Tag Archives: Alpine Village

When the Power Goes Out

Though not as common an occurrence as in previous decades, power outages are not unknown in Whistler, especially during the winter months. However, power outages today are usually more localized and of a shorter duration when compared to outages in the 1960s.

In an interview conducted in 2016, Hilda McLennan, whose family owned a unit in Alpine Village, recalled that “Whistler was a strange place when the power failed.” As it sometimes took multiple days for power to be restored, word would travel to Vancouver that the lifts weren’t running and skiers would stay home. According to Hilda, “It all became really quite quiet and you used to be able to go cross country skiing down the highway.”

With little development around Whistler Mountain in the mid-to-late 1960s, power outages and freezing temperatures led to a quiet valley. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The power outages and accompanying freezing temperatures that the McLennans experienced led to some entertaining situations, as they were able to stay in relative comfort despite some challenges. It was not uncommon for pipes to freeze and the McLennans and their neighbours in Alpine Village sometimes made do without running water for a few days at a time. In one instance, the McLennans’ taps were frozen but their drains still worked while their neighbours next door had working taps but frozen drains. They all went back and forth, with the McLennans walking over to get water to boil their vegetables and the neighbours bringing their used water over to pour down the drain. Another neighbour had been washing his clothes in the bathtub when the water froze. Hilda recalled, “Eventually, he took an axe or something and chipped the ice and got his underwear.”

While entertaining, the experiences remembered by the McLennans were not as dramatic as some of the power outages experienced by Lynn Mathews and her family in the 1960s.

In January 1968, Lynn’s mother-in-law traveled to the Whistler area from urban Montreal to meet her first grandchild. She was not too impressed with what the area had to offer, even before the power went out in the valley. Dave Mathews was operations manager for Whistler Mountain and so, at the time, Lynn and her family were living in one of the mountain’s two A-frames while mountain manager Jack Bright and his family occupied the other. The A-frames were mainly heated by electricity and were not a comfortable place to stay with young children without power.

The Ski Boot Motel and Bus, still under construction. With propane-powered heat sources, the Ski Boot was a good place to keep warm when the power went out. Whistler Mountain Collection

According to Lynn, something had happened to the transformers in the valley and so power was not expected to come back on anytime soon. Instead of staying in the A-frames, the Mathews and the Brights made their way over to the Ski Boot Motel, which had a propane stove, by snowcat. It was dark and snowing hard and Lynn recalled sitting in the snowcat with Dave with “not a clue if we were on the road.” Upon her arrival at the Ski Boot, Lynn remembered her mother-in-law was “upset, to say the least,” about where the family was living.

While their evacuation to the Ski Boot was short lived, the two families were reportedly evacuated again the following winter when the whole valley lost power for multiple days. The Mathews and the Brights stayed first at Brandywine Falls and then eded up in a motel in Squamish. Dave stayed in the valley monitoring the situation at Whistler Mountain. He slept in the women’s washroom in the daylodge, as it was the most central room, to try and stay warm. He later told Lynn that all the pipes in their kitchen burst, making the room look like an “ice palace.”

Hilda McLennan and Lynn Mathews may be able to look back at these memories with humour, but power outages, though less common, and extreme cold temperatures are still a concern for many in the valley today.

First Trips to Whistler

When Hugh and Hilda McLennan first heard about Whistler Mountain in the early 1960s, they didn’t know exactly where it was or what was planned for the area. This, however, did not stop them from buying shares in Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.

Hugh and Hilda McLennan moved to Vancouver with their two children, Catriona and Neil, in 1957, when Hugh took a position at the University of British Columbia as a professor in the Department of Physiology. The family were already skiers before Whistler Mountain became known to them, often skiing at Mount Baker and even thinking about purchasing property there. Despite buying shares in the company, the McLennans didn’t believe that they would ever ski at Whistler, though they thought that their grandchildren might enjoy it. This didn’t stop them from investing further in the area, however, and when Sandy Martin brought his model of Alpine Village to their living room in 1964, the McLennans agreed to buy one of the units of his proposed development.

While we don’t have any photos of Alpine Village from the 1960s, we do have a photo of Alpine 68, condominiums built just a few years later right by Alpine Village. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

In the summer of 1965, the McLennans decided to take their first trip to Whistler. According to Hilda, the highway around Squamish was still new to them and so they missed a turn and ended up driving into Paradise Valley. After a dusty lunch and new directions, they set off again and eventually came upon a sign on the edge fo the road that read “Site of Garibaldi Lifts.” They continued driving and found another sign that read “Site of Alpine Village.” There wasn’t too much to see at either site, but Sandy Martin had told the McLennans that they could be in their Alpine Village unit by Christmas that year.

