Tag Archives: 1970s skiing

Happy National Ski Day!

Today marks the third annual CIBC National Ski Day in Canada.  Across the country 17 different mountain resorts offer discounted tickets or unique experiences in support of Alpine Canada and Canadian ski teams.  In celebration of National Ski Day we wanted to share a selection of photographs from our archives of people, you guessed it, skiing!

In May 1939 George Bury and three other skiers began a 10-day exploratory trip of the Garibaldi region.

In May 1939 George Bury and three other skiers began a 10-day exploratory trip of the Garibaldi region.  This was over 20 years before Franz Wilhelmsen and GODA would begin developing Whistler Mountain for skiing.  Bury collection.

A family ski day on Whistler Mountain.

A family ski day on Whistler Mountain when skiing with a child on your back was permissible and helmets were an unusual sight.  WMSC collection.

Skiing Whistler Mountain in the 1970s.  Benjamin collection.

Skiing Whistler Mountain in the 1970s. Benjamin collection.

1980s skiing

Visibility of skiers was not an issue with the fashions of the 1980s.  Griffith collection.

You can never be too young (or old) for skiing.

You can never be too young (or old) for skiing.  WMSC collection.

 

Enjoy the snow!

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Grassroots Galleries – Olive’s Market

What is now Olive’s Community Market in Function Junction used to be The Burnt Stew Café and was originally owned by Colin Pitt-Taylor. Not to be mixed up with Burnt Stew Computing that is still in Function Junction. Colin is now one of the board members for the Whistler Museum but before that he began a collection of his very own on the walls of the café. The collection is mostly made up of photos from Whistler’s early 70’s days and includes a lot of local characters. Though it also includes an old sled (that is no longer there due to needing room for inventory), skis and ski poles as well.

According to one of the managers of the market the artifacts inside the store are on loan from an antique shop in Squamish. Unfortunately this means there is no surefire way to know the history of them, aside from the fact they were probably used on Whistler Mountain in the early days.

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Some of the photos on the wall are the same ones from collections that the museum was given as well, including some of Cliff Jenning’s and Jim Kennedy’s photos as well as a few photos from the Soo Valley.

One of the stand out photos they have on display is the famous Toad Hall poster that is the most popular item in the Museum’s gift shop. It’s fun and quirky attitude perfectly embodies the 70’s era in Whistler and fits right in amongst the other photos in Olive’s.

Colin Pitt-Taylor used a lot of photos from his own collection and gathered the others from his friends. He started the process because after the village was completed there was not much left that recognized what Whistler had been like pre-village life; back when the local community was even smaller than it is today and when there were not as many tourists visiting the area. Colin wanted to commemorate that time in Village history and did so on the walls of the Burnt Stew café. Fortunately for the community it is still there in Olive’s even after the café was closed.

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Many of the photos feature well-known people from Whistler’s history as well as friends of Colin and he has a good recollection of the exact photos he hung up over the years. He can recall exact photos of friends that are on the walls and even where and when they were taken.

One of the managers of Olive’s recounts how people often come in to look at the photos and the occasional visitor points out their younger selves or other people they know in the photos. Quite a few of the images have the names of the people in the photos on them, which means anyone who comes in is able to tell if they may know whoever is in the photos.

The history of Whistler is what makes it the town it is today, and you can find that history all over, not just at the Museum. All you have to do is look.

 

by Michaela Sawyer

Snow!!!

Snow. For all the changes around us, frozen water is still the fuel that keeps this town’s fire stoked and hot.

While mountain-folk like to play armchair meteorologist year-round, we’re currently in the midst of prognostication silly-season. People are dusting off the almanacs, scouring long-term forecasts, and wildly over-reacting to Mother Nature’s every turn. Last season’s uncooperative weather has only heightened the tension that accompanies every updated forecast.

This year is especially tough to call due to a historically strong El Nino accompanied by a weird phenomenon that oceanographers and meteorologists refer to in their highly technical jargon as “The Blob.”

Snow-wise, we’re off to a pretty good start, but that doesn’t really mean much for those extrapolating for the entire season. Here at the museum, we’re more comfortable with facts than forecasts. So here’s one for you: Whistler has enjoyed some amazingly deep winters in recent years, but they’ve got nothing on what Whistler’s first skiers enjoyed.

