Category Archives: Ski-Town Stories

From Whistler to Blackcomb to Whistler Blackcomb.

Whistler’s Most Unpredictable Race

The Great Snow Earth Water Race was one of the many events that took place over the Victoria Day long weekend in Whistler during the 1970s and 1980s. The event contributed to the influx of tourists that arrived every May to participate in the festivities. The race was created by Bryan Walhovd in 1975 as a community event aimed at attracting all skill levels.

The event took different shapes depending on the year, and was far from predictable. In some years, the race had a cross country skiing portion that required more team members, and in other years the race switched between Whistler and Blackcomb. The state of the course varied from year to year as well. In his interview with the museum, Bryan said that in the years he or other volunteers were unable to clear out the River of Golden Dreams prior to the race, it was like an obstacle course for the competitors. Similarly, he said that some years competitors complained about the unruly state of the trails for the running segment.

When the first race took place in 1975, there were over twenty teams competing. Every team had to include both men and women. While the race was never known for its regulations, in its first year there were remarkably few. The first year, the only requirement was that competitors reach the bottom of the ski hill with all of their ski equipment, but once the snow ended, how they got down the mountain was entirely up to them. The lack of regulations led to all kinds of opportunistic tactics. A few enterprising teams even used things like trucks and motorbikes to get the skiers to the exchange point. Needless to say, after the first year a rule was added that competitors had to get down the mountain on their own two feet.

Skiing segment of the Great Earth Snow Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

In only a few years the number of teams competing had nearly tripled; by 1978 over sixty teams competed in the race (only fifty-eight completed it), and from there the race continued to grow and attract larger and further reaching audiences. The races were full of mishaps and complications. Due to lack of government involvement, navigating traffic during the cycling portion could be quite complicated, and one year the Whistler Question referred to this endeavour as “an interesting experience.”

Competitors in the cycling segment of the Great Snow Earth Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

As the race became more notorious, by necessity it also became more organized. By the 1990s, matters of logistics and insurance made the race increasingly difficult to execute, and it came to an end.

The Great Snow Earth Water Race took place at the same time as Mayday Madness, a series of events organized by the Chamber of Commerce for community members and tourists. Local sentiment toward the festivities of the long weekend was similar to what we see today: some looked forward to the fun-filled weekend, while others braced for what they saw as inevitable chaos. The events were geared toward different age groups, and some were more family friendly than others. They included everything from wind-surfing to belly flop contests to mini-marathons and family sports.

Belly flop competition at the Christiana Inn. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

If you are interested in learning more about the race, the Whistler Museum recently hosted a virtual speaker series with some of the original competitors and organizers, and a recording of the event can be found here.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Summer and Races at the Whistler Museum

For many, the month of May signals either the end of the ski season or the beginning of the summer season in Whistler, or possibly both. In the 1950s and early 1960s, this change of season was marked by the first dance of the season at the Alta Lake Community Hall. As the area began to be known for skiing rather than its summer activities, other kinds of events became more common such as races and competitions.

Canoeists prepare for their part in the exciting ninth annual Great Snow, Earth, Water Race. Although the weather was great Sunday and Monday, Saturday was a damp one and it actually snowed on Tuesday. Whistler Question Collection.

In May of 1975, Bryan Walhovd organized a race that would become a long-running springtime staple in Whistler: the Great Snow Earth Water Race. When it began, the four stages of the relay race were skiing, cycling, canoeing and running. The teams of five were required to have at least one woman on each team. The race started on Whistler Mountain, where skiers raced to the end of the snow and then had to make their way down to the gondola base in today’s Creekside, ensuring that they still had their skis and boots with them. From there, the baton was passed to a cyclist who rode to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams to pass the baton to the two canoeists. Canoes then travelled across Alta Lake to pass the baton to the team’s runner for the final leg of the race back to the gondola base.

Whenever conversations turn to the Great Snow Earth Water Race, those who have participated invariably describe how much they enjoyed the experience. The first years of the race did not have many rules, leading to inventive ways of getting around the course and memorable stories featuring motorcycles, trucks, and even downloading in the gondola with varying degrees of success. It would appear that the race made a lasting impression on those who attended, whether they were running down Whistler Mountain with ski boots around their neck or watching the chaos of the canoes.

