Category Archives: Mountain Culture

Life in the mountains.

The Saga of the Brew Hut Part II

Last week we introduced the Brew Hut, first constructed by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club on Mount Brew in 1982.  This first hut was moved and reconstructed due to snow creep and accumulation.  With the reopening of Brew Hut II in 1985 the VOC thought that the saga of the Brew Hut was over, though this was not to be.

At the time, Tim Booth wrote in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 28, 1985, “At sunset the Tantalus Range and Cloudburst Mountain were silhouetted, and although the lights of Whistler and Squamish could be seen shimmering below at night, the cabin has a feeling of isolation and tranquility despite being easily accessible.”

The construction of Brew Hut II, 1984. Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the years to follow, trip reports and articles written in the UBC VOC Journal describe the challenges of finding the Brew Hut II, even in the best traveling conditions.  Perhaps because Club members forgot about the hut or because they were busy exploring other areas, the Brew Hut II went through a long period of disuse.

Nearly a decade after the hut had been reconstructed, the Club invested in new materials to repair one end-wall that had been completely crushed by the snow, as well as new roofing materials to replace the leaky rood.  According to Markus Kellerhals’ article in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 37, 1994, “over 40 enthusiastic new and old VOC’ers had signed up to come out.”  These renovations were completed over a weekend in September 1994 and the hut was once again on the Club’s radar.

Five years later, in the winter of 1999/2000, over 7 metres of snow fell and completely crushed the Brew Hut II.  Roland Burton, who was responsible for constructing the first Gothic arch hut built by the Club in Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1969, resumed his status as an active member and led the Club in their investigation into a new site for a hut on Mount Brew beginning in the winter of 2000.

Framing of Brew Hut III underway in 2005. UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

Near the Christmas of 2004, the Club began the process of constructing Brew Hut III on a new site that had been well investigated.  The Club chose to build a hut using a new hut design modeled after a small car garage with an A-frame rood.  By the fall of 2005, the Club had successfully completed the construction of Brew Hut III.

Brew Hut III has proven much easier to find, even in poor weather conditions.  The new location has not had the same snowfall accumulation and snow creep issues as the two previous locations and the Brew Hut II still stands in its location today.  This concludes the Brew Hut Saga.

Brew Hut III in the winter of 2015. Photo: UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

This won’t be the last time you hear about Gothic arch huts from us.  Our exhibit with the Virtual Museum of Canada is nearing completion and we can’t wait for you all to get the chance to explore it.  Huts will also be the theme for our upcoming Big Kids LEGO Competition on Tuesday, December 5.  Competitors will have the chance to build the hut or campsite of their wildest dreams and win prizes for their efforts!

The Saga of the Brew Hut Part I

A couple weeks ago we took a look at how the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club built their cabin in Whistler before it was taken over by the AMS.  We’re continuing our look at the VOC this week with the construction of the Brew Huts.

Following the student referendum in 1980 that awarded the UBC-VOC $30,000 for the materials used to construct the Club Cabin, the VOC decided to purchase two pre-fabricated Gothic arch huts built by a construction company in Richmond.

After two years of negotiations with the Provincial Government, the VOC was granted permission to build a hut on Mount Brew.  The Club decided to use the first of the pre-fabricated huts they had purchased on this site.  The hut was built over two weekends in September 1982.

Flying in materials by helicopter for Brew Hut Construction, September 1982. Photo: Alan Dibb; UBC-VOC Archives.

Jay Page, a former president of the VOC, wrote, “Up on the mountain a lean-to shelter is nailed together as it begins to rain and storm.  The cabin site is picked out by flashlight that night amid the piles of lumber.”

After the fanfare of the construction of the Brew Hut, Club members neglected to visit the hut for a few months.  Upon a visit in late February 1983, Club members noted that the hut was located in a high snow accumulation zone.  This raised alarm bells within the VOC as the last hut they had built on the Garibaldi Neve Traverse (named the Neve Hilton) had been completely destroyed by snow creep and accumulation.

The Brew Hut under construction, 1982. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives.

Over the next few months and into May 1983, members of the Club returned almost weekly to keep the Brew Hut structure free of the heavy wet snow customarily found in the Coast Mountains.  Each time they returned they found more snow had fallen than in the months previous.  The hut structure had sustained damage and the wood was beginning to crack.

Members of the VOC decided the solution would be to move the hut to a new location via a large helicopter.  By the time this solution had been arranged, however, snow had begun to fall.  The Club decided to dismantle the hut and build it in a new location the following year.

Brew Hut II under construction, 1984 (it would seem the Brew Hut was always under construction). Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the fall of 1984 a new site was chosen for the hut on a ridgeline to the west of the old Brew Hut location.  The hut was rebuilt with a few modifications.  One of the changes was to make the hut smaller as some of the arches had been damaged by the weight of the snow the previous year.  This helped the hut retain more heat.  Snow fell again, disrupting the completion of the hut until the following year.  The Brew Hut in its new location opened in 1985 and was renamed Brew Hut II.

