Tag Archives: backcountry skiing

Spearhead Huts: Whistler’s Backcountry Hut System

Looking back at the construction of the gothic arch huts of the Coast Mountains in the fall has also had us thinking of the current and future use of the backcountry, and what better way to explore this topic than in our very own backyard?

Thursday, February 21 Jayson Faulkner of the Spearhead Huts Project and highly experienced guide Eric Dumerac will be at the Whistler Museum to discuss the progress of the Spearhead Huts, the growing popularity of the backcountry, how this project fits in a more global context and what this could mean for the future.

Doors open at 6:30 pm and the talk will begin at 7 pm.  Tickets are available at the Whistler Museum.  $10 or $5 for Museum or Club Shred members.

Speaker Series: Winterstoke

On March 14th, Whistler Museum is hosting a Speaker Series as part of the Winterstoke Backcountry Ski Festival. Organized by international mountain guide and frequent backcountry snowboarder Ross Berg, Winterstoke offers two days of backcountry skills clinics with topics spanning from ski touring essentials to big mountain skiing—crucial and prominent themes throughout Whistler’s history.

Our presenters for the evening are backcountry specialist JD Hare and ski mountaineer Holly Walker.

Having lived in Australia, U.S.A. and France, Holly Walker moved to Whistler at the age of 23. A former competitor on the Freeride World Tour, she switched her focus from freeskiing competition to ski mountaineering in 2011.

Traveling the world in search of abundant pow and remarkable culture, Holly has climbed and skied in the Andes, Alaska Range, European Alps, Cascades, Himalayas, Pamirs and Tordillos. She is sponsored by Mammut, K2, Clif Bar, Smith Optics, Mons Royale and POW gloves.

On top of her mountaineering success, she has had her photographs and stories published in a multitude of magazines, catalogues and websites. Although this may seem like a dream, Holly has had her share of trauma, having suffered a severe stroke, broken a leg, and witnessed the death of a fellow competitor.

Originally from Toronto, Ontario, JD turned to Whistler as a place to call home. At the age of 18, he nearly became the youngest person to ever summit Mt. Logan, but turned back achingly close to the summit, exercising the discipline that would serve him well throughout his career.

JD is a backcountry specialist in the traditional sense, descending peaks all over the world, including mountains deep in BC’s Coast Range. He is also an excellent technical skier with progressive skills and style.

JD Hare skinning with Mount Waddington in the background. Photograph by Jim Martinello, courtesy of JD Hare.

JD Hare skinning with Mount Waddington in the background. Photograph by Jim Martinello, courtesy of JD Hare.

When JD moved to Whistler he delved deep into his passion for the backcountry, making several impressive first descents in the region in his early twenties. From there, he strayed from normality and embarked on spontaneous and unforgettable trips to the high mountains of Central Asia. Trips to Europe and Japan followed, as well as a string of traumatic injuries, before he settled in to raise a family and begin farming his land in Pemberton.

In recent years, sneaking away from the farm, JD has pioneered some exceptionally steep and committed descents in BC’s Coast Mountains, from the Tantalus to the Waddington Ranges, maturing into a bona fide extreme skier.

We are ecstatic to have Holly and JD speak of their epic adventures of ups and downs. Tickets are $7 ($5 for museum members) and are available for purchase at the Whistler Museum. Doors are at 6pm, and the presentations begin at 7pm. There will be a cash bar, and complimentary tea and coffee. Hope to see you there for some brilliant tales from the backcountry.

Celebrating Tyrol Lodge’s 50th

Travelling along Whistler’s westside, properly known as the Alta Lake Road, is a bit like travelling back in time.

The arrival of downhill skiing in the 1960s caused the pace of life in our valley to shift gears completely. While gondolas and condos, followed by full neighbourhoods and villages grew around the flanks of Whistler Mountain, across the valley the sliver of railway-accessed waterfront that formed the backbone of the community of Alta Lake was left to develop at a gentler pace. As such, despite the glitz, hustle and bustle of our modern resort, much of the Westside’s nostalgic charm has persisted to this day.

Tucked away on the west shore of Nita Lake, Tyrol Lodge has managed to survive through these eras as well as any other property.  When members of the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club first chose the site for their cabin in 1963, the gorgeous view across Nita Lake to Whistler Mountain (still officially named London Mountain at the time) didn’t include any ski lifts.

The lodge under construction

The lodge under construction. Frank Grundig Photo.

