Tag Archives: Avalauncher

This Week In Photos: August 30

While every year is different, some weeks have a recurring event or theme that shows up year after year.  For this week, it would seem Whistler used to be taken over by Porsches and those who love them.

1978

The Chilliwack Motorcycle Sports Club visited Whistler this weekend and got some sunny weather for their travels.

An iconic Whistler structure: the Whistler Post Office.

And the Whistler Firehall.

Whistler Mountain was well represented at this recent tradeshow…

Which also featured the Avalauncher, a tool no ski hill can be without.

1979

Whistler Creek Lodge rises up as construction forges ahead.

Myrtle Philip casts her referendum ballot, supervised by Kris Shoup at the school on voting day.

New faces in the valley – Editor’s assistant Bob Este…

… and BC Ski Co-ordinator Dan Mathews.

“Porsche Party” at Alpine Way on Sunday!

1980

Windsurfers head out across Alta Lake as summer’s last few waning rays dapple the mountainside.

Don Willoughby puts out the remainder of a small fire in Blackcomb Estates.

This youngster visiting Pemberton’s favourite swimming hole is trying to forget that summer vacation is almost over.

1982

Murray Coates, marathon runner, and Myrtle Philip, Whistler legend.

Whistler’s in stride, Willie Whistler arrives at the awards ceremony for the First Annual Whistler Marathon Sunday, where he presented medals and prizes and entertained a crowd of over 200 runners and volunteers.

A slick new coat of asphalt has been a welcome addition to Alpine Meadows in recent weeks. Except for a few roads in the subdivision, paving will be completed by mid-September at a cost of $535,000.

Porsches, Porsches everywhere. Crowds of people wandered through more than 100 Porsches that congregated on Whistler Village Saturday for the Western Canada region of the Porsche Club of America’s Concours d’Elegance.

1983

Jack Jorgensen took the People’s Choice award for his immaculate 1957 Porsche 1600 Speedster. Jorgensen did all the restoration work on his car.

The Gambling Gourmet of Whistler got a first for costumes but placed out of the money for their chili during the 1983 Canadian Chili Championship at Westin Bayshore Saturday. It seems a picky judge didn’t like vegetables in chili. Oh well, there’s always next year. Congratulations to the Gambling Gourmet Team! Pictured here: Chef Ted Nebbeling, Susan Howard and Valerie Lang.

Kathie Hicks takes a break from dealing blackjack to the throngs of chili aficionados around the Whistler booth.

An Alpine Paving bulldozer tears up pavement on Village Stroll in preparation for drainage work. The paving company has promised the road will be reopened in time for the Fall Festival September 9.

1984

The Whistler Canoe Club hosted a brigade race on Alta Lake during the weekend with the women’s squad (Connie Kutyn, Trudy Alder, Margo Mathews, Sue Davidson, Bev Downie and Tracy Morben) beating the Richmond Fire Department Women’s Brigade Team by six minutes. The Whistler Men’s team (Ken Hardy, Mike Jakobson, Tim Malone, Frank Bartik, Preston Fritz and Brian Allen) came second to a Vancouver team.

Incumbent Conservative MP Lorne Greenaway passed through Whistler, and Tapley’s pub, Friday. Greenaway spent part of the morning and afternoon campaigning for Tuesday’s election.

Mayor Mark Angus was busy campaigning last Tuesday at an informal open house at Jan Holberg and Ted Nebbeling’s home on Alta Lake. D-Day for Angus and all the candidates is next Tuesday.

Friday’s Chamber of Commerce dinner dance at Dusty’s attracted just about every business person in Whistler for a night of socializing and dancing to the tunes of the Peter Carson Trio.

This car has been peering into the Soo Valley stream for a few years now.

District firemen sharpened their skills over the weekend in a course given by the Vancouver Fire Institute.

Porsches from all over the Pacific Northwest visited Whistler for the 4th Annual Porsche Weekend and Concours d’Elegance.

And you thought kids only carry ghetto blasters on their shoulders these days? This racoon was spotted roaming the village Saturday.

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The Origins of Avalanche Control on Whistler Mountain

There are few truer mountain-town experiences than being awoken in the early dawn by the distant rattle of avalanche bombs. While providing an unmistakable announcement of fresh snow, they also serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that the mountains are a complex and potentially hostile landscape demanding caution and respect.

