Category Archives: Skiing

George Benjamin’s Candid Whistler

The Whistler Museum’s archive houses many documents, printed material, films, oral histories, and photographs from Whistler’s rich cultural past, from the arrival of Whistler’s earliest pioneers to the journey of hosting the Olympic Games.  It’s a treasure trove of interesting facts and unique stories that are unapologetically Whistler.

One of the first major collections I (Brad Nichols, Executive Director/Curator) catalogued while working in the archives as an intern at the Whistler Museum in the summer of 2011 was the George Benjamin photograph collection.

George Benjamin, originally from Toronto, Ontario, first came to Whistler in 1968 on a ski vacation, staying at the infamous Toad Hall.  George, on “Benji,” as he was more commonly known, would move to Whistler in 1970.

George was a semi-professional photographer.  His family back in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, and this allowed him to develop his photographs for free – a handy asset in the days before digital photography.

George Benjamin himself holds his catch at the dock of Tokum Corners. Benjamin Collection.

The George Benjamin Collection consists of 8,236 images from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.  Photos in the collection include images of early Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol, Soo Valley Toad Hall, Gelandesprung ski jump competitions, summer days spent at many of Whistler’s lakes, parties, and everyday shots of living and working in Whistler.  This might be the most candid representation of Whistler during this era in our collection.

Photos don’t usually get more candid than this. Benjamin Collection.

Folks living in Whistler during this time would have had more in common with Whistler’s early-20th century pioneers than with the Whistler of today.  Many residents were still using outhouses, had little-to-no electricity, and relied on wood stoves for their cooking needs.  George’s photos capture this pioneer lifestyle, but with the added element of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s – and, of course, people that loved to ski.

George’s residence in Whistler was the infamous Tokum Corners.  This cabin – which was once home to Whistler Museum Board Chair John Hetherington, had no running water, and was often repaired with found materials – would become one of the cornerstones of social life in the valley.

Tokum Corners, as seen across the tracks in 1971. Benjamin Collection.

George, who had access to 16mm film equipment, would often shoot on Whistler Mountain, capturing his days following ski patrol blasting and partaking in avalanche control.  These film vignettes would be screened at Tokum Corners, usually with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing over top to ever-growing crowds.

The Photocell, covered in snow. Benjamin Collection.

George opened the Photo Cell photography store in Creekside around 1973.

He later became a commercial fisherman in the late-1970s.  He moved from Whistler back to Toronto in the early 1980s and now lives in Port Perry, Ontario.

George generously donated his collection of photographs and negatives to the museum in 2009.  The bulk of George Benjamin’s photos are available on the Whistler Museum’s website here.

If you  have any interesting stories, films, or photographs from Whistler’s past, we would love to hear from you.

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Remembering Whistler’s Downhill World Cups

This year marks a few important anniversaries for ski racing on Whistler Mountain: it has been 40 years since the ski hill almost hosted the World Cup in 1979 before it was cancelled due to weather and safety concerns, and it is 30 years since Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup downhill event on Canadian soil.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Whistler Mountain also held other successful World Cup events in the 1980s and ’90s starting with a World Cup downhill in 1982.

By the last week of February 1982, Whistler had undergone some major changes since a World Cup was last attempted in 1979.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, giving Whistler Mountain nearby competition, and the first phase of Whistler Village construction was, for the most part, wrapped up.

The course for this World Cup downhill was changed as well.  Rather than follow the traditional route that used what is now known as Dave Murray Downhill ending in Creekside, the 1982 course ended in Whistler Village.

The Molson World Downhill came to Whistler, bringing thousands of spectators along with it.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The new 3,810-metre course was expected to result in a winning time in the two-minutes-and-15-seconds range.  Racers began near the top of the Black and Orange Chairs and then headed down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft, across Crabapple Creek and to the finish line in view of the spectators waiting in the village.

