Category Archives: Museum Musings

These articles have also appeared in the Whistler Question or Pique Newsmagazine in the Whistler Museum’s weekly column.

Hot Dogging and the Evolution of Freestyle Skiing

People were flying through the air on skis long before the Wright Brothers took to the sky. However, freestyle skiing, or ‘hot dogging’ as it was once known, really took off in the 1970s. With few rules, the aim of hot dogging was to go down the slope in the most spectacular way possible.

A competitor in Labatt’s World Cup Freestyle, Whistler 1980. When Whistler hosted a similar championship in 1973 it was called the Labatt’s National Aerial and Hot Dog Championships. Whistler Question Collection.

Looking back at the evolution of freestyle skiing can feel like reading a different language. Even avid freestyle skiers today may not be familiar with the popular tricks from the 1970s such as the Mule Kick, Back Scratcher or the Leg Breaker, however you may be able to visualise the movement from the name. Other tricks were named after the first person to complete or popularise a manoeuvre, such as the Daigle Banger, named after Canadian ski legend Michel Daigle who lived in Whistler and worked as a ski patroller and freestyle ski instructor. The Daigle Banger was a popular ski ballet move that involved a front flip and rotation with one hand planted on the snow.

In the 1960s, skiing followed a rigid structure with specific ideas about how a person ‘should’ ski, and ski racing was the sole competitive focus. Freestyle skiing was born out of rebellion against the ‘rules’ of skiing. While freestyle skiing was not always accepted by the competitive sporting bodies, it quickly became popular with spectators watching as the competitors put on a great show, combining speed, strength and imagination. In early competitions, it could be difficult to tell if a person was somersaulting down the hill on purpose, but initially it did not really matter. The scoring of very early hot dog competitions was largely based off of crowd reaction, and the cheering could be loudest after an entertaining crash.

Freestyle skiing was recognised by the International Ski Federation (FIS) in 1979 and the judges at the Freestyle World Cup were looking for a lot more than audience reaction. Made up of three disciplines, a competitor participated in moguls, aerials and ski ballet (also known as acroski) to become the overall Freestyle World Champion. While you have likely watched aerial and mogul competitions more recently, ski ballet fell out of favour in the early 1990s and never became an official Olympic sport.

A ski ballet competitor in Labatt’s World Cup Freestyle, Whistler 1980. As well as dance like steps, ski ballet included jumps, handstands, and balancing on poles (sometimes upside down) requiring strength and balance. Whistler Question Collection.

Ski Canada Magazine from Spring 1980 explained what spectators should expect when watching ski ballet. “The ballet competition is run on a smooth intermediate slope, each competitor performing a run made up of dance-like steps, spins and turns mixed with leaps and stunts. The degree of difficultly of the skier’s run is a major factor in his eventual score. His style, control, innovation as well as the fluidity of the routine count for most of the skier’s total score. Judges look for good choreography and interpretation of the music and well-constructed combinations of the basic manoeuvres. Often, the simplest manoeuvres are also the most difficult to execute well.”

Freestyle skiing has seen dramatic changes since the days of hot dogging thanks to athletes constantly pushing the boundaries of the sport, as well as advances in equipment. Recently the Whistler Museum was lucky to host a Speaker Series with local freestyle ski legends – three time Freestyle World Champion Stephanie Sloan, and ‘Godfather of freeskiing’ Mike Douglas.

A Medical Centre in the Basement

When the Whistler Medical Centre moved into part of the basement of Municipal Hall in 1986, it was expected to be a temporary facility that would be replaced by a purpose-built facility in the coming years. Despite the temporary nature of the facility, the space tripled the size of the Centre and was a huge improvement over its previous locations, which had been a double-wide trailer on Whistler Way and later the Whistler Golf Course parking lot.

The facility reportedly opened in 1986 with private offices for doctors (at the time there were still only two: Dr. Rob Burgess and Dr. Christine Rodgers; Whistler’s third doctor, Dr. Ron Stanley, joined the practice in 1988) and the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor, space for emergency patients, a casting bay, a lead-lined room for x-rays, and even a separate space of physiotherapy. By 1989, however, the growing medical needs of the community and visitors meant that the Centre needed more room and a 16-metre trailer was installed near Municipal Hall to house physiotherapy and doctors’ offices.

