Category Archives: Ski-Town stories

Own a Piece of Mountain History

The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Whistler Museum & Archives Society are offering the chance to own a piece of Whistler’s mountain history this February with the sale of trail signs from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Over 250 unique signs will be available for purchase online at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com Thursday, February 7 at 10 AM PST.  These signs previously directed skiers and boarders down their favourite runs and include a variety of trails, lifts and logos.  Whether you favoured Jimmy’s Joker or Pony Trail, there’s sure to be a sign to bring back memories of days spent in the snow.

Signs range from $20 to $250, depending upon condition.  Purchased signs will be available for pick up at the Whistler Museum February 9, 10 & 14 only.

All proceeds from the sales go to support the work of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Whistler Museum & Archives Society.  A selection of signs will be retained in the Whistler Museum’s artifact collection.

The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation is dedicated to providing financial support to registered non-profit organizations whose activities provide benefit to residents of the Sea to Sky Corridor in the areas of health, human services, education, recreation, arts and culture and the environment with an emphasis on children, youth and family programs.

The Whistler Museum & Archives Society works to collect, preserve, document and interpret the natural and human history of mountain life – with an emphasis on Whistler – and to provide a forum in which to present an innovative range of exhibitions and education programs to enrich the lives of residents and guests.

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What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the journey.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum.  $10 or $5 for Museum or Club Shred members.

Doors open at 6:30 pm; the talk and film begin at 7 pm.

The Holiday Season in Whistler

The holiday season has always been a hectic time in Whistler, as so much energy is spent welcoming and entertaining guests.  The Village Stroll looks magical at this time of year, with the lights glowing on the trees and the snow falling through the air.

Scanning through our archives, photos from many collections show that Christmas has been a major production in the area dating back to Rainbow Lodge in the 1920s.  Alex and Myrtle Philip, the owners and proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, were renowned hosts and pulled out all the stops at Christmas to entertain visitors and residents around Alta Lake.

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.  Philip Collection.

While we have only a few photos of the interior of Rainbow Lodge during this era, the Philip Collection includes images of the main lodge with a decorated tree and streamers and the dining room set for Christmas dinner.

Other holiday photos from Alta Lake include the Woods family in the snow with party hats and a New Year’s Eve dance at the community hall (also the Alta Lake School) in 1937.

New Year’s Eve celebrations at the community hall for 1937.  Philip Collection.

Dances at the community hall were remembered fondly by Bob Williamson, a lineman working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1930s.  As he recalled, “This was the Hungry Thirties.  Not very many locals were earning much money but many pleasant evenings were spent in this hall in the wintertime… The only cost for the evening was to buy the coffee and that was raised by donations of 10 to 25 cents from those who could afford it.  Alex Philip made the coffee in Granitewood Gallon Coffee pots.  It was excellent coffee.”

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

As skiing developed in the valley, winter and the holiday season got busier.  The Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection includes photos of a skiing Santa, ski instructors dressed up as reindeer and Seasons Greetings from Whistler Mountain.

The so-called “ski bums” got into the holiday spirit as well.  Over the past few months Angelus Chouinard has been working on digitizing the complete George Benjamin Collection and we have found some gems showing Christmas dinner being prepared at the first infamous Toad Hall in 1969.

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969!  Benjamin Collection.

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, Whistler Mountain ski patroller and current Whistler Museum Board President, reflected fondly on those days:

Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old ‘Master Climax’ wood stove.  One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.  We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them.  While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.

Many such treasures have been found while digitizing the George Benjamin Collection.  George Benjamin first came to Whistler to ski in 1968 and moved to the area in 1970.  He and John Hetherington co-owned Tokum Corners, a roughly made cabin with no electricity or running water, and lived there with Rod MacLeod into the early 1980s.  George was a semi-professional photographer and, as his family in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, was able to develop his photographs for free.  There are over 8000 images included in the George Benjamin Collection, spanning from his first visit in 1968 to 1991.

To view more of the photos mentioned here, check out our Smugmug page here and keep an eye out for more photos from the George Benjamin Collection to be added in the New Year!

We hope everyone enjoys their holiday season and wish all of you a Happy New Year!

This Week In Photos: December 20

Somehow, we’ve only got one more week of This Week In Photos left after this one.  Though the year seems to have passed alarmingly quickly, we’ve really enjoyed sharing photos from The Whistler Question with you each week.  Be sure to take a look through past weeks – you never know if there’s something (or someone) you missed!

1978

The season’s first skiers lining up to buy tickets on Friday.

One of the first gondolas full of skiers to go up the mountain this year.

Santa is surrounded by children at the school concert.

Betty Shore shares a joke with Santa after the concert.

1979

The ruler measures 28 cm! After the storm on Thursday, December 13, before it turned to rain.

At the Ski Club Benefit Evening, a smiling group enjoys themselves…

… and auctioneer Paul Burrows looks for bids on a Salomon cap.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.

Mechanical failure causes the School Bus to go off the road last week – there were no children on board.

4:30 PM at the Husky intersection on a busy, snowy evening.

1980

An unusual sight on Whistler – aerial view of skiers lining up at the mid station loading on the Green Chair – Friday, December 19.

Latest aerial view of Whistler Village – December 19, 1980.

Santa’s helpers pass out goodies at Signal Hill School in Pemberton.

After a dramatic arrival by helicopter, Santa is mobbed at the Rainbow Ski Village Saturday as he tries to distribute candy canes.

New sign at the entrance to the Village has proved very helpful to both visitors and residents. The only problem is the wrong spelling of Whistler’s first lady – it should be Philip.

Big puddle formed quickly at the northern entrance to Blackcomb Estates after rain started and warm temperatures melted the past week’s heavy snowfall.