The Tyrol Club envisioned their cabin according to the traditional ski lodges of their Alpine motherland. It was simply to provide a comfortable if modest base from which club members and their guests could explore the surrounding mountains on foot and on skis.

While outdoor play was an obvious draw, maintaining a vibrant social life was just as important. Long-term Whistlerite Trudy Alder worked as the Lodge’s caretaker, along with her first husband Helmut, from 1968 to 1970. At the time, she considered entertaining lodge guests with spirited après-ski full to be as important a duty as clean linens and stacked firewood. What the lodge lacked in luxury, it made up with rustic charm and a sense of community.

The festive Tyrolean spirit was, and remains today, a defining characteristic of the Tyrol Club.

The festive Tyrolean spirit was, and remains today, a defining characteristic of the Tyrol Club. Frank Grundig Photo.

To this day there is no television in the lodge to distract from socialization. In fact, once on the Tyrol Lodge grounds, there is very little to indicate that you haven’t been warped back to the 1960s. Strategic upgrades like energy-efficient windows were deemed higher priority upgrades than video games and trendy décor. Perhaps counter-intuitively, bucking the trends of the modern ski industry seems to have been a winning strategy.

The Games Room, today. Very little has changed over the years. Jeff Slack photo.

The Games Room, today. Very little has changed over the years. Jeff Slack photo.

Today, the Tyrol Club continues to boast a sizeable and cohesive membership, with many young families joining who sought a departure from the typical ski-in, ski-out experience. Those involved with Tyrol Lodge all cite the club’s strong camaraderie and its devotion to its founding values as reasons why it has survived, even thrived for so long, as most other ski clubs and cabins have long-since ceased.

This Saturday, August 3rd, from 1-4pm, the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club will be welcoming the community to Tyrol Lodge to celebrate the property’s 50th anniversary. There will be a bbq, historical displays, and other fun activities for all ages. The event offers the perfect opportunity to tour the beautiful grounds, experience the Tyrol Club’s renowned hospitality, and experience firsthand some of our community’s living heritage, no time machine required.

The Lodge, today. Jeff Slack photo.

Tyrol Lodge, today. Jeff Slack photo.

Speaker Series: Three Decades On The Duffey

*** SOLD OUT ***

Failure planes, depth hoar, induction lines, Rutschblocks. Even if you have no idea what we’re talking about, you probably know that avalanche safety is an extremely important topic in B.C. and other mountain regions around the world. Avalanche science has come a long way over the last three decades, and Scott Aitken has seen it all.

Scott in front of some Gazex avalanche detonator above the Duffey.

Scott is entering his 29th season as an avalanche technician for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure’s Coast-Chilcotin section. The man is personally responsible for keeping our region’s roads safe from snow slides, including the renowned ski terrain above the notorious Duffey Lake Highway. You can bet he’s accumulated his share of stories over the years.

For a quick video tease of Scott working in the field, check this short clip “Avalanche Road” from photo/video magician Jordan Manley, profiling avalanche crews around the province (Scott and partner Doug Tuck appear about 1:35 in):

This Wednesday evening Scott will be coming into the Whistler Museum to kick off our winter Speaker Series with a presentation  entitled “Avalanche Forecasting: A Thirty Year Retrospective.” The start of another glorious, snow-filled winter is the perfect time for a snow-safety refresher, but don’t come expecting a dull crystallography lecture (though I’m sure he’ll be happy to answer any technical questions).

Fairly typical work conditions for an Avy Tech.

Instead, Scott will offer a unique first-hand account of the life of a professional avalanche technician. These folks work pretty darn hard to keep our roads and surrounding mountains safe, but go completely unnoticed when they’re doing their jobs best. Wednesday’s presentation will provide you with a behind-the-scenes look into these unheralded efforts and broaden your perspective on the huge advancements in avalanche safety over the years.

Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, behind the Library)
When: Wednesday November 21st, Doors 6:15pm, Presentation 7pm
Tickets: 7$/$5 for Museum members. Advance tickets at museum or call 604-932-2019
Other: Cash Bar (19+), complimentary tea & coffee.

Stay tuned for announcements about upcoming Speaker Series events, to occur on the 3rd Wednesday of each month, January through April. 

Pip Brock part 1

Beyond its success as a tourist destination, Rainbow Lodge’s success also attracted a growing number of year-round and seasonal residents, planting the seeds of the community that eventually became Whistler.