The physiotherapy office within the Medical Centre, shortly after opening in 1986. This space was later taken over and the physiotherapy and doctors’ offices moved to a trailer next to Municipal Hall. Whistler Question Collection, 1986

By 1993, the need for a new, permanent facility was acute. The Municipal Hall space was shared by a staff of 34 that included four nurses, and administrator, seven doctors, one lab technician, and six x-ray technicians, as well as by over 100 patients on busy days. Administrator Bev Wylie described the working conditions for staff as “comparable to a shoe box,” especially around holidays. According to Wylie, staff were doubled up in offices and the lunch room functioned as a meeting room, records room, supply room, coat closet, and quiet area. The incubator shared space in a hallway with stacks of files and a photocopier. The second-hand x-ray machine was already nine years old when it was installed in 1986 and designed to handle about 600 x-rays annually, but in Whistler it was doing over 7,000 each year. Dr. Andrew Hamson told the Whistler Question that the Centre could be “a complete, utter zoo.” Despite this, the staff continued to provide quality medical care to both residents and visitors of Whistler.

A patient is brought in by the paramedics, met by nurse Janet Hamer. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

In the January 14, 1993 edition of the Question, Janet Hamer, a nurse at the Centre, compiled a list of cases the staff dealt with in 24 hours. From 8 am to 8 am, staff treated burns, sore throats, colds, flue, frostbite, fractures, injuries from fights, allergies, neck injuries, head injuries, eleven knee injuries from skiing, an overdose of LSD, and multiple patients from car accidents. By 1:50 pm, it was at least an hour to see a doctor, which became a two hour wait at 1:55 pm when a helicopter arrived with a patient with serious head and chest injuries. The Centre closed at 8 pm but the doctor on call returned at 8:25 pm to treat an anxiety attack and had patients on and off until 6:45 am.

Construction proceeds on the current Whistler Medical Centre in Village North. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

With funding from the Squamish Lillooet Regional District Hospital board and the provincial government, as well as lots of fundraising by the Whistler Health Care Society, other community groups, and individuals, the current Whistler Health Care Centre facility was ready to open in the summer 1994. It reportedly had four times the space, with room for planned expansions (multiple expansions and upgrades to the Centre have been completed since its opening in 1994; most recently, the Whistler Health Care Foundation raised money for a new trauma unit that was completed in February 2022). When asked what they thought of the new facility, Dr. Dan Wallman told the Question, “It’s a tremendous improvement for the community and us. I would like to thank everyone who donated their time, effort, and money to this cause.” Lab technician Dawna Astle described it as “Professional, air conditioned, clean, and about time too!”

Snowboard Park – No Skiers Allowed!

Blackcomb Mountain opened for snowboarders in the 87/88 season. While it would take Whistler another year to start embracing snowboard culture, Blackcomb was generally supportive of the ‘knuckle-draggers’ thanks to the persistence and passion of a few snowboarders on staff and in the community. Additionally, Hugh Smythe could see the strategic benefits of welcoming a new group of riders.

Before terrain parks were a common feature of ski resorts, snowboarders would travel from all around Canada and the world to take advantage of the many natural features of Blackcomb, perfect for sending big air and pushing the boundaries of the new sport. The natural quarterpipe and wind lip on Blackcomb featured in many publications and films, including the cover of Transworld SNOWboarding with Doug Lundgren. Before the official park, groups would also build their own kickers and crude halfpipes on the mountain. This sometimes involved trying to avoid the watchful eye of ski patrol.

The natural features of Blackcomb attracted snowboarders from around Canada and the world. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Sean Sullivan 1991.

Stu Osborne was instrumental to the snowboarding scene on Blackcomb. Stu started as an instructor and went on to become Snowboard Coordinator and then Terrain Park Supervisor, founding the first Blackcomb management-sanctioned halfpipe and snowboard park. While the Kokanee Snowboard Park officially appeared on the Blackcomb trail map in the 94/95 winter season, the first halfpipe and park launched earlier.

There was still a mentality of skiers versus snowboarders at this time and despite receiving approval to create the initial halfpipe, accessing the resources from the Blackcomb Operations team to build the park was a different story. To get around the lack of resources, Snow Ejectors, a private snow removal company, became a sponsor, providing custom-painted shovels for the build. The early halfpipe was created using these shovels and a little cat time.

During a competition featuring many of the world’s best riders, the Snow Ejectors’ hand-painted banner was larger than those of any of the other sponsors, much to the chagrin of Blackcomb management. The next year, more equipment and support was provided by Blackcomb Mountain. Before the opening of the Kokanee Snowboard Park, Blackcomb became one of the first resorts in Canada to get a pipe dragon, specialised grooming equipment that could carve out a uniform halfpipe far more easily than hand-digging.

