Category Archives: Recreation

Whistler’s Skateboarding Story

Nestled along the Valley Trail near Fitzsimmons Creek, the Whistler Skate Park is a popular summer hangout for skateboarders and board sport enthusiasts.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, surfing’s popularity began to skyrocket in California, and would eventually go on to influence North America’s youth culture with the music, films, philosophies, and attitudes that are now associated with the sport.  Skateboarding, or sidewalk surfing as it was then known, grew out of the surfing culture during this time, and became something to do when surfing conditions were less-than-optimal.

In the early days of the Whistler Skate Park, roller blades could be found as well. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Skateboarding’s popularity increased during this period, expanding out of California surf shops to any place around the world that had cement or asphalt.  In 1976, the world’s first purpose-built skatepark opened: Carlsbad Skatepark in Southern California.  This was soon followed by the Albany Snake Run in Albany, Western Australia.  Both areas had strong links to surfing culture.

Surfing and skateboarding had an immense influence on the development of snowboarding; one of the first snowboard products, the Snurfer, invented in the late 1960s in Michigan, allowed riders to essentially surf on snow.  Over the next 20 years, snowboarding evolved and expanded and by the late 1980s started to become a fixture in Whistler, specifically on Blackcomb Mountain.

The Whistler Skate Park, 1995. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Olympic gold medal winner Ross Rebagliati was the first snowboarder allowed to ride the Blackcomb lifts.  The new sport found its home early in our valley, he said.  “When we were first allowed to snowboard here, they did not just sell us the tickets and say, ‘that’s it.’  They embraced the whole idea, the culture.  They took the initiative to build snowboard parks and created things specifically designed for snowboarders.”

In 1991, the original Whistler Skate Park was constructed and includes the snake run and bowl that are still present today.  Designed by Monty Little and Terry Snider, it integrated elements that they had developed in other skate parks in West Vancouver and North Vancouver.  These elements included large waves and shapes that would encourage speed and fluid, rounded movements, a nod to the surf-inspired approach to both snowboarding and skateboarding.  Monty Little viewed the Whistler Skate Park as a functional sculpture, taking inspiration from the mountains and streams of the area.

In the late 1990s, the Whistler Skate Park saw its second round of development.  This refurbishment was born out of safety concerns due to the original surface delaminating, as well as the changing style and approach boarders were taking to skateboarding.  With support from then-Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the skating community, new elements were added to the skate park that reflected the next generation of skateboarders.  These included more street elements, such as rails and grindable steel edges, used for more technical tricks and manoeuvres.

The Skate Park signs, like the park itself, are well decorated. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

With the latest expansion in 2016, the Whistler Skate Park has become the second largest in Canada with a total skateable area of more than 4,600 square metres (50,000 square feet).  The Whistler Skate Park’s popularity has made it one of Whistler’s prominent summertime features.

The Whistler Skate Park is centrally located between the Village and Fitzsimmons Creek, and open daily from April to November.

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The 2019 Building Competition with LEGO Bricks!

Back by popular demand (and because it’s just so fun!), this year will mark the 23rd Annual Building Competition with LEGO Bricks!

This year’s theme is “What makes Whistler awesome to me?”  Basically, you can build anything that you thinks makes Whistler awesome.  Maybe you think bears are awesome, or marmot, or fishing, hiking, skiing or biking – anything you think is awesome goes!

Every participant will walk away with a treat-filled goody bag and you might even win one of our amazing prizes, generously donated by Whistler businesses!

The competition will be held on Saturday, August 10 from 2-4pm.  In Florence Petersen Park.  Kids ages 3 and up are welcome!

We fill up every year, so register now!  $10 per kid, payable by cash or credit.  Contact us at 604-932-2019 or events [@] whistlermuseum.org.

Getting Fit (& Fun) at Myrtle Philip

Opportunities for continued learning and recreational programming are not always abundant in small communities.  This was especially true before the internet made distance learning and online tutorials commonplace.  In the 1970s and 80s in Whistler, Myrtle Philip Elementary School was the site of learning for more than just school aged kids.

