Category Archives: Skiing

Paul Burrows’ Early Years in Whistler

This past September we were lucky enough to welcome Paul Burrows, founder of the Whistler Question in 1976, to the museum to talk about the early days of the paper.

The stories he told of The Question then are amazing, but while looking through our collection of oral histories we came across an interview Paul did with Whistler Cable nearly 20 years ago in which he described his early days in Whistler, back when it was still known as Alta Lake.

Paul first arrived in Canada in 1960 on a flight that hopped from London to Scotland to Iceland to Greenland to Newfoundland to Toronto.  He came west because “that was the place to be” and he and his friends started skiing.  It was thanks to some bumps and twists on the mountains that he first met and became friends with members of ski patrol in Vancouver.  They soon heard about a new ski area in Alta Lake and in 1965 Paul came up by train to take a look.

When Paul Burrows first came to the area Whistler Mountain was still under construction. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The second time he came up he was with a group in a Volkswagen and they brought their skis.  It was August.  As Paul recalled, “we put our skis on our back and walked up through the trees and we walked right up the west ridge of Whistler and we peered over the edge of Whistler Bowl and then we got to see them building the chairlifts on the Red Chair and cutting the ski runs.  So then we skied down and we got mixed up and ended up on a cliff and we got stuck there for a while.”  The group did eventually make it down the mountain.

Bill Southcott and Paul Burrows sport snow beards after a few run on Whistler in the 1970s. Whistler Question Collection.

In 1966 Paul returned as a member of the brown-jacketed ski patrol for the season before leaving to work for the ski patrol in Aspen for a year.  When he returned he got a job working on the pro patrol alongside Murray Coates and Hugh Smythe.  In his words, “It was pretty hairy.  We got buried a lot.  The safety procedures we used to knock avalanches down and everything else would not be tolerated today.  We didn’t even talk about the WCB.”

During this time Paul, like quite a few other “residents” at the time, was squatting.  He rented a 15-foot trailer from a place in Richmond for the season for $550 and parked in a lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The trailer was put up on bricks, insulation was installed beneath it and plywood was put around it and the trailer became home to six or seven people.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980, a decade after the trailer took up residence.. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With no electricity or water the wash facilities in the day lodge came in very useful, as did a trusty oil lamp.  According to Paul, “I would shut all the doors and windows and you’re in there but the trouble is you keep running out of air.  So when you had a party in there in the winter and there were guys in there you kept running out of air.  So if you had this little oil lamp cranked up, it was a bit like the miner’s lamp, when the light started to flicker and go out you knew you had to open the door and let some more air in.”  Condensation was also an issue in the trailer.  Condensation build up could freeze the doors and windows shut and the lamp would then be used to melt one’s way out of the trailer in the morning.

After that season Paul again left Whistler, this time for Grouse and then work in the printing business.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created.

In 1971 Paul married Jane and when she was offered a job teaching in Pemberton the pair moved back to Whistler, staying in their Alpine A-frame until 2000.

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This Week in Photos

As it’s the beginning of a new year, we thought we’d share some photos from the beginnings of some other years in Whistler’s past.  From the mundane to the more historic, we’ve collected a few shots of six new years in Whistler.  All photos come from the Whistler Question and were taken or published in the first week of January.

1979

Cold temperatures created perfect temperatures for outdoor skating.  Here we have a hockey game on quite an impressive looking rink.

Creekside was a pretty busy place with cars taking up most of the available space during the days.

Rocky the Raccoon pays his nightly visit through the hole in the rock at the Whistler Vale bar.

One for the road! Highways’ gravel truck being rescued out of the ditch by Wayside Park on Sunday, January 7.

1980

Bill and Lillian Vander Zalm engaging in a friendly snowball fight during their visit to Whistler.

A busy moment at the intersection in Creekside with the ski traffic filling the highway.

The snow was looking pretty good for the new year!

Whistler children enjoy a performance by Officer O’Sneely and giants in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

1981

Highway 99 shows the effects of rampant flooding. Turbulent waters carved a new creek bed for a hundred yards.

One of two destroyed power lines when flood waters washed out footings south of the Tisdale Hydro Station.

BCR Rutherford Creek crossing hangs by its rails after the December 26 flood washed away all supports and girders.

Pauline Wiebe hard at work checking the next edition of the Whistler Question.

1982

Willie Whistler poses with some young racers at the base of the village lifts.

They’re off! One of the groups starts in the ALSC X-Country race January 2.

The shelves at the grocery store were looking pretty empty after the holidays.

Two real longhorns – assistant manager Gavin Yee poses with manager Peter Grant.

Ski ballet made an appearance on the slopes with some impressive acrobatic feats.

1983

Sign bylaw is in, neon goes out. A municipal bylaw saw the end of neon signs in the Village.

A pensive Dave Murray checks out the application of new skiing techniques put to task by young members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club during the recent training camps.

Ready! Get Set! Go! The newest members of Alta Lake Sports Club are off and racing in a 400 metre cross-country event Sunday, January 2.

A Molson downhill race was held on Whistler Mountain, making the most of the snow.

Heavy apres ski traffic is masterfully channelled by parking attendant Nick Di Lalla on Sunday, January 2, in Whistler Village.

1985

New Year’s Eve saw a packed Village as crowds celebrated the countdown to 1985.

The celebrations for New Year’s Eve were overseen by Santa Claus, hanging around a bit later than expected.

The offices of the Whistler Question, where Kevin Griffin works tirelessly on despite interruptions.

The Whistler Singers perform under the direction of Molly Boyd.

And her son, Rob Boyd, walks down some stairs in the Whistler Village.