A snowboarder takes flight near the Kokanee Snowboard Park. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

In the early days, ‘Blackcomb Snowboard Park’ was exactly that, a park for snowboarders. Rules had changed (in this one niche area on the mountain) and there was a big sign that specified ‘no skiers allowed’. Skiers would wait outside the snowboard park in groups, and bomb the park together in a train so they were harder to catch. It wasn’t long, however, until the park evolved to welcome both snowboarders and skiers as the more inclusive ‘terrain park’ that we know today. 

Originally, the park features on Blackcomb and other resorts in the Canada West Ski Area Association were rated like ski runs, with greens, blues, blacks and double blacks. As most people probably understand, riding a beginner feature would require different skills to a typical green run; however the system broke down when a visitor went off a jump that was far beyond their ability and sustained a debilitating injury. The resulting lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and, learning from this experience, the ratings in the terrain park were changed to those that we see today. Burton had just introduced Smart Style, the orange oval to indicate freestyle terrain. Whistler Blackcomb and the Canada West Ski Area Association went one step further adding S, M, L and XL sizing to keep it easy to interpret. Both features and parks are marked so people can easily choose where to ride within their ability.

Treating Whistler

For decades, portable buildings and trailers have been temporary homes for organizations and businesses in Whistler. At one point or another, the liquor store, real estate offices, Municipal Hall, the library, the museum, the Whistler Arts Council, and even the bank have been located in trailers around the valley. One facility that you might not expect to find in a trailer, however, is the Whistler Medical Centre.

In the late 1960s, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began providing accommodation for the Whistler Mountain Medical Association, a group of skiing doctors who also provided medical care for residents after skiing on winter weekends. It wasn’t until 1980, when two local doctors set up practices, that full time medical care came to Whistler. Dr. Christine Rodgers saw patients in her home in White Gold, while Dr. Rob Burgess set up in a trailer near the base of Whistler Mountain in Whistler Village, which was still under construction.

Dr. Rob Burgess, Dr. Christine Rodgers, Howie Goldsmid and Bill Hooson at a hospital meeting. Whistler Question Collection.

The Whistler Health Planning Society was then formed in 1982, spearheaded by residents including Craig MacKenzie and Rollie Horsey. The Society began fundraising for a dedicated medical facility and, in September 1982, opened the Whistler Medical Centre in a double-wide trailer. It was located on Whistler Way between the Delta Mountain Inn (now the Hilton) and the Sports & Convention Centre (today the Conference Centre). This new facility had rooms for both Dr. Rodgers and Dr. Burgess, as well as the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor and physiotherapist Susie Mortensen-Young, and a holding area for injuries.

Craig McKenzie of the Whistler Health Planning Society inspects the trailer brought into position adjacent to the Sports & Convention Centre for Whistler’s new medical clinic. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler Emergency Services also began operating out of the facility at the beginning of the ski season. The station was operated by Shari Imrie and Beverly Wylie, both Registered Nurses, who between them treated emergency patients 36 hours/week.

The trailer was always meant to be a temporary facility for the Medical Centre, but, in 1984, the Society turned down a location in the lower level of Municipal Hall due to concerns about their ability to fund the larger space and worries that this new facility would lead the province to think that Whistler was adequately serviced. By this time, however, it would appear that the medical needs of the community and its visitors had outgrown the 111m2 space. It was reported that 69% of the patients treated at the Medical Centre during the ski season were visitors and Society member Chuck Blaylock described the facility as “a little scruffy. It’s like a MASH unit on a busy weekend.” This sentiment was seconded by Bev Wylie, who later remembered taping IV units to the wall while patients lay on the floor because there were no empty beds.

The Whistler Medical Clinic, located on Whistler Way in Whistler Village. Whistler Question Collection.

The Society had continued fundraising for a new facility through charitable donations and events such as chilli cookoffs, hot dog sales, golf tournaments, and raffle draws. In 1985, the Whistler Health Planning Society changed its name to the Whistler Health Care Society and restructured its constitution so that the Medical Centre would qualify for provincial funding. The next year, the Whistler Medical Centre moved into the earlier proposed space in Municipal Hall, tripling the size of its space. The trailers, which at that time were located on the parking lot of the Whistler Golf Course, were sold to Whistler Land Co. Developments. The medical needs of the community and visitors, however, would continue to grow and outgrow the space, leading to another move in the 1990s.