It was no easy task, but for the second year in a row Stoney’s team walked away with first-place honours in the Great Waters Race. (L to R) Dave Murray, Jinny Ladner, Ken Hardy, Lisa Nicholson and Brian Allen. Whistler Question Collection.

To find out more about the race and those who raced in it, the Whistler Museum has added an extra event to our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series this evening (Tuesday, May 25). We’ll be speaking with Bryan Walhovd, Nancy Greene Raine, Trudy Alder, and others to learn more about this race that is remembered so fondly.

While this will be the last event of our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series (we will be hosting April’s postponed event on freestyle skiing at a later yet-to-be-determined date), we are busy at the museum preparing for an exciting summer. Our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour will run daily through July and August, with the same precautions and restrictions that we introduced last year. Crafts in the Park, a partner program with the Whistler Public Library, will also return this summer in a remote format. Thanks to Young Canada Works, we’ll have help with our programs and museum operations in the form of two student employees.

You can find out more about upcoming programs and events and the latest museum updates at whistlermuseum.org.

The White Gold Estate That Isn’t

By the early 1970s, various developments had begun to appear in the Whistler area spurred on by the growing success of Whistler Mountain. Some of these projects can still be found in the valley today, but many of the developments started in the late 1960s and early 1970s never realized the entirety of the developers’ plans; the original plans for both Adventures West and Tamarisk called for far more units and facilities than can be seen today (Tamarisk was meant to include over 400 units and a “condo-lodge” that would contain a cocktail lounge and dining facilities). Another development that would look very different if the full plans had been constructed is the neighbourhood of White Gold.

According to a pamphlet in the archives, the Ambassador Development Corporation of Canada Ltd. (ADCC) was planning to build “a whole new community.” When first promoted, The White Gold Estate was to include large cabin lots, condominiums, a shopping area and a hotel complex spread over 172 acres. The developers claimed that they would keep a large portion of the natural setting intact, “retaining as much of the park-like landscape as possible.” The serviced cabin lots were described as being planned “very carefully” to leave as many trees as possible untouched, both to create a “serene” atmosphere and to guarantee privacy for the owners.

The floor plans for condos planned for The White Gold Estates. Brown Collection.

A number of these lots had already been sold by the 1970s, with some cabins already under construction. In the fall of 1970 an advertisement in Garibaldi’s Whistler News offered lease-to-purchase lots with a deposit of $250 and three-bedroom cabins available from $16,800. That winter it was reported that Nancy Greene and Al Raine hoped to be settling into their new cabin in White Gold in the new year and by 1972 it was not uncommon to see houses in White Gold advertised for rent or sale.

While some roads and cabin lots were constructed, other parts of ADCC’s plans never came to fruition. The White Gold Estates plans included a commercial area of shops off of Highway 99 near the existing Ski Boot Lodge Motel that opened in 1970. Luxury one and two-bedroom condos were to be constructed, for which a “qualified management staff” would be provided to look after the units during the owners’ absence or even handle arrangements to rent out units for owners. According to a map included in the ADCC’s pamphlet, an artificial lake was proposed in the middle of what today is protected wetlands. Along with the lots that make up today’s White Gold, cabin lots would have extended from Fitzsimmons Creek to Highway 99 and even onto the other side of the highway.

This map shows the planned lots for The White Gold Estates. The yellow appear to be cabin lots, extending beyond today’s streets through the protected wetlands by Fitzsimmons Creek and even across Highway 99. Brown Collection.

There is not much information in the archives about the ADCC or why their plans for The White Gold Estate were not completed. It appears that the company was dissolved by 1979, though it is unclear why. By the mid-1970s, however, the ADCC had completed the four roads that currently make up White Gold: Nancy Greene Dr. (fittingly named for one of the neighbourhood’s early residents), Toni Sailer Ln. (the Toni Sailer Ski Camps had been operating for several summers by that time), Fitzsimmons Rd. (running parallel to Fitzsimmons Creek), and Ambassador Crescent (presumably named for the development company that built it). Like other projects from that time, the development that we find in White Gold today is only a part of what was envisioned by early investors in the Whistler valley.