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.

Skiing Whistler Mountain Before the Resort

There aren’t too many people who got the chance to ski Whistler Mountain before the lifts were installed or the runs even cut, but this past week the Museum had a visit from two people who got to do just that.  Keith and Jane Horner sat down with our Collections Manager Alyssa for an oral history interview and recounted the times they spent in Whistler during the very early days of the mountain’s development.

Oral histories can be tricky because they do not often come with what some people call “proof”, that is documents, photos or other written reports that support what someone says.  The oral histories that we collect at the Museum are often people’s memories and reminisces of events that took place many years ago.

Jane Horner was born Jane Shakespeare, the third daughter of Jack Shakespeare, a chairman of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association and one of the original directors of the Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.  Jack was a friend of Franz Wilhelmsen and is believed to have been in the helicopter with Franz and Sidney Dawes while the Canadian representative of the IOC was selecting an appropriate mountain for Olympic development.  Her father’s involvement with the development of Whistler Mountain meant that Jane and Keith got to have some unique experiences before its opening in January 1966.

Franz Wilhelmsen was a friend of Jack Shakespeare. Both were involved in GODA and Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Although we do not appear to have any photos of Jack Shakespeare, we do have many of Franz.

The pair recalled two days in the early 1960s when a small group of about forty people skied Whistler with a man called Peter Bennett.  The first day was spent around the base of the mountain but the second day the group was taken up by helicopter to about where the t-bar would later be installed.  The skiing about the tree-line was incredible, but once the group reached the forest there was no trail and they had to create their own paths from tree to tree.  As Keith explained, there was a “huge variety” in the skiers’ ability; one skier ended up hanging upside down in a tree after getting caught in its branches and from top to bottom took one group member six hours.

Skiing this area before the t-bar took a lot longer for some in their group, especially once they hit the trees.

Keith and Jane both remember spending the Christmas of 1965 in Whistler as part of a group from Vancouver including Jane’s parents.  The gondola and chair had been installed by this time and Jack Shakespeare took a group up to Whistler to see the progress made on the mountain.  The group was staying at the newly built Cheakamus Inn when they got snowed in and ended up staying longer than expected.  Jack had meetings in Vancouver and tried to drive through the snow but had to abandon his car and come back for it weeks later.  This trip had not really been meant as a ski trip so the group found other ways to occupy their time while they waited out the snow.  The Cheakamus Inn made them welcome with a champagne breakfast and taught their guests to make hot buttered rum.  Bridge was also a popular pastime while snowed in.

Whistler has undergone quite a few changes since the early times Keith and Jane recall spending here, though I’m sure quite a few people in town wouldn’t mind getting snowed in during December.  Visits and oral histories like these provide great insight into a Whistler that can no longer be experienced.  Though we cannot guarantee that everything we are told is completely accurate (memories are rarely infallible), if you’ve got a tale you’d like to tell, please contact the Whistler Museum; we’d love to hear it!

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.

Whistler’s Very Own Easter Parade

This past weekend, with the Easter holidays, the closing events of WSSF, the Whistler Cup and still more snow on the mountains, there certainly wasn’t a lack of activities to occupy residents and visitors of any age.

Despite the snow, the Easter bunny put in an appearance on Blackcomb Mountain, 1982.

The Easter holidays have a history of being a busy weekend in Whistler.  In the 1970s the list of Easter activities offered by the Chamber of Commerce and Garibaldi Lifts was an impressive one for such a small town, including fireworks, Easter egg hunts and various skiing events such as skiing displays and obstacle and costume races.  Residents and visitors to the area alike could enjoy a torch light parade ending with a bonfire and hot dog roast in the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The weekend also included dancing and live entertainment at local establishments such as the Christiana Inn, L’Apres and the Mt Whistler Lodge.  For those who chose to attend, all Easter services were held at the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel on the mountain, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Easter services were held on the mountain in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Events varied from year to year.  Some years advertised prizes for an Easter Bonnet contest and in 1970 the Vancouver Garibaldi Olympic Committee was actively promoting a bid for the 1976 Olympics and used the popular weekend as an opportunity to get more people on board with a slide presentation on the bid at the Roundhouse.

The 1976 bid for the Winter Olympics was one of the most promising early bids put forward for Whistler.

One of the most popular events over the Easter weekend was Whistler’s own Easter Parade.  When thinking about parades in Whistler the first to come to mind is usually the annual community parade on Canada Day.  During the 1970s, however, the Easter Parade was not to be missed.

Traditionally an Easter parade was an informal and somewhat unorganized event in which people dressed in their new fashionable clothing in order to impress others.  Irving Berlin wrote “Easter Parade”, a popular song inspired by the Easter parade in New York, in 1933 and a film by the same name starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland was later constructed around the song in 1948.

Though the Easter Parade in Whistler may not have been designed to showcase anyone’s new finery, it did include carefully thought out floats and some illustrious leaders.  In 1971 the 52 floats were led by Miss Vancouver Ardele Hollins, Miss PNE Judy Stewart and members of the RCMP.  The following year the parade was led by none other than then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Coral Robinson, Pierre Trudeau and Dennis Therrien at the Easter Parade in 1972 sitting in a security detail car.

Whistler’s parade was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  Interested parties were told to “plan a float, come as a marching group, or just get dressed up in a crazy costume and join the fun.  The more the merrier!”  Community groups and local businesses, as well as individuals, created elaborate floats and costumes such as the Jolly Green Giant and the original gondola.  The 1974 parade was captured on film by the Petersens and can now be watched on our YouTube channel as part of the Petersen Film Collection along with other unique moments in Whistler’s history.