Often romanticized as “throwing bombs, skiing powder, and breaking hearts,” avalanche control at a ski resort is actually a highly technical profession requiring extensive training in explosives, first aid, weather forecasting, and snow science. But it wasn’t always that way. When Whistler Mountain first opened in 1966, the concept of snow science barely existed, and the only technical avalanche manual in North America was almost 15 years old.

Learning to safely harness the destructive power of avalanches took time and dedicated practice by hundreds of individuals. John Hetherington was one of those key folk, and his recollections give some fascinating insights into the nascent years of avalanche control work on Whistler Mountain.

After a brief, somewhat lost-in-translation introduction to the avalanche world as a rookie ski patroller in St. Moritz, Switzerland during the 1966-67 season, John “Bushrat” Hetherington joined the Whistler Mountain pro ski patrol in December 1967, the mountain’s third season of operations.

Back then, John recalls, “avalanche control consisted mainly of putting a bunch of Forcite dynamite sticks together and going out and going ‘I think we should throw some over here, and I think we should throw some over there.’ Over time there was some experience that certain slopes had a tendency to avalanche… There was no science behind it, just ‘let’s throw lots and lots of bombs.”

That winter Monty Atwater, inventor of the Avalauncher, visited Whistler to demonstrate his avalanche artillery gun. “It would have given us the capability of reaching the remoter areas which today are now lift-accessed but back then were not (Peak, Upper Harmony, etc]” but issues with the system, the unreliability of the shells in particular, left Whistler uncomfortable with the powerful but crude technology. “It went away in storage” and patrollers continued to rely on setting all their charges by hand. To get a better sense of the danger such work entailed, the patrol team didn’t receive their first avalanche transceivers until 1973 (they didn’t become common equipment for non-professionals until the 1990s).

 

After his inaugural Whistler season, John set out working as an avalanche professional for mines up north and in the interior. Meanwhile, an incident during the winter of 1972 served as an eye-opening and watershed moment for the patrol. A typical Coast Mountain winter storm blanketed the mountain in several feet of snow. Four skiers went missing during the blizzard, and it took several days to determine that they had been caught in an avalanche, whose debris had subsequently been buried by even more storm snow. After that incident it became painfully clear that avalanche control was a serious and crucial aspect of ski area management.

Norm Wilson, formerly the head of ski patrol Alpine Meadows, California was then hired to modernize Whistler Mountain’s avalanche control system. More sophisticated terrain analysis and systematic patrol routes were established to clear slopes of their slide risk, and an infrastructure was put in place to conduct more detailed short and long-term snow and weather study. From that point on, daily avalanche planning increasingly began from analysis of the overnight snow and weather readings, rather than gut instinct.

That same season, advances in the Avalauncher system brought their gun out of storage and it was installed on a platform near the top of the t-bars. Being able to trigger avalanches from such a distance made the daily control routine safer and less-gruelling.

The expertise that developed in subsequent years, thanks to the system and infrastructure put in place by Norm Wilson, and the dedicated practice by a generation of Whistler patrollers, made a huge contribution to our understanding of avalanche forecasting, not just in Whistler, but Canada-wide. John Hetherington, returned to Whistler the following winter, and was soon second in command. He went on to become a widely respected avalanche consultant, heli-ski guide, SAR-member, and board member of the Canadian Avalanche Association.

Just for fun we figured we'd throw in this photo of Roger and Bruce from their days as ski patrollers for Whistler Mountain. Evidently Roger's moustache had more staying power than Bruce's.

Roger McCarthy and Bruce Watt checking the anemometer printout, which provides crucial data on wind speed and direction, from their days as ski patrollers for Whistler Mountain.

Other major contributions include the creation of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association by local patroller Bruce Watt, spurred by his own burial and rescue from a slide while patrolling on Whistler in 1979. Whistler Mountain was the only ski area with a large contingent at an inaugural meeting of avalanche professionals in Vancouver in 1981—most of the others worked for Parks Canada in Rogers Pass, Banff and Jasper. The meeting led to the creation of the Canadian Avalanche Association.