According to the ADCC, this development was “only the beginning.” Brown Collection.

The Inn on the Lake

At the Whistler Museum we often hear stories about the lodges that used to be plentiful around Alta Lake (as well as Nita Lake) from people who worked, stayed, partied or even lived at one sometime between the 1930s and 1980s. Some of the lodges, like the Mount Whistler Lodge, began as summer resorts before skiing was really thought of in the area, while others, such as the Christiana Inn, were part of the increase in development that started with the building of lifts on Whistler Mountain.

Sandy and Puddy Martin, who developed much of the Alta Vista neighbourhood, opened the Christiana Inn on the eastern shore of Alta Lake in 1967. They reportedly named their new venture after a similarly named lodge in Sun Valley, ID. The Christiana facilities included a heated outdoor swimming pool, a beauty salon, gift shop, lounge area, and dining room. Located only five minutes from the lifts on Whistler Mountain and offering many activities around the lake, the Christiana catered to both winter and summer guests.

Though it says the Christiana Inn is closed to the public, this is one of the few images in our collections that shows the building from the front. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

In the late 1960s, the Martins added on to the Christiana with a tennis court, a poolside dining and dancing area, and even a second dining room. The Christiana hosted fashion shows, dances, public meetings, apres ski entertainment, and films, and even offered a free bus service for guests in the ski season. Over time, the pool was covered with a fiberglass roof in the winter and was opened to guests not staying at the Christiana for a nominal fee (in 1973, this fee was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children).

Sandy and Puddy sold the Christiana Inn in the mid 1970s. In 1979 the management of the lodge was taken over by brothers Ole and Per Christiansen, who hoped to “gradually alter the Inn to a Bavarian atmosphere” and began offering traditional German fare in the restaurant (prepared by Swiss chef Pascal Tiphine) and advertising the Christiana alongside the “newly decorated” Side Door Disco.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

It would seem that it was during the mid-to-late 1970s that the Christiana Inn pool began to be known for belly flop and wet t-shirt contests. In May 1978 Brad Cooper wrote in The Whistler Question that “May 22 at the Christiana Inn will be well-remembered as the day over 20 people attempted to splash the most water out of a pool and live to tell about it.” He described hundreds of spectators crowding the pool area and watching from the roof and gave credit to the Christiana and organizers for a “wild but harmless event.”

The belly flop contest of 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Others did not find these contests quite as entertaining. In a letter to the editor of the Question in June 1979, T. Wood described the awards ceremony of the Great Snow Earth Water Race as “a fiasco at sleazy Christiana with wet T-shirts and belly flops, which require no talent.” They claimed one contestant from the race was even “pushed into the filthy Christiana pool.”

The pool at the Christiana also hosted other events, such as log rolling. Photo courtesy of David Lalik.

In March 1980 rumours claimed that the Christiana Inn had unexpectedly ceased operations, causing the Whistler Rotary Club to lunch at the Filling Station instead. The then-owners of the Christiana, Travelscope Hotels Ltd., reported that the lodge was still operating but that the management company that had been in charge was no longer operating the hotel (it appears that the management had left town while still owing money to their employees). The hotel and bar were still open, though the kitchen was temporarily closed due to a fire in the deep fryer.

The Christiana Inn also hosted the Freakers’ Ball after the first couple of years at the Mount Whistler Lodge. Bramfield Collection.

In May 1980 the Christiana reopened for the summer as the Alta Lake Inn, well-remembered for their restaurant which offered Chinese food and take-out. Later in the 1980s, the Alta Lake Inn closed as a resort and the property was converted into private condos, known today as Whistler on the Lake. Stories of the Christiana Inn, however, continue to be told throughout Whistler. If you have stories you would like to add to our records, let us know at the Whistler Museum.

The staff of the restaurant at the Alta Lake Inn, including Edmond Wong, Law, Tse, Kwang, Gilbert, Peni, Edmon, and Jeannie. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.