An adult education department began running out of Myrtle Philip School after the school opened in 1976.  It offered various classes and programs, mainly in the evenings, to those living in the area.  Looking at the summer programs offered in 1981, it would seem that there was high demand among the local population for sports and fitness related programming.

Programming in the Myrtle Philip School gym included drop-in sports, including basketball and volleyball. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

That summer, seven different activities were offered out of the school, including gardening, French lessons, basketball, tennis, and karate once or twice a week.  The most popular and frequent classes were named Fun & Fit and Superfit, occurring a total of seven time weekly, almost enough to fulfill the small community’s “seemingly insatiable need for fitness classes.”

The classes were run by instructors Sue Worden and Susie Mortensen, who began the program in the fall of 1980.  According to the Squamish Citizen, the popularity of the program was “overwhelming” and it was regularly attended by at least thirty to forty people, including a core group of five to ten men.  By adding later time slots, the class hoped to increase those numbers even further.  Debbie Cook, the adult education coordinator, attributed the program’s success to its instructors and “the enthusiasm and dedication they have infused into the participants.”

Sue Worden of Body Works puts a group of Corporate Cup die-hards through the paces in Village Square Saturday. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

For $2 (or $10 for ten sessions) participants could engage in an hour-long exercise class including stretches, aerobics, and strengthening exercises.  In 1982 Sue Cameron wrote a review of the program for the Citizen, describing it as a great opportunity to get in shape for the ski season.  According to Cameron, the class began with fifteen minutes of stretching and warming up before turning to twenty minutes of “sweat-out time, running and hopping on the spot intermingled with subtle stretching exercises.”  Pushups and sit ups were followed by another period of stretching, this time concentrating on breathing “so as to get the most out of the pain you just went through.”  All of this was, of course, set to modern music of the 1980s.

Classes were offered daily Monday through Friday, meaning that “if you can walk the next day you can do it again!”

Action! Fitness instructor Sue Worden pedals her heart out for Action BC testing Saturday, March 6 while Kevin Ponnock, fitness consultant, records pulse rate. The government-sponsored program includes flexibility training and a diet analysis so that participants can asses their fitness level. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The demand for fitness programs was not just for the adults 0f Whistler.  Kindergym, a weekly class of basic gym activities and occasional handicrafts sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club, also ran out of the Myrtle Philip School gymnasium.  Targeting children aged two to five, the class was also an opportunity for parents and caregivers to socialize.

The offerings of the adult education department expanded over the decade.  Instructors were drawn from within the community, calling on anyone who wanted to share a particular skill or hobby.  During the fall of 1986 community members could learn about European cooking from Mark Kogler, first aid from Karen Killaly, and mountain safety and avalanches from Chris Stetham and Roger McCarthy, as well as various crafts such as macrame, glass etching, and dried flower arranging.  Topping the list of programs was still Fun & Fit with Sue Worden.

Whistler has grown quite a bit since the 1980s and today there are numerous classes and programs, some still running out of (the slightly newer) Myrtle Philip School.

Forever and Ale-ways: A History of Brewing in the Sea to Sky

Patio days are upon us, and what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than having a post-work brew at one of our local breweries?  With craft breweries now popping up all over BC like suds in a glass of beer, the Sea to Sky seems to have gotten in on the brewing action quite early.

In the 1970s, the ‘official’ Canadian beer scene was composed of three consolidated large beer producers that basically split the market: Carling O’Keefe, Labatt, and Molson.  With little or no competition among them, frequent strikes, and nearly identical lagers, Canada was ripe for some flavour innovations from new sources.

Apart from these three conglomerates, homebrewing was alive and well in Whistler.  At Tokum Corners in 1971, Rod MacLeod was homebrewing based on knowledge gleaned from Bill Chaplain.  A homebrew contest was begun in Whistler in 1974 (running every year into the 1990s), where the competitors had to fill a case of 7-Up bottles with their own brew to be judged.  The winner received a mug trophy with their name engraved, their beer being drunk first, and the honour of hosting the contest the following year.

Tokum Corners was the site of some homebrew production by Rod MacLeod. Benjamin Collection, 1971.