We speak to a lot of old-timers here, reminiscing about the good ol’ days, and all attest that Whistler just doesn’t get snow like it used to.

Check these photos of the Whistler Mountain alpine from the early 1970s. For those who know the terrain well, pay close attention to familiar features such as The Coffin chute, or the Couloir near the middle of the photo. Of course, the Saddle has a massive cornice here not only due to the snowpack, but also because the entrance had not yet been blasted to improve skier access.

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Compare it to a recent photo of the same terrain and it still looks epic, but it’s clearly not nearly as coated in the coastal powder we all love.

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Whistler Peak in typical (nowadays) mid-winter form. Photo Thomas Quine/Wikipedia.

Certainly some of the discrepancy can be explained by the increase in skiers and avalanche bombs knocking a fair bit of storm snow off of these steeper aspects. Still, there’s data to indicate that this is more than just some old-timers’ nostalgia-induced exaggeration.

Whistler legend, and Whistler Museum President (full disclosure) John “Bushrat” Hetherington, in his years of snow study as an avalanche professional, found clear evidence from many data sets that all across BC the decade from 1965 to 1975 was a period of abnormally large snowfall.

He also experienced it firsthand, arriving in Whistler in the autumn of 1967 with the town still buzzing about how much snow they had received the previous winter.

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Upper Harmony Bowl, including Pika’s Traverse and the Camel Humps, looking especially frosted.

John stuck around to ski more than his fair share of bottomless pow in ensuing years, but nothing compared to the 1973/74 season. As John recalls, “this was the first winter they had really good data on, and it’s still the record.”

By mid-April 1974, the snow study plot (which was ¾ way down green chair at the time, an even lower elevation than the currently used Pig Alley snow plot at 1650 meters) measured a snowpack 17 feet deep. Anyone remember a 518cm base at mid-mountain in recent years? Me neither.

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The good ol’ days when the Roundhouse was still round, and the snowpacks were profound.

Jealousy-inducing? Maybe a little. But if it happened before, who’s to say that we aren’t about to see a return of this near-forgotten weather cycle? That’s the thing about weather, you never know.

A Question of Snow

When talking about a lack of snow in the valley, Whistlerites often recall the winter of 1976/77 which was undoubtedly the worst season since Whistler Mountain opened for business.

The snow, Whistler’s most valued winter guest, was seen only rarely in the neighborhood that year – but made it to the front page of the Whistler Question every week. In November 1976, the Whistler Question was still a “youngster”. Only six months old, Whistler’s local weekly paper consisted of not much more than ten text heavy pages stapled together.

Grab yourself a coffee, and check in for a time travel. We take you back to the five-month snowflake hunt of 1976/77, which came as a severe shock to the round 500 Whistlerites that lived in the valley at that time and have never considered snow-making before.

November 24, 1976 : Think Snow!

November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing. There was some snow in the alpine but not enough to ski to the bottom of the old Green Chair which is pretty much where the Emerald Chair is today.  The editors start worrying about the acute shortage of snow on the mountain and the loss of revenue to the businesses in the valley. Spot the snowflakes that the editors have scattered around the paper that week – their share to help augment the snow drought. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

The editors start worrying about the acute shortage of snow. Spot the snowflakes that the editors have scattered around the paper that week – their share to help augment the snow drought. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

December 1, 1976: First consequences

The paper reports that due to the lack of snow, the lift company laid off about 12 employees. “This together with the permanent staff that was not hired in mid-November as usual means that there are about 25 people out of work” says that week’s paper. December 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

The paper reports that due to the lack of snow, the lift company laid off about 12 employees. “This together with the permanent staff that was not hired in mid-November as usual means that there are about 25 people out of work” says that week’s paper. December 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

December 22, 1976: A little Christmas miracle?

Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays. You could ski on the Green Chair and in the t-bar bowl, but had to download on the Red Chair and the gondola. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays. You could ski on the Green Chair and in the t-bar bowl, but had to download on the Red Chair and the gondola. November 1976, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 12, 1977: One last defiant struggle…

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 19, 1977: The unbelievable happens

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 26, 1977: Frozen Alta Lake becomes the new center of life

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

January 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 2, 1977: Time for superstition

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 9, 1977: The first snow gun arrives in the valley

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

February 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

March 16, 1977: Guess what…

March 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

March 1977, Whistler Museum, Question collection.