The Vancouver family of Reginald and Mildred Brock was just one family among the growing number of city-dwellers who began building vacation homes in this beautiful valley. The Brock’s first discovered the valley when Mrs. Brock came to visit a friend’s cottage in 1927 and instantly fell in love with the lakeside community, as so many others have since. Two years later the Brock’s purchased two lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake and hired Bert Harrop to build their cottage, which they named Primrose.

The Brock's Primrose Cabin near the south end of Alta Lake.

Every summer thereafter, the Brock’s visited Primrose along with their five sons– Patrick Willet, Byron Briton, David Hamilton, Thomas Leith and Philip (Pip) Gilbert. For Mr. and Mrs. Brock, Alta Lake was a peaceful summer retreat from their busy city lives. For their youngest child Pip, it became the jumping off point into a vast mountain wilderness just waiting to be explored.

Pip  had an especially strong draw to Whistler and would often come up on his own. Of course there was no Greyhound for a teenaged boy to ride—there wasn’t even a road—but that was no obstacle for Pip. After riding a steamship, most people hopped on the PGE railway to complete the day-long voyage from Vancouver to Alta Lake.

The boat would get there at about 2 o’clock and if we felt like spending 50¢ we could take a taxi as far as Cheakeye, but sometimes we didn’t even want to do that. Believe it or not, 50¢ seemed like a lot of money! So we walked the whole 38 miles quite often.

Even if folks were tougher back then, Pip Brock still stands out as exceptionally hardy—a trait that would serve him well in the mountains. As Brock plainly stated of the frequent 10-hour treks, “nobody else wanted to do the walking” so he usually went alone.

Despite the lengthy hike, upon arrival, Pip didn’t rest up one bit.  Instead he usually kept hiking right up into the surrounding mountains. He climbed some of the closer peaks as a teenager and began to gain notoriety among the locals for his mountain jaunts.

Pip was able to parlay his love for the mountains into paid work up high. In the 1920s and 30s the City of Vancouver had substantial interest in developing the hydro-electric potential of Garibaldi Park’s many glacial lakes and streams to power the rapidly growing metropolis. For several summers Pip worked for the Vancouver Water Board hydro surveys, measuring water storage and hydro-electric potential in the mountains he loved so much.

Pip atop Whistler Mountain, early 1930s

At the age of nineteen Pip made his first newsworthy ascent. It was Easter 1933, and with a new set of skis which he had purchased from Woodward’s department store (he later described them as “terrible”), he climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and then proceeded to ski back down. Locals and visitors to Rainbow Lodge’ had been hiking to nearby summits like Whistler for some time, but this was the first ski ascent and descent of Whistler Mountain—thirty-two years before the arrival of lift-accessed skiing to the mountain. Locals didn’t believe the brash teenager’s claim until Pip pointed out his ski tracks through a set of binoculars.

At the time serious mountain folk remained sceptical of skis’ utility as a means of travel. Once, when he dropped in on Harry Horstman’s Sproatt Mountain cabin on a set of skis, the indignant prospector retorted ‘What the hell you got them planks fur? I can get around twice as fast on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin boards!” Even most recreational mountaineers, accustomed to the North Shore’s steep wooded slopes, thought skis’ potential as a mountaineering tool were dubious at best. One Vancouver climber went as far as to publicize a mock award for the first person to ski-climb the Camel, a vertical climbing crag that never holds any snow.

Brock was among a small group of mountain-lovers who saw the great potential that skis held among the Coast Mountains’ vast glacial expanses. As Brock recalled in a 1992 interview with the Whistler Museum, “most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent. But a few of us being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring.” Brock soon befriended these other early converts, most notably the renowned climbers Don and Phyllis Munday. In 1930 the Mundays had begun their own (successful) experiments with ski-mountaineering in their widely publicized expeditions to Mount Waddington, the incredibly rugged and isolated highest peak in the Coast Mountains.

Thanks to his own ski-mountaineering experience, the Mundays invited Pip along as a packer on their 1934 expedition, which also featured high profile American climbers Henry Hall and Hans Fuhrer (who eventually scored the prestigious first ascent of Waddington in 1936). Their party made an epic attempt on the highly technical, dangerous, and still-unclimbed peak—after eight years this was to be the Mundays’ last attempt on Waddington—and they also made several ascents during their four-week-long expedition.

The following summer Pip would return with the Mundays to a new, largely unexplored set of mountains just to the north of Waddington. Their goal was to pursue more pioneer ascents in this superlative landscape, but this climbing trip would be cut short by an unexpected tragedy.

To learn about the tramautic loss of Pip’s parents, and his further ski-mountaineering adventures in the mountains surrounding Whistler, read part two here