Homebrewing is credited as inspiring the origins of craft brewing in the Sea to Sky.  In 1978, an article about homebrewing in Harrowsmith magazine piqued the curiosity of John Mitchell, a British expat who was the co-owner and manager of Horseshoe Bay’s Troller Pub.  He contacted the writer, Frank Appleton, and in 1982, the two enthusiasts joined forces in pioneering one of North America’s first modern craft breweries in Horseshoe Bay, using cobbled-together dairy equipment.  Fresh, flavourful, and interesting beer choices were clearly in demand: on opening night, the Troller Pub was packed, and all kegs of their sole craft beer, ‘Bay Ale’, sold out.

By the late 1980s, other entrepreneurs were taking notice of the opportunity to bring new beers to the table.  The Whistler Brewing Co. was first established in 1989 by Jenny Hieter and Rob Mingay.  Their permanent brewery was set up in Function Junction by 1991, boasting multiple tanks and a bottling system.  Though Whistler Brewing originally offered only Whistler Premium Lager, they soon added the more flavourful (and still-familiar) Black Tusk Ale to their repertoire.

Whistler Brewing Co.’s tap and production area in Function, 1991. George Benjamin Collection.

Down the highway, John Mitchell helped design the new Howe Sound Brewery in Squamish and was their first brewmaster in 1996.  Unique flavours and recipes were continually developing in the Sea to Sky corridor.  In 1997, High Mountain Brewing Co. (Brewhouse) opened, and was the only option for craft beer in Whistler Village.

Nowadays, the craft beer scene is really taking off.  Coast Mountain Brewing opened its doors in Function Junction in the summer of 2016, Pemberton has welcomed Pemberton Brewing Co. and The Beer Farmers, and Squamish hosts newcomers A-Frame Brewing and Backcountry Brewing.

A woman holding up an empty beer keg peers into the camera outside a lodge on Whistler or Blackcomb.  Whistler Question Collection.

New flavours keep emerging, sometimes on a weekly basis.  Locals have been adamant in their support for our local craft breweries, and local breweries have paid tribute to our local culture with beer names like ‘Death Before Download Pale Ale’, ‘Hazy Trail Pale Ale’, ‘Gaper Juice Hazy Session Ale’, and ‘Lifty Lager’.  The community has a strong advocate in our breweries, and our early innovation in the craft brew scene has provided some absolutely delicious après sessions along the way.  But don’t take our word for it – check our these local breweries for yourself!

The Dangers of Cycling in Whistler

Over the last week or so, the Whistler Museum hosted various events as part of our fourth annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week, including a Post-Toonie Retro Bike Show & Shine, a bike maintenance course, a film screening of Ride to the Hills, and talks on the Cheakamus Challenge and bike manufacturing in Whistler.  We’d like to thank everyone who helped with this year’s Mountain Bike Heritage week and all of our amazing sponsors.  With all of this going, it’s no surprise that biking got a little stuck in our heads.

Usually when we discuss the history of mountain biking, we look at events, races and the growing popularity of the sport.  Reading through press clippings from the Squamish Citizen and the Whistler Question from the 1980s, however, a large portion of the reporting on biking covers accidents, injuries and growing concerns for safety.

Constable F. Pinnock runs through the bike safety testing course that he and Constable Gabriel of Pemberton set up at Myrtle Philip Elementary. Contrary to the advise of medical professionals, Pinnock seems to have forgotten to put on a helmet.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

A July 1986 article in the Citizen reported on two separate accidents two days apart, both of which caused serious injuries.  In one, a Whistler resident and a Maple Ridge resident collided on the bike path along Nita Lake, resulting in a broken hand and possible concussion for the Maple Ridge resident.  The other claimed that a resident of North Vancouver “lost control of her rented bicycle and careened into a tree,” causing a broken leg and another possible concussion.  Both injured parties were transported to Vancouver.

The RCMP received many complaints of bikers not following the rules of the road and particularly urged riders to carry lights when riding in the dark.  In June 1987, a cyclist was reported to have struck an unidentified object while riding on Highway 99 and was transported to Vancouver for surgery for sever facial injuries.  In an effort to encourage the use of lights, the RCMP began ticketing cyclists who didn’t have any, many of whom were shocked to receive a $75 fine.

