the Lower Mainland enjoyed the Expo atmosphere, playing host and tourist closer to home, while the guests visiting Whistler over the summer were coming from further away and staying longer. Traffic from the USA in particular increased. Studies commissioned at the time found that awareness of BC had increased more than 60% amongst people in California due to Expo.

Additionally, having Expo in Vancouver was pushing lots of conventions to Whistler because there was more accommodation. The Convention Centre had finally opened in June 1985 and many conferences made Whistler their home for the first time in 1986, including the Social Credit Party Leadership Convention, spreading the word throughout a population who might not otherwise visit.

The finale of Whistler – Let the Spirit Grow in the BC Pavilion, May 7 1986. Expo 86 Collection.

According to Drew Meredith, who became mayor in 1986 after Expo ended, until this time when people heard ‘Whistler’ they thought of pot-smoking hippies and a ski resort. Expo 86 changed that. “You had to get the right people and get the right message out, and I think Expo 86 did that. Expo was such a huge showcase of BC in the summertime. It was all killer whales, forests, mountains, and waterfalls. It was an amazing advertising campaign around the world.” Whistler went on to host another big party, the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010, and today visitors come from all around the world in both summer and winter.

Why Did the Raccoon Cross the Road?

Whistler is well known for the stunning natural environment. On the doorstep to nature it is not uncommon to see wildlife in and around town. I recently saw a raccoon crossing the pedestrian crossing near Marketplace, and on the same day I watched a coyote stroll through the playground in the Village. A few days later many people watched a bear cruise through that same playground, unfortunately for the bear.

This region has always been a hub for nature, but with an increase in development we are also changing the habitat for local wildlife. While humans are the biggest threat to most wildlife in Whistler, and throughout the world, raccoons and a few other animals thrive in human-altered environments.

Rocky the Raccoon was a nightly visitor to the Whistler Vale Bar in the late 1970s. Whistler Question Collection.

Before the lifts started turning, when Whistler was known as Alta Lake, a study of the local mammals was completed by Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart Cowan. After observing and collecting ecological data for a combined 22 years, including talking to many local trappers well attuned to the local wildlife, Mammals of the Alta Lake Region of South-western British Columbia was published in 1935. At this time it was noted that raccoons do ‘not occur regularly in the district’. Tracks of raccoons passing through the valley had only been identified twice throughout the study.

However, as the town started to grow rapidly raccoons started to find that humans could be a great source of food and shelter. When longtime local, Trudy Alder, moved to Whistler in 1968 the raccoons had already started to train the locals, or vice versa according to Trudy, who remembered, “We lived in harmony with many of the animals in our everyday lives. There were plenty of animals; the raccoons thought they were our pets and we could easily train them to eat from our hands.”

Raccoons are smart, bold and inquisitive, allowing them to quickly adapt their behaviour to the changed environment. Additionally, their paws are hypersensitive and tactile so they can easily get into things for further mischief. Populations of raccoons in Whistler have increased as the number of people have increased, and the same phenomenon can be seen in many urban areas where raccoon populations increase with human development. Raccoons that live in urban environments have much smaller home ranges and live in higher densities than in their natural habitats. They are omnivorous scavengers and humans provide great sources of high-energy food through garbage, pets and gardens. Why did the raccoon cross the road? Probably for food.

The caption from the Whistler Question, August 1984, is as follows, ‘And you thought kids only carry ghetto blasters on their shoulders these days? This raccoon was spotted roaming the village Saturday’. Despite the evidence in this photo, raccoons do not make good pets. Today it is illegal keep raccoons as pets in BC. Whistler Question Collection.

Another mammal that has increased in numbers since 1935, although for different reasons, is the beaver. According to Mammals of Alta Lake, at the time of publication beavers had been hunted to non-existence in the valley. Now that the hunting has ceased the beaver population has bounced back. Today you can see signs of active beavers around Whistler’s wetlands, and, if you are lucky, you might see the beaver itself.

Some things change, while others stay the same. There is an animal encounter recorded in Mammals of Alta Lake that could have happened today. Between 1927 and 1928, trapper and early Alta Lake resident, John Bailiff caught 28 flying squirrels in his traps. The squirrels were being stored in a freezer when a sneaky marten weaselled in and stole them. Today martens are still known to weasel into backcountry huts and on-mountain restaurants, helping themselves to food, and sometimes ski gear.

For more on the local natural history, drop in to Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature pop-up museum at Lost Lake Park. Open Tuesday through Friday 11am to 5pm until the end of August.

Rafting Through Whistler

Rafting has long been a favourite summer leisure activity throughout the Whistler Valley. In 1913, Alex and Myrtle Philip bought their 10-acre property on Alta Lake for $700 (where Rainbow Park is today). Rainbow Lodge and the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway were both completed the next year in 1914, and together they started offering Fisherman’s Excursions. The $6 package deal included train passage and a fully catered weekend of fishing at Rainbow Lodge. When the first group of 24 anglers disembarked the train for the Fishermen’s Excursion, Rainbow Lodge had multiple wooden rafts and one boat that visitors would fish from. The first excursion was a huge success with everyone catching fish. News of the fishing on Alta Lake spread rapidly throughout Vancouver, bringing a continual stream of visitors to Rainbow Lodge in the summer.

Rafting at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

When Hillcrest Lodge opened in 1946, rafting also played a role in entertaining guests. When new guests arrived at the train station, they would be greeted by current guests in costume and then transported across the lake in a convoy of rafts. During the stay, Hillcrest Lodge offered many organised activities for guests. One of their favourite activities were the musical raft rides around Alta Lake, not unlike those that float around on warm summer days today. Raft rides would also be used to transport locals and guests to and from the Saturday night community hall dances. The community would look forward to these dances and come out in force, with Rainbow Lodge and Hillcrest Lodge sharing the catering for these popular events.

Guests were escorted to Hillcrest Lodge via raft. Mansell Collection.

70 years after Myrtle and Alex bought their land on Alta Lake, the first commercial white water rafting venture in Whistler started. Whistler was still developing as a summer destination when Whistler River Adventures opened in 1983. Asked about how things changed in the rafting business over his 27 years as owner/manager, Brian Leighton was quick to say, “Competition.”

In the early to mid 1980s, anyone could start a rafting company and many more white water rafting companies popped up after Whistler River Adventures. Following some bad rafting accidents in 1987, including 5 people who drowned after their raft overturned on a log jam in the Elaho, the BC provincial government introduced stricter regulations. The regulations introduced mandates for each river, including rules on raft size and guide experience. Although many companies already chose to follow recommended safety guidelines, strict regulations had only been in place for five BC rivers prior to 1987. River-specific tenure for raft companies was also later introduced.

An identified rafting adventure near Whistler, July 1 1984. Helmets and wetsuits are worn today during commercial rafting tours, however the expressions of exhilaration remain unchanged! Whistler Question Collection.

Remembering a trip that would not happen today, Brian recounted a staff tour along the Cheakamus River below Daisy Lake Dam. This area is now closed to commercial groups due to concerns about The Barrier breaking, which could result in massive downstream flooding and landslides from Garibaldi Lake. During the staff trip the raft became stuck on a rock in the middle of the river. A staff member living in the now-gone Garibaldi Township saw a sandal float past on the river downstream of the stranded raft and went to see if everything was okay. Everyone was rescued, although the raft remained stuck. Whistler River Adventures knew the engineer working on Daisy Lake Dam and the following day BC Hydro shut off the dam so that the raft could be retrieved from the rock. It was the eighties after all!

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