There was more to Whistler’s 1982 World Cup than raceday on Saturday.  The opening ceremonies began the festivities on Wednesday, February 24 and included a parade of nations complete with flags and local dignitaries.  The following evening was Western Night.  The scheduled events included a display of logger sports such as axe-throwing and chainsaw demonstrations and a square-dancing demonstration for the national teams.  The Lil’wat Nation also hosted an outdoor salmon barbecue.  The Friday evening before the race was a more casual affair with a torchlight ski parade and fireworks display.

A torchlight parade makes its way down Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to The Vancouver Sun, prior to Saturday the weather was “the most-discussed element of the whole affair.”  Days of fog and fresh snow leading up to the race meant great conditions for those skiing on the rest of Whistler Mountain but these conditions weren’t great for training runs, causing delays and cancelled practices.  Luckily, on Saturday and weather cooperated and, for the first time on Whistler, the World Cup downhill could go ahead.

Going into the race, the two racers to watch were thought to be Steve Podborski of the Crazy Canucks and Austrian Harti Weirather, the 1981 World Cup downhill champion.  The race was, however, won by Swiss skier Peter Mueller, a two-time World Cup downhill champion (the 1982 season ended with a tie for the title between Mueller and Podborski).

At the awards ceremony after the race on Saturday, the cheers for Mueller were reported to be just as loud as those for the Crazy Canucks.  Mueller appeared to enjoy his second trip to Whistler, having first come to the valley one a five-week camping tour of Western Canada in the 1970s.  When speaking of the area’s hospitality, he told reporters that, “The people here are so friendly.  They come up to me and say, ‘Hi Pete,’ even if they don’t know me.  I would really like to come back here.”

Whistler’s 1982 World Cup was not an unqualified success to everyone.  According to Doug Sack in Whistler Magazine some teams “loathed the new course.”  It ended too slowly, passing over the flats of Lower Olympic, and one Austrian was even heard to say “I should have brought my cross-country skis with me.”

Whistler Mountain hosted more World Cup downhills after 1982, using the Dave Murray Downhill course.  If you’re interested in learning more about Whistler’s World Cups and what it takes to organize and pull off such an event, join us at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series on Thursday, March 29 with guests Rob Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  The roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).

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!

This Week In Photos: December 27

This may be the last week of This Week In Photos but there are many more photos from 1978 – 1985 that we haven’t yet had a chance to share with you.  Take a look here to see them all (assuming you have a few spare days)!

1979

7 dwarfs from left to right: Eric Bredt, Martin Elmitt, Duncan Maxwell, Richie Bridgewater, Alistair Crofton, Clint Logue, Serap Graf, Kelly McKay is Snow White.

Simon Beller consults with Santa at the Christmas Concert.

Representatives from Men’s Club Magazine of Japan who toured Whistler on Thursday with hostess Gail Palfreyman on right.

Community Club Christmas Carol singers on Saturday. From left to right: Andrew Roberts, Melanie Busdon, Clare Jennings, Rachel Roberts, Jessica Wilson, Sara Jennings, Roger Systad, Christopher Systad, Bishop children, Duncan Maxwell.

The Sabey house in Emerald still smoulders in the rain.

1980

At the Myrtle Philip Christmas Concert – a rousing chorus of Robin Hood’s followers…

… and a portion of the school choir.

Neil Roberts and Gordon Turner dispense flapjacks and sausages to the children at the Christmas breakfast at the school.

The new additions to the Whistler Brownie Pack.

1981

The latest in practical fashion. Meg Davies shines in her new plastic bag… compliments of Blackcomb. Well, at least it keeps you dry no matter what.

The finish line for the Subaru Pro Series held on Blackcomb Mountain this past week.

Jamie Kurlander accepts congratulations from Mayor Pat Carleton after winning both races in the Subaru Pro Series.

Charlie “The Scribe” McClain presents Al Davis and Geoff Hesthemer with plaques over their dead bodies.

1982

Excited skiers head up the Village lifts…

… while these two are all smiles as they find a different way down Whistler Mountain.

The Whistler Singers perform…

… and are joined for an impromptu dance performance by some of the younger audience members.

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.

This Week In Photos: December 13

Before you got a parking spot or parking pass for being Citizen of the Year, the lucky winner received the Citizen of the Year plaque.  Can you spot which year they rearranged the names to fit more on?

