Tag Archives: backcountry

“Huts Don’t Build Themselves” – Wendy Thompson Hut Work Day

Every backcountry skier would agree that huts and cabins are a godsend. They offer shelter and improve access to otherwise inhospitable environments, and can become glorious havens of comfort and sociability deep in the mountain wilderness. But, to quote Mitch Sulkers, Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Whistler section chair, “huts don’t build themselves.”

Nor do they maintain themselves, and beyond wear and tear from users, the harsh mountain environment takes its toll on human structures as well. This summer and fall the ACC members and other volunteers have been working on major renovations and upgrades to the Wendy Thompson Hut, which was built by the ACC-Whistler in 2000. We tagged along on one of their work parties this week to check it out and see exactly what that entails.

After the group all met at the Pemberton heliport, the first group of 5 were flown directly to the hut to prepare the site, especially clearing pathways and digging out work sites in the metre deep snowpack. The rest of us drove to the staging point just off the Duffey Lake Highway and began preparing loads of firewood and building materials that would be shuttled to the hut by the helicopter.


The staging area. Firewood was collected into large mesh nets for transport. Slings were used for stacks of lumber. Jeff Slack Photo.


Liftoff for the first stack of lumber. Goggles and hoods were mandatory attire during all loading and unloading due to violently blowing snow. Jeff Slack Photo.


Off to the Hut. Jeff Slack Photo.

In total, 7 loads were transported up to the hut. This all happened remarkably fast, thanks in large part to the heli-pilot’s considerable skill and expertise. While this was going on, a 3rd group of volunteers began the 3-hour snowshoe trek from the staging area to the hut. Once the last load of materials arrived at the hut (and 2 loads of garbage, construction waste, and unneeded equipment was flow down), the last group of volunteers (myself included) were given a quick, scenic ride to the hut in the chopper.


As the helicopter set down, the area surrounding the hut was already a hive of activity. Jeff Slack Photo.

Once we unloaded ourselves and our gear and the heli had set off, work continued in a bustling but orderly manner as there was an ambitious work plan for the afternoon. Some members had already begun work framing a new mudroom inside the hut, there was no shortage of firewood that needed to be moved and stacked, and I joined a group that began work on a new woodshed to keep the firewood dry and protected from the very deep winter snowpack.


Sorting through the supplies in front of the hut. Jeff Slack Photo.


Early stages of the new woodshed. Jeff Slack Photo.


ACC-Whistler section chair and occasional roofer, Mitch Sulkers, not only oversaw much of the operations, he also put his considerable carpentry skills to good use while delegating the rest of the group. Jess Slack Photo.

After a few frenzied hours light began to fade, flurries started to fall, and small groups began to snowshoe back down the trail to the awaiting vehicles. But not before an impressive amount of work was accomplished, especially considering the deep snow and sub-zero temperatures.


The work party prepares for the trek back down. Jeff Slack Photo.

It was a wonderful experience to tag along with such an enthusiastic and dedicated group of backcountry folk. Watching the crew at work underscored how much time and effort goes into maintaining our recreational infrastructure, be it huts or trails. If you find recreating in the backcountry rewarding, perhaps you should consider joining a local club and contributing your time as well (one not be a member to join many of these work days).


The second-storey sleeping platform highlights the Gothic arch design that one frequently encounters in the Coast Mountain backcountry. Jeff Slack Photo.

The new and improved Wendy Thompson Hut will be fully ready to go for the upcoming winter season. It is available only through reservation, which must be pre-arranged through the ACC-Whistler website.  While it is certainly an idyllic bit of mountain paradise, it must be noted that this hut is in a remote and wild setting, and all visitors should be self-sufficient, prepared for self-rescue, and equipped with all the necessary gear and knowledge to contend with hazards inherent to mountain and wilderness environments such as avalanches, extreme weather, and more. 