The McLennans made their next trip to Whistler on December 17, 1965. It was a short but eventful stay. In an oral history interview in 2016, Hilda recalled that when they moved in, many of the units were frozen. As they were built on a rock cliff, much of the plumbing for the units was housed in cedar boxes above the ground. Before going back to Vancouver, the plumber had wrapped electrical cables around the pipes in the boxes to keep them from freezing. Not only did some of the pipes freeze anyway, but a fire started in one of the boxes in the night.

Hilda McLennan, Richard Heine, and Eleanor Bishop at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club Benefit Dinner. Whistler Question Collection, 1978

That evening, just as Hilda had put dinner on the stove, the water to their unit thawed and began coming up under the toilet. She, Catriona, and Neil were trying to mop up and control the water, but didn’t know where to shut it off. At this point, Hugh, who had been visiting the unit of the Alpine Village architect near the top of the hill, returned. He observed that, in comparison to the architect’s unit where “they’ve got a lovely fire going and the table is all set for dinner with candles,” their place was “a mess.” This was not incredibly well received by those dealing with the flood.

According to Hilda, they didn’t notice the fire until they had no electricity in the morning. She got up to make a cup of coffee and discovered that they had no power. She asked a construction worker who was living in the next unit what had happened, and he told her how the people at the Cheakamus Inn across the highway had seen the fire and come over to put it out. As a precaution, they also turned off the power to the other boxes, especially as some had already shown signs of smouldering. Despite their efforts, Hilda and Neil recalled that some of the units in a different section sustained serious damage. Not surprisingly, the McLennans decided not to stay for another night.

Alpine Village units had another major fire in 1985, though it was reportedly different units that were affected. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

This was just the first of many trips the McLennans made to Whistler, and they returned to Alpine Village with friends for New Years. Though they hadn’t ever expected to ski on the mountain they’d never seen, they became founding members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, helped run international ski races on the hill, and Hugh even served as president of the Western Division of the Canadian Ski Association in the 1970s.

The Early Days of Creekside

The community of Alta Lake, which attracted visitors and families with cabins in the summer for hiking, hunting and fishing along the lakefront, was forever changed in 1960.

That year, the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency, led by Franz Wilhelmsen, chose the valley as the site to bring the 1968 Winter Olympics to Canada and British Columbia.  The failure of this first Olympic bid, while discouraging, did not dissuade the group from deciding to build a world-class ski resort.

A very optimistic sign at the base of Whistler Mountain. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Garibladi Lift Company installed the first gondola-accessed ski area in North America and opened the ski resort in January 1966.

With the ski resort in operation, the newly formed Chamber of Commerce operated as the local government overseeing the sporadic development surrounding the gondola base. The Garibaldi Lift Company did not have the financial resources to purchase the property around the gondola base allowing others to purchase the land.

With the lack of an official community plan or recognized local government, development went unchecked.  Ski cabins were scattered around the base along with a gas station/grocery store and a telephone exchange.  The Garibaldi Lift Company built an interdenominational skier’s chapel, complete with bells and a memorial stain glass window.

The Cheakamus Inn, the Highland Lodge, Rainbow Lodge and other Alta Lake lodges housed visitors in what had normally been the off-season for the Alta Lake community.  A large development was planned near the shores of Nita and Alpha Lakes.  The development would have included residential and commercial properties as well as more recreational areas such as a curling/skating rink, swimming pool and tennis courts.  A condominium development called Alpine Village sat above the gondola area on the slopes of Whistler Mountain.  The UBC Varsity Outdoor Club began constructing their new club cabin near the gondola base.

Alpine 68 newly constructed in 1968. Condos such as these sprung up around Creekside and Nordic.  Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of skiing also brought long waits to ride the gondola up to the mid-station.  The wait times would sometimes exceed three hours just to get on the gondola, prompting the Garibaldi Lift Company to offer free skiing to those willing to hike to the mid-station.

The parking lots at the base of the gondola were consistently full.  Highway 99 was finally blacktopped between Squamish and Whistler, but the drive was still full of hairpin turns and single lane bridges.  This didn’t stop skiers from driving up from the city.

A full (and colourful) parking lot in Creekside. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of the ski resort also attracted another group of people to the valley: “hippies” and those involved in the counterculture movement.  Those unable to afford to purchase land or build their own ski cabin would squat on Crown land.

With the RMOW established on September 6, 1975 the chaotic nature of development in Whistler’s early years was over the focus on bringing about the well-planned Whistler Village began.