And the moral of the story? Patience wins March powder glory!

The Story of the Toad Hall Poster

Although the Toad Hall poster’s infamy has persisted through the years, it became harder and harder to get your hands on one. Until 2013, when  Toulouse himself came into the museum with a box of the original, 1973 print, posters that are still in mint condition. You can now get yourself one of these absolute classic pieces of Whistler history for yourself, available exclusively from the Whistler Museum!

(Warning: Nudity Alert)

This is the story of Whistler’s most famous photo, created on a whim one care-free spring afternoon four decades ago. 1973 in Whistler was another era. Less than a decade earlier, the construction of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain had put the previously quiet fishing resort on the map,  attracting an influx of youthful, free-spirited ski bums.

Meanwhile,  Whistler Village, Blackcomb Mountain, the Olympics and other major development remained little more than a pipe dream. Heck, many locals still lived without electricity or running water. Throughout the valley the ski bums lived in a wide variety of hand-built cabins, and conveniently vacated structures, perhaps none more revered than Toad Hall.

Toad Hall volleyball

Enjoying an idyllic volleyball match along the shores of Green Lake.

With a mere $75/month lease (for the property, not per person), this collection of wooden shacks near the north end of Green Lake, formerly known as the Soo Valley Logging Camp, came to be a focal point of the revelrous ski bum community. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that by the spring of 1973 tales of debauchery left local powers wholly unenthused with this shag-carpeted Shangri-la.

Toad Hall was slated for demolition later that summer. One sunny spring day, whoever was milling about was asked to convene out front with their ski gear, but wearing nothing else.  The photographer, Chris Speedie, orchestrated the photo simply to provide residents with a memento before Toad Hall met its demise. The completely uninhibited and playful posing perfectly captured the spirit of the times.

Later, sensing the image’s iconic potential, a few “Toadies” scrounged together some cash and printed off 10,000 posters. At 2 or 3 bucks a pop, guerilla poster sales funded abundant “apres” sessions for years to come. The poster’s mastermind, Terry ”Toulouse” Spence, also worked for the Canadian National Ski Team.

During the height of  the Crazy Canuck era, Toulouse brought boxes of posters along for the ride on the World Cup ski circuit. To this day it  can still be found decorating the walls of some of the world’s most cherished ski bars. Despite the annotation in Kitzbuhel’s famed Londoner Bar, this is not “Canada’s National Ski Team”. The poster simply provides an unencumbered gaze back in time at early Whistler’s care-free lifestyle. And yes, some of the “models” still call Whistler home, but good luck getting any of them to admit it!

Chris Speedie's original photograph.

Chris Speedie’s original photograph.

 

Toad Hall:Bradley

The museum’s gift shop, with the Toad Hall display poster on the left.

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Film and Video From The Archives Vol. 1

The Whistler Museum is home to many 16mm, 8mm films, and VHS tapes depicting Whistler, and life in Whistler from as early as 1933. Over the next few months we will be bringing you many of these wonderful films and videos from our archives.

16mm film & VHS tapes. Searchin for nugs.

To enhance all the excitement that comes with winter and the opening of the Mountain,  we present to you “Images of Whistler”, a Whistler Mountain promotional film extravaganza.

One of the ways Garibaldi Lifts LTD  promoted Whistler Mountain to potential skiers/customers was to produce short  films/advertisements highlighting Whistler skiing and culture.  “Images of Whistler” produced in [1975] was one such film. Depicting skiing, kids ski camps, ski races, ice hockey, ice sailing, log riding in a swimming pool, and all set to a very groovy Jazz-Funk soundtrack, Whistler has never looked or sounded so cool.

 

Whistler Characters – Frank “Garage Sale” Salter

In April 2011, we had the chance to sit down with well-known Whistler local Frank “Garage Sale” Salter and talk all things ski. As we head into our next Speaker Series evening featuring Frank, it’s the perfect time to share a post on this avid ski collector.