1981

Make-up time for moms and dads and kids before curtain call for the Myrtle Philip School play.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.

Hats off to Peter’s Underground. Peter Skoros and crew gave a tip of the old hat at the lively opening of Peter’s Underground Sunday, December 20. Cordon Rouge, prime rib and a roomful of laughter highlighted the evening. Located under Tapley’s, Peter’s Underground promises good food at very reasonable prices 21.5 hours a day (open 6 am – 3:30 am) seven days a week.

Gerry Frechette gets a hand fro Sylvan Ferguson in erecting the parking meter stand.

1982

No, this young man is not a practitioner of the latest foot fetishes. He’s fitting WMSC General Manager Peter Alder with a new pair of boots from McConkey’s Ski Shop. (By the way, Peter’s old boots were just that – old. They fastened with laces.)

Nick Gibbs, Stoney’s chef, went all out with his culinary talents and produced this appetizing creation from a 40 lb. salmon donated by the Grocery Store. It was part of a huge “indoor picnic” for participants in the All Cal Winter Carnival.

Susan Christopher helps a sheep into costume before the school play.

Publisher Paul Burrows and his wife Jane prior to a well-earned visit to the Caribbean.

1984

Michele Bertholet is the head chef at Pika’s (pronounced Peeka’s), Whistler Mountain’s new restaurant adjacent the Roundhouse. The facility, which is licensed to seat 400 persons, had its official opening Friday. The 8,300 sq. ft. restaurant, designed by architect Lee Bruch and engineer Jon Paine, cost about $600,000 to construct including more than $150,000 in kitchen equipment. Bertholet and his staff will now be able to provide freshly baked pastries, rolls and buns daily as well as hearty meals such as Baron of Beef and chilli. As well, the new restaurant features a custom sandwich bar. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation named the restaurant Pika’s, a small rock rabbit commonly found through the high alpine regions of North America, after a contest that drew 300 entries. Whistler residents Ms. Lori Mitchell and Mr. Peter Pritt were the winners and will split the grand prize so that each will receive $100 as well as a $50 gift certificate from Dusty’s Cantina. Coincidentally, the name also fits a former mountain resident of a slightly larger form: Jessica Hare. Jessica lived in Whistler Mountain’s alpine residence for four of her five years and gained the nickname Pika.

The North Shore Community Credit Union moved across the square to its new 1,300 sq. ft. premises Sunday. The bureau, an 8,500 fund safe and other banking equipment had to be moved by truck from the old location to the new. Carpenters and electricians worked nearly around the clock Sunday and Monday to be ready for business as usual Tuesday. They made deadline.

Sunshine Jim entertained about more than 100 Whistler youngsters Saturday afternoon before the kids were visited by Santa Claus. Sunshine Jim sang a series of songs including Scooter the Car and Porky the Raccoon who, even though traditional enemies, became friends. The event was sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club and was held in the Myrtle Philip School lunchroom.

Five-year-old Paul Vance shares Santa’s knee with his brother, six-month-old John.

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

Everything is Connected

You never know when you’ll find a connection in Whistler’s history between two seemingly unrelated subjects.  A recent donation to the museum showed an unexpected connection between the Chateau Whistler Resort and the topic of last week’s post, Toad Hall.

While clearing out some offices, staff at the Chateau came across a large book full of press clippings dating from 1987 to 1993.  This book was donated to the museum and provides a pretty comprehensive picture of the proposal, development and opening of the Chateau Whistler Resort, as well as Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Village and the resort in general (it even includes an article on the historical bus tours that used to run in Whistler).

From the contents, the book appears to have been compiled by Debbie Williamson, then the director of sales at the Chateau.

In 1987, when the clippings begin, Intrawest Properties Ltd. was actively developing the 254-acre (103-hectare) site at the base of Blackcomb, now known as the Benchlands.  As part of this larger development, Canadian Pacific Hotels had plans to build what would become Whistler’s biggest hotel.

The Chateau Whistler Resort in 1996, after the addition of 221 rooms and the well-known Macdonald Ballroom. Whistler Question Collection.

With a budget of $50 million, the Chateau Whistler Resort was to include a ballroom, banquet room, meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, six tennis courts (including two covered courts), a dining room, restaurant and a 200-seat discotheque, all scheduled to be open for the 1989-90 ski season.  An 18-hole golf course was also to be built, though it was not expected to open until the summer of 1990.

The Chateau Whistler Resort was officially given council’s conceptual approval in August 1987.  Despite some problems with the asphalt tiles of the roof (John MacKenzie, in the Whistler Question, thought that “The roof looks like it was designed by Jimi Hendrix, with the mottled green and white”), the Chateau was ready to open on schedule in November 1989, with almost everything from the original plans (unfortunately there was no discotheque).

The Chateau’s opening on November 17 was well covered by The Province, and it is here that the connection between the grand hotel and Toad Hall appears.  The first guest to be presented a key by general manager Dave Roberts was a Mrs. Winnifred Mather Hillman, who was given the stay at the hotel as a surprise birthday gift by her husband Charles.  Charles Hillman (as mentioned in last week’s article) was the owner of the first Toad Hall, a house originally built by Alf Gebhart.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

The clipping continue on until 1993, including a piece from August 1990 about the issue of the roof.  There had been concerns about the use of asphalt tiles instead of slate or another material from the beginning, and council was not too happy with the resulting “mottled green colour”.  The Chateau had been ordered to re-shingle, but the process was deferred and the hotel was later given the option of paying a “fine” of $140,000 to be used for community projects instead.

The museum would like to thank the Chateau for their donation.  If you find a piece of Whistler’s history while clearing out an old office, garage or attic come visit us at the museum.