By May 1987, it would seem bike accidents were so numerous in Whistler that the Whistler Ambulance Chief Jeff Sopel made a statement appealing to cyclists to “use common sense when using the Valley Trail.”  Part of his appeal included a call to wear helmets and to be aware of their location in case an ambulance had to be called.

These helmets look suspiciously like they may also be used when skiing. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The Whistler Medical Clinic, then located in the basement of Municipal Hall, saw quite a bit of business from cyclists over the summer of 1987.  Dr. Ron Stanley collected data from all the bicycle accidents that passed through the clinic between May and September and found that about 50 per cent of the accidents resulted in road lacerations or abrasions (also described as “Road rash – very painful”), 30 per cent caused head and/or facial injuries, 15 per cent resulted in fractures of some kind, 15 per cent of the injuries were serious enough to require a transfer to Vancouver, and 15 per cent of the accidents occurred while the rider was drunk or impaired.

According to Dr. Stanley, there was no obvious pattern to the incidents, which occurred all over Whistler on both roads and trails.  He echoed Sopel’s call, urging riders to use common sense and wear helmets, also adding that wearing adequate clothing (such as shirts, shoes and gloves) would help prevent road rash and noted that the majority of serious injuries occurred when the rider was impaired.

Bike decorating contests for the children of Whistler often accompanied the safety demonstrations put on by the RCMP. Even ET made an appearance. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Mountain biking as a sport and bike safety in general have come a long way in the decades since the 1980s (as has the Whistler Medical Clinic, which moved out of the basement and into its current facility in 1994).  One thing we’ve learned from talking about biking all week, however, is that the advise of Sopel and Dr. Stanley still applies today: use common sense and wear your helmet.

Talking Shop: Whistler’s Early Mountain Bike Shops

Not only do we have a trail-rich valley to call home in Whistler, but we are also spoiled with choice when it comes to bike shops.  This wasn’t always the case.

When mountain bikes first hit the logging roads in the valley in the early 1980s, most riders had to head to Vancouver for any mountain-bike-specific parts and maintenance, according to one or our oral history interviews with local mountain bike pioneer Steve Anderson.

Mountain biking steadily became more popular in Whistler from the 1980s but at the beginning there were few shops dedicated to the sport.  Whistler Question Collection.

A couple of shops were starting to pop up around that time.  In the newly constructed village Jim McConkey’s shop sold bikes in the summer months and Doris Burma operated a small bike shop, Summit Cycles, out of a trailer right above the commercial loading zone at the Delta Mountain Inn (today known as the Hilton).  Doris was passionate about mountain bikes and famed for her Cheakamus Challenge precursor race called “See Colours & Puke,” a wild mountain bike race reportedly meant to be completed on mushrooms.

In the autumn of 1985 Backroads Whistler owner Eric Wight opened a bike shop  in the basement of Creekside’s Southside Diner.  A short time later, the shop moved to the first floor of a house in Mons.

The new location was in the centre of the local mountain bike scene at the time, not far from new trails in Emerald and Lost Lake.  The shop sold, fixed, and rented mountain bikes, even building a small trials track outside their door.  Eric admits the shops didn’t make much money in the early days, as most of the clientele were locals who could only afford parts using “local deals.”  Big things were to come, however.

Whistler began hosting bike races in the early 1980s, creating even more demand for maintenance and shops.  Whistler Question Collection.

In 1989 Eric’s shop moved to Whistler Village, finding a spot in the base of the Delta.  The location was off the radar for visitors, however, and the clientele was still all locals.  The shop finally surfaced on the Village Stroll in the spot where Jim McConkey had sold bikes (currently Showcase Snowboards) around the time Backroads began working with Whistler Mountain to begin mountain bike tours down the mountain.  According to Eric, the new shop had a Santa Fe theme, a mechanic shop in the back, rentals and tours, and plenty of snazzy lycra on sale out front.