Frank shows off one of the split tail skis in his collection, photo courtesy of Frank Salter.

Most of his ski collection is stored in a Creekside basement (he has recently taken over the adjoining space as well), although one can find a few pairs adorning the home he shares with his wife and two sons in the form of coat racks. When he started collecting in earnest in 1991, Frank set his upper limit at four dollars, although he admits to spending a bit more at times.

His work in medical research fed his habit, as he travelled for a job that saw him finishing work by around four or five pm. Local thrift shops remained open for an hour or two after that- plenty of time to grab a few new pairs of skis for the collection (a collection which today sits around 500 pairs).

In the 1990s, you could travel with your skis for free, and so bringing multiple pairs of skis back across the border on your flight wasn’t a prohibitively expensive prospect.  Of course, had they known that Frank was significantly exceeding a single pair of skis, it may have been a different story. Armed with a screwdriver, he would remove the bindings and then stack multiple pairs of skis in a ski bag. Today, Salter’s collecting has slowed somewhat. According to him, in spite of Vancouver’s proximity to good skiing, collectible skis are rarely to be had in local thrift shops.

Some pieces from the more obscure corners of ski-gear world can be found in Frank’s collection, including the Nava and the Burt binding. The Navas are immediately jarring to the eye- in his words they look like, “some sort of bizarre device, almost a torture device.” You may not immediately notice the Nava from the front, but if get behind someone on a t-bar skiing on them and the wrap-around arm will be visible. A combination of a soft boot, much like a Sorel boot, and this arm made for a skiing experience that was much like sitting back in a reclining chair.

Some of the obscure retro bindings in Salter’s collection – those would be the Navas at the bottom, photo courtesy of Frank Salter

The Burt binding was less noticeable, unless you were to fall, and then a cable would initially allow the ski to separate from your foot, and then sharply recoil, snapping the ski back against the base of your boot. Sound questionable? Urban legends point to these bindings as the stuff of some gruesome injuries. While that may or may not be true, there is something to be said for keeping these tucked away in storage.

That being said, some pieces of ski history still make it out onto the snow. When we spoke, Frank was having some of his 70s freestyle skis tuned for the notorious “Hot-Doggin’ Party” thrown by Ace MacKay-Smith at the end of each April. Ballet skiing competitions are a part of the fun, and Salter provides the skis as well as some eye-catching one-piece ski suits to those who approach him. One white suit features a particularly stunning large Elvis-style buckle at the waist.

His collection isn’t limited solely to skis, but includes all kinds of ski paraphernalia: goggles, the aforementioned one-pieces, boots, posters, and a few snowboards. Much of Frank’s collection focuses on the 1970s/freestyle period. Asked what drew him to that particular era, he explains, “It was a big era of experimentation. It was everything- a different way of skiing, the clothing, ski graphics. The skis were a little different- shorter and softer. It wasn’t racing, that was the big thing.”

Three well-known hot dog skiers show off their style in 1973 at the Tony Sailer Summer Ski Camp. Left to right: George Oskwold, Wayne Wong and Floyd Wilkie

That’s not to say that experimentation didn’t happen prior to the 1970s- some of Salter’s favorite skis in the collection are aluminum skis from the 1940s and 1950s. Aircraft-industry grade aluminum was used to craft the edges, bindings bases- the whole ski. According to Frank, “They didn’t work, and they were stiff as a two-by-four, but they were still expensive at the time, and they were a good prototype.” Once he started collecting in earnest, he quickly hunted down a few pairs of his first good skis. He suggests that it is those skis that people really feel attached to- not their very first pair, but their first good pair, the pair that made them truly fall in love with skiing.

So where did Frank get his nickname from? While the nickname “Garage Sale” immediately conjures up images of Frank buying skis for the collection, the nickname actually stems from the telemark skis he made for himself and his friends in the early 1990s as he transitioned to a life in the mountains. Telemark skis weren’t readily available at that point, but in Frank’s hands, five-dollar garage-sale skis morphed into ripping tele skis. An article written by Leslie Anthony gave him the nickname, which quickly stuck.

Join us on March 21st from 7-9pm for Frank’s Speaker Series presentation. All the details can be found here.