Tag Archives: Boot Pub

Building the Boot

Visitors coming to Whistler today have a variety of accommodation options, from campsites to luxury hotel suites, but in the 1970s there weren’t nearly as many choices. In 1972, Garibaldi’s Whistler News described the situation as: “There are no big, fancy resort-type hotels in the area offering everything under the sun. Instead, scattered around the base of the lifts are numerous inns and restaurants offering a good selection of accommodations and dining facilities.” Most of these establishments, such as the Cheakamus Inn, Highland Lodge, and Christiana Inn, were located around the area now known as Creekside. The Ski Boot, however, was a little further away.

Ski Boot Hotel, later the Shoestring Lodge and Boot Pub

In 1966, David and Irene Andrews purchased a ten-acre site along Highway 99 and Fitzsimmons Creek for $10,000, about 5 km north of the newly opened gondola base. Over the next year, they began construction of the Ski Boot Motel, a “modern” motel expected to open during the 1967/68 ski season. The Andrews offered a variety of accommodations in their 32 units, from private rooms to suites that slept eight. During its first season, the Ski Boot Motel provided reasonable rates, sometimes as low as $5/night, and even offered a “ski week” that included five nights accommodations, meals, and lift tickets for just $67.50.

Over the next few years, more development was planned and built north of the ski lifts, though the majority of the lodges and nightlife continued to be found around the gondola base. In 1971, the Andrews announced a major investment of $100,000 (today about $1.35 million) in their Ski Boot property, now called the Ski Boot Lodge Hotel, to turn it into “Whistler’s Largest and Most Complete Tourist Resort.” They proposed to add a full-service dining room, cocktail lounge, beer parlour, convention facilities, laundromat, Finnish sauna, and additional accommodations, along with plans for live entertainment and a bus to transport skiers between the lifts and the lodge (the purple bus became known to some as the “Purple People Eater,” no double from the 1958 song). The beer parlour opened to the public (guests and residents alike) in January 1972, with the dining room following that March. The lodge also introduced two new members of staff that season: two St. Bernard puppies named Ski and Boot. While rates did increase during the period, the Ski Boot continued to be known for reasonable prices.

The Ski Boot Hotel and Bus, with additions under construction. WMSC Collection

The Andrews reportedly sold the Ski Boot Lodge Hotel for $350,000 in 1973, though not much is known about this period. Over the next few decades, the property was sold numerous times and went by various names, including the White Gold Inn (during which time exotic dancing was first introduced), Fitzsimmons Lodge, Bavarian Inn, and the Shoestring Lodge. The term “Boot,” however, continued to be associated with the property and specifically the Boot Pub.

Despite being located outside of both the gondola base and later the Whistler Village, the Andrews’ early commitment to reasonable rates and additions to the original lodge laid the foundation for the Boot to grow into an institution as the Whistler area continued to develop and grow. Though it closed its doors in 2006 and was then demolished, many residents and visitors still fondly share their stories of times spent at the Boot, whether they stayed there when they first arrived in Whistler, ate at Gaitors as a child, or spent memorable evenings at the bar.

Remembering an Iconic Whistler Venue: The Boot Pub

With all the bands, concerts and events going on in Whistler in the summer, it’s easy to forget about the Boot Pub and all its past glory in laying the groundwork for the entertainment scene we know today.

The Ski Boot Motel and Bus, still under construction. WMSC Collection

For those who haven’t heard about it, the Boot Pub opened its doors in 1970 as part of the Ski Boot Lodge Motel at the corner of Highway 99 and Nancy Greene Way and soon became legendary.  It was a place where ski bums could lay their heads for just $5 a night, where travellers on a shoestring budget could find a relatively cheap place to stay in an increasingly expensive resort.

Sadly, the Boot served its last customers in 2006, but to this day nearly every longtime resident of Whistler has a story to tell about the bar and live-music venue – it even hosted the Tragically Hip along with other performers such as She Stole My Beer, The Watchmen, Michael Franti & Spearhead, D.O.A. and SNFU.

The Boot Pub hosted some incredible bands in its day, including The Watchmen pictured here (date unknown). Evans Collection

The Hip, one of the most popular bands in Canada, played a surprise concert at the Boot in 2003 – they had booked the venue under the band name The Fighting Fighters and their performance was top secret until they came out on stage to raucous applause.

While the design of the building and the weathered, cedar-shingle siding didn’t have any particular appeal to the eye, it became a place that captured the local lore of Whistler in its over three decades of operation.

Nicknamed the locals’ living room, it was comfortable and lively, a place where you could drink cheap beer and listen to great live music.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

It soon became one of the main social and cultural attractions of the growing town, helped by a few rowdy stories to lock in its notable reputation.  Many of these stories seem to include unique entrances, such as an Aussie bartender who rode into the pub on his horse (rather than hitching it to the post outside like others did), an ex-coach of the Crazy Canucks ski team riding his motorcycle in, and even someone arriving by snowcat.

While the Boot Pub operated mainly as a pub and a venue for live music, it was also notorious for hosting a different kind of live entertainment: the infamous Boot Ballet.  Yes, it was for many years Whistler’s exotic dance venue.

After over 25 years in business and a few ownership changes, the Boot closed just a few years after it was purchased by Cressey Development Limited, a Vancouver-based company.

The Boot Pub hosted a variety of acts, including Rainbow Butt Monkeys, today known as Finger Eleven. Evans Collection

It may have been inevitable that the Boot Pub would be subjected to redevelopment given its location within walking distance of the village, but there is little doubt that places like the Boot Pub were vital in helping to nurture Whistler’s famed ski culture, which attracted skiers and travellers from all over the world.

Whistler is a dynamic and compelling place and comparing the Whistler of today to the Whistler of the ’70s is almost impossible.  The resort is constantly undergoing changes to meet the demands and investments of an international destination resort, but looking back, it is clear that during the resort’s early days, the Boot Pub was more than just a local watering hole – it was where Whistler came to relax and share the stories that have become our history.

Angela Leong is one of two summer Collections Assistants at the Whistler Museum.  She will be returning to Simon Fraser University in the fall to continue her degree in Health Sciences.

A hard winter’s baby boom

Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.

Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler's famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler's book "Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town"

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie's truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie’s truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…

Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?