As mentioned before, the Wendy Thompson was built according to the classic gothic arch design first developed by members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club in the 1960s and which has been since replicated throughout the Coast Range. The Whistler Museum has a soft spot for these simple, tough, and charming structures, and is currently researching and compiling a comprehensive history of these huts. Look for more related content in the coming months.

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.

Does the Backcountry Need Rules?

There’s a reason that the book commonly referred to as “the mountaineer’s bible” is called Freedom of the Hills. One of the main draws of the backcountry is the freedom one experiences there. Free from social constraints, free from the stresses of urban life, and free from many of the written and unwritten law that are necessary to keep society functioning smoothly.  Freedom to enjoy and explore the natural world.


Members of the 1939 George Bury ski expedition to Garibaldi Park, beneath the imposing Black Tusk.

But freedom is always a relative concept. Most laws apply to backcountry areas just as they do in the heart of the city. And for all the much-vaunted solitude of backcountry recreation, most of our excursions are to relatively popular areas that still entail a degree of interaction with other people. With surging popularity, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that, like it or not, backcountry skiing is becoming an increasingly social activity.

Do we need one of these for the backcountry?

Do we need one of these for the backcountry?

Maybe, it follows, more social norms are in order back there. We all know the Alpine Skiers Responsibility Code, that yellow card that lists the rules to abide by when at a ski resort. Well, increasing crowds and associated safety concerns mean a formal backcountry code of conduct may well be in order.

That’s exactly what we intend to produce at our first Speaker Series event of the 2013-14 season.  Featuring a very esteemed panel and a healthy dose of audience participation. we’ll be drafting a preliminary Backcountry Alpine Responsibility Code, or BARC.

BARC Poster2

Ryan Bougie: Blackcomb Avalanche Forecaster, avid adventurer, Coast Range traverser.

Keith Reid: Former president of the ACMG and lead backcountry guide for Extremely Canadian.

Dave Sarkany: ACMG ski guide, mountain instructor, Whistler Search-and-Rescue.

Mitch Sulkers: Avalanche instructor, hiking guide, outdoor educator.

Dave Treadway: Professional Freeskier, Snowmobiler, Pemberton SAR.Gazing up at the north face of Mount Garibaldi.

Cliff Fenner (right) and friend gazing up at the north face of Mount Garibaldi, mid-1950s.

With this well-rounded and supremely knowledgeable panel, we hope to craft a pretty solid document. But we need your help. There will be a large audience participation component. So come armed with your suggestions for the BARC. What do you think? What are your backcountry safety concerns and pet peeves? What rules should we all abide by to keep each other safe, happy, and having fun?

“The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler” Exhibit Launch!

We’re really excited to announce that we are on schedule to re-open the museum next weekend with our brand new exhibit “The Evolution of Skiing”! Almost 50% of our exhibit space has been revamped, renovated and replaced, making this our most significant exhibit upgrade in over 3 years. The project was made possible thanks to generous support from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won't be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won’t be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

There are a whole slew of new informative panels, display cases full of artifacts, interactive displays, and some pretty big surprises that we just can’t wait to share. We don’t want to give away all our secrets, so you’ll just have to come and see them for yourselves!

While we think our new exhibit is plenty of an attraction in itself, we’ve decided to sweeten the pot and have a full program of launch events that will compliment our displays and give you even more reason to pay us a visit. Here’s a quick overview. Expect more details in the coming days.

November 23 – Feeding The Spirit. Our annual Welcome Week extravaganza, featuring free food provided by the fine folks at Creekside Market and tons of door prizes from awesome local businesses. Everyone welcome, from new arrivals to long-time residents. 5:30-8pm. Free!!!

November 28 – Official Exhibit Launch.  We’re dying to show off our new exhibit, come check it out! There will be some short speeches by museum staff & board, but the focus for the evening will simply be on exploring the additions and updates to our permanent exhibits, particularly our new section exploring “The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler.” 6pm- 9pm. Admission will be free to all.