Stay tuned next week for more on the challenges face by Brew Hut II.

How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Building the Gothic Arch Huts

For almost 50 years the Himmelsbach Hut has sat perched near Russet Lake at the head of Singing Pass.  The hut was built by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and named after carpenter and long-time Whistler local Werner Himmelsbach.

Construction of the hut was scheduled in September 1967.  Dick Chambers, a member of the construction party, remembered being flown to Whistler by Helijet at the time (for more about Dick Chambers, check here).

Materials for the Himmelsbach Hut, as well as workers, were flown in by helicopter. Photo: Chambers Collection

“The stuff was all in the parking lot – the old Whistler parking lot.  Blackcomb wasn’t developed then, it was still a garbage dump… so we land at the parking lot and the Park Ranger was there, waiting to organize this stuff, and so he flew me in, and the next morning I waited and waited and nothing was happening,” Chambers recalled.

The helicopter carrying a load of material to the site had lost it somewhere on the northeastern side of the peak of Whistler, across from Blackcomb.  The load had not been properly attached and triggered the release mechanism.

“Eventually we recovered that load of stuff by looking in the bush and it wound up at Werner Himmelsbach’s hut covering his firewood because it wasn’t good for anything, you know, it was beaten up,” Chambers said.

By the time the Club was able to rebuild the lost materials, snowstorms had started and members of the construction party decided to pack it up and store it until the following year.

The Himmelsbach Hut under construction. Photo: Chambers Collection

In August 1968 the Himmelsbach Hut was was built over a period of three days and began the busiest three-years of hut construction by the BCMC in its history.  Other huts built by the club include Wedgemount Lake Hut loacted north of Blackcomb, Pummer Hut on Claw Ridge near the Tellot Glacier and Mountain Waddington, and Mountain Lake Hut that sits east of Brittania Beach.

Along with the huts built by the Club, Werner Himmelsbach lent his laminating jig and expertise to the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club.  The VOC, led by Roland Burton, built a gothic-arch hut near the Sphinx Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Years later, he assisted the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler Section in the construction of the Wendy Thompson Hut, located in the Marriott Basin.

The Himmelsbach Hut today. Photo: Spencer Jespersen

Over the past several months, I have been tasked with writing, researching and designing a virtual museum exhibit on the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Alpine Huts for the Whistler Museum (for more on the virtual exhibit click here).  Once the exhibit is complete, the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the Virtual Museum of Canada Community Memories website and will tell the complete story of these iconic structures.  Look for the release of the virtual exhibit in Winter 2018.

Signs of Spring

For some places in Canada the beginning of spring in March or April brings the return of migratory birds and the first flowers in gardens.  Vancouver famously heralds spring with the arrival of cherry blossoms and (sometimes) the end of steady rains.  In Whistler, as the last snow in the valley continues to melt, however, signs of spring’s late arrival take a rather different form: skunk cabbage and spring skiers, both of which have a relatively long documented history.

The Skunk Cabbage, Whistler’s unofficial official flower. Photo: Bob Brett.

It’s not uncommon to spot a few early daffodils and crocuses around the valley if you’re looking for them (especially outside of Meadow Park Sports Centre, which may have something to do with nearby heat tracing), but it is hard to miss the bright yellow blooms and swampy smell of skunk cabbage that mean spring has truly arrived in Whistler.  In May of 1977 the Whistler Answer declared skunk cabbage, or Lysichiton americanus, to be the official flower of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, claiming that it “best exemplifies the spirit of this young community” and that “its bright yellow flower is as cheery a sign of spring as any Robin Redbreast, cherry blossom or halter top.”  Also known as swamp lantern, skunk cabbage can be found throughout Whistler; one needs only to walk down the Valley Trail or drive along the highway.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Just as easy to spot are the spring skiers and snowboarders heading up Blackcomb for the last few weeks of the season with light or no jackets or, on warmer days, in short and t-shirts.  Spring skiing has been popular on Whistler Mountain since its opening in the 1960s.  At breakfast with my own grandmother, she recalled a day of skiing back when the Roundhouse was still round when one female skier arrived inside the cafeteria in her bathing suit with her skis still strapped on her feet.  Though images of a similarly attired woman were used to advertise spring skiing on the cover of Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970, such outfits were not actively encouraged by the same publication’s spring skiing tips.  Instead they warned that “it only takes one fall on hard packed snow to cause painful cuts, scratches and bruises on legs and arms” and advised “lightweight stretch pants and wind shells or light sweaters.”  Garibaldi’s Whistler News also emphasized the importance of two other spring skiing tips that can still be applied today: sunscreen and sunglasses.

A skier demonstrates why shorts and t-shirts may not be the best option, no matter how warm it may be. Photo: George Benjamin collection.

Whether getting a few more days on the mountain or riding the trails in the valley, enjoy spring in Whistler while its lasts.  Summer will be here before we know it.

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

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.