1978

The centre display of pottery at the Craft Fair.

Suzanne Wilson decorates a smiling face at the Community Club Craft Fair.

Const. Thompson engraves a pair of skis under the RCMP/Rotary Ski Watch Programme while Rotarian Norm Minns assists.

1979

Flooding in Alta Vista – Ann and Dave Ricardo stand in front of their home…

… while Bill Wallace attempts to clear a culvert on Archibald Way.

Dave Cathers proudly holds the “Citizen of the Year” plaque awarded to him during the Chamber of Commerce Dinner/Dance.

Mayor Carleton reads oaths of office to incoming Chamber officers (l – r) Vice-President Michael D’Artois, President Drew Meredith, Secretary Jenny Busdon.

A smiling couple! Cathy & Bob Ainsworth at the dance.

President Drew Meredith makes presentations to Information Centre staff (l – r) Evelyn Cullen, Linda Satre and Laura McGuffin.

25 visiting Rotary students who came to Whistler for the weekend.

1980

The first chair up Blackcomb – President Hugh Smythe loads the first skiers up the lift on December 4 while others wait to get up into the untracked snow.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain.

A powder hound enjoys the deep under Lift 4 on Blackcomb last week.

1980 Citizen of the Year, Chamber of Commerce President Drew Meredith.

Ron Hyde stands proudly in front of the sandblasted cedar sign he had created as project manager for the Whistler store.

Managers Dennis Lamarche and Glen Holdner stock shelves at the new Whistler Liquor Store.

Al Davis makes a toast with Francine Lessard at the MDC banquet.

1981

Laurier LaPierre gets a hand buckling up his boots from Jim McConkey. LaPierre was in town taping a CKU special on beginning skiing.

Hanging in Suspense. This workman tightens the cable for Whistler Cable TV’s new line running up the east face of Sproat. Photo by Peter Chrzanowski.

Citizen of the Year Trev Roote shows off his plaque to wife Susan outside his Whistler chalet.

Its owner Peter Skoros (left) under the new sign announcing his new restaurant in the Town Centre which will be opening next week.

Rosemary Dell gets a waving salute at her going away party Friday, December 10. Rosemary, the school bus driver, is leaving Whistler for wilder times at Kitwanga in northern BC.

A peaceful moment for two best friends crossing the fresh powder of Sproat Mountain.

1982

Whistler’s post office is bursting at the seams with loads of presents sent to locals from points all over.

Connie Kutyn tops off the latest decoration to be added to Village Square… a Christmas tree to help get Whistlerites in the spirit.

Viv Jennings accepts the Citizen of the Year Award from last year’s honoured residents Trev Roote at a Whistler Chamber of Commerce meeting held December 11 at the Delta Mountain Inn.

Three proud artists… (L to R) John McNeill, Ken Wesman and Isobel MacLaurin.

O sing ye of good cheer! As did the Whistler Choir in perfect harmony. The choir, led by Sue Worden, brought a lovely tone to Village Square Sunday in the true spirit of Christmas.

1984

Molly Boyd receives the plaque honouring her as the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Saturday. Brian Walhovd, last year’s winner, announced to the crowd that Boyd was the 1984 winner for her involvement and extra commitment to the community.

The Chamber also announced its new slate of executives for 1985, which includes, from left to right, Roger Stacey and Nancy Trieber as vice-presidents and Dave Kirk as president. Mayor Terry Rodgers inducted the new executive, which resulted in laughter among the crowd when the three members attempted to read their chamber pledge in unison.

Club 10 was the host to West Coast Sports Mountain Shadows Saturday night, a fashion show featuring more than 29 different outfits all available at the ski outlet. All the models got together for one final display wearing moon boots by Diadora.

Pierre Couture opens a bottle of O’Keefe High Test in the Brass Rail, which boasts the most brass of any bar in Whistler.

Bartender Michael Branlon pours another pint of draft in the Longhorn, which has recently undergone substantial renovations.

Mischa Redmond shows some of the money he’s collected on his door-to-door African famine relief campaign.