As mountain biking continued gaining traction the 1990s saw bike shops that are still kicking it today start up shop.

In 1994 John Inglis and Peter Colapinto opened the Whistler Bike Co., also in the underground portion of the Delta, for the summer months.  In 1995 they brought onboard Giant Bicycles and they eventually expanded to Pemberton, the Village Gate location, and, most recently, their Marketplace location to accommodate a growing population of bikers in town.

Molson’s Whistler Bike Race passes through the Whistler Village, where some of the earlier bike shops in town can still be found today.  Whistler Question Collection.

Bike Co. is currently the oldest independent bike shop in town, followed closely by Evolution, which was opened by Jenine Bourbonnais in 1995.  Many more mountain bike shops have opened up as Whistler has become the mountain bike mecca it is today: Summit Sports, Fanatyk Co., Garbanzo Bike & Bean, Coastal Culture Sports, Arbutus Routes, Whistler Village Sports, The Fix, Comor Sports, Fineline, Gateway Bikes – the list is long and continues to grow.  Needless to say, Whistler’s mountain bikers (and their bikes) are now very well serviced.

This week we’ve been celebrating Whistler’s mountain biking history with the museum’s 4th annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week.  You can find a full list of events here and join us for our final event on Wednesday featuring Chris Allen of North Shore Billet and Steve Mathews of Vorsprung.

Whistler’s First Adventure Film Festival

In 1986, Whistler held its first Whistler Adventure Film Festival (WAFF), an event not all that different from the Whistler Film Festival’s sixth annual Adventure Film Series that takes place on the Victoria Day weekend in May as part of GO Fest. (The museum also ran some Valley of Dreams Walking Tours and a Discover Nature station as part of the festival; if you missed us, our Valley of Dreams and nature tours all start up again daily June 1 and Discover Nature will be back at Lost Lake for July and August!).

Often when films arrive at the museum, they look a bit like this.

The WAFF was co-sponsored by the Whistler Resort Association (today known as Tourism Whistler) and organized by One Step Beyond Adventure Group of Canmore, Alta., which also organized the Banff Festival of Mountain Films (today known as the Banff Mountain Film Festival) at that time.  Set to take place over the third weekend of November, WAFF was timed to excite attendees for the coming winter season and the adventures that might await them.

The films selected featured various “adventure activities” including skiing, white-water sports and climbing expeditions.  In total, the festival screened 11 films over two days, with a reception on the Friday evening featuring David Breashears.

In 1985, Breashears became the first American to summit Mount Everest more than once, having already completed the climb in 1983.  By the time he appeared at the WAFF, he had already won an Emmy for an ABC Sports special Triumph on Mt. Everest, which featured the first videotape microwave transmission from the summit.  According to the Squamish Citizen, at the opening reception Breashears was going to show a selection of his film accomplishments as well as talking about his career and the search for Mallory and Irvine, who disappeared during their 1924 Everest expedition.  Following his talk was a screening of Everest – North Wall, Laszlo Pal’s account of the 1982 American China-Everest Expedition narrated by Robert Redford.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our “Filming Mountains” presenters from 2013, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

Over the next two days, the WAFF screened more films, including three on sailing, an Irish film Beyond the North Wind about the 1981 Irish Arctic Expedition to Northern Ellesmere Island, a CBC/BBC collaboration Hell and High Water documenting a kayak and raft adventure through the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, and To the End of the Earth, a film recording the exploits of the Trans-Globe Expedition.  Two of the New Zealand ski films shown at the WAFF, Incredible Mountains and Across the Main Divide, are available for viewing today online at NZ On Screen.

The WAFF does not appear to have been long lived as we can find no evidence of it in our research binders after 1986.  Today, however, there are plenty of opportunities to view adventure films in Whistler.  The Whistler Film Festival‘s Adventure Series each spring features many of the same sports and adventures that could be seen in 1986, though some have evolved over time.

You can even catch some of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Whistler each February, brought to town by Escape Route.  Since it began in 1976, the festival has grown to include a World Tour in which a selection of the best films from the festival go out on tour in approximately 305 cities in over 20 different countries.