November 30 – Backcountry Skiers Alpine Responsibility Code. We all know the Alpine Skiers Responsibility Code, that yellow card that lists the rules to abide by when at a ski resort. Well, what about the backcountry? Increasing crowds and obvious safety concerns mean a backcountry code of conduct is in order. This evening we will craft a draft of this code, featuring a very esteemed panel and a healthy dose of audience participation. 7-9pm. Tickets: $10/$7 museum members.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our "Filming Mountains" presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our “Filming Mountains” presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

December 8 – Filming Mountains. This new event, in partnership with the Whistler Film Festival, celebrates our town’s proud history at the forefront of the ski and snowboard film industry. Heralded filmmakers will share clips and stories from the past that will entertain while giving unique insights into the filmmaking experience. 3-6pm, Tickets: $10/$7 members.

December 11 – The Whistler vs Blackcomb Debate. Without a doubt the most important topic yet to be tackled by our Whistler Debates series. With your help, this evening will decide, once and for all, which is the superior mountain in this valley (and, therefore, on Earth). Heavy stuff, indeed. 6:30-9pm. Tickets: $7/$5 members.

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

Whistler Debates presents: Preservation vs POW! The Backcountry Access Debate

Think the Spearhead Huts are the greatest idea since fat skis? Does the ongoing rush to the backcountry risks spoiling the solitude (and fresh pow) that draws us out there in the first place? How do we best maintain a relationship with wilderness in our increasingly urban, on-line world? If you have ever pondered such matters, this night is for you.

The Whistler Museum, WhistlerIsAwesome.com and the Whistler Arts Council are excited to announce the second installment in the Whistler Debates events series: PRESERVATION vs POW: The Backcountry Access Debate.

The debate will take place at Millennium Place, where the ongoing Out of Bounds: Tales from the Backcountry photography competition will provide an inspiring visual backdrop for this thought-provoking evening. As the snow line creeps down to the valley and stoke builds for the fast-approaching winter, come watch prominent members of the self-propelled community debate the merits of improved access to that rugged and remote paradise, the backcountry.

When: Monday October 29th, 7:30pm
Where: Millennium Place
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 advance tickets, $12 same day
Tickets can be purchased at Millennium Place, or by calling 604-935-8410

Event sponsored by The Escape Route

Featured debaters:

“Garage Sale” Frank Salter – This local character is best known for his personal collection of historic ski gear, one of the largest in the world, which was featured in the latest issue of Powder magazine. But did you know that this “backcountry posterboy” has also been featured in numerous published magazine articles, photographs, and yes, even on a beer coaster? Frank is full of surprises, and always entertains.

Alex Wigley – An endurance athlete, member of the Canadian National Ski Mountaineering Team (2009-2012) avalanche course instructor, and ACMG Assistant Ski Guide. Alex currently concentrates his time on training, skiing, shooting mountain photography, and updating his ski-mountaineering blog “Ski Theory.”

Michel Beaudry – He’s an alpine poet, a backcountry bard. He’s a critic, a philosopher… an enthusiastic promoter of all things self-propelled. He’s also been writing award-winning stories on mountain life for the last thirty years. Beaudry’s column, Alta States, appears every week in Pique Newsmagazine.

Wayne Flann – Wayne is a veteran Blackcomb ski patroller, avalanche forecaster, search & rescue volunteer, safety consultant for the film industry, and member of the Canadian Ski Guides Association. This guy knows his stuff. For the last year he has been helping keep the backcountry community in the know through the aptly titled Wayne Flann Avalanche Blog.

About Whistler Debates:

Whistlerites self-identify as informed, opinionated, and outspoken. We’re going to put this assumption to the test. Inspired by the Doha Debates, our aim is to provide a forum for respectful, informed dialogue on wide-ranging topics of local or general interest. Debates will take place year-round and coincide with ongoing festivals and events. All debates will feature a strong audience participation component, so come armed with an opinion, an open mind, and a desire to engage with some of the most pressing topics of our times.