Tag Archives: Charlie Doyle

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?

History of the Whistler Answer

The history of the Whistler Answer right from the horses mouth - so to speak.

The history of the Whistler Answer right from the horses mouth – so to speak.

Whistler MTB 20 years ago

So the Whistler Mountain Bike Park opened for the season yesterday! Mountain biking has quickly grown to become Whistler’s most high-profile summer attraction, but even before our ski lifts began shuttling fat-tire types up Whistler Mountain Whistler already had a well-developed biking scene. It’s just that hardly anyone knew about it.

Mountain Biking Whistler, early 1990s.

Mountain Biking Whistler, early 1990s.

For a little perspective we dug into our archives and consulted a copy of the 1993 publication “The Whistler Handbook.” In an article titled  “The Trails Are World Class But Few Know About It – Yet” local artist, sign-maker, and former editor of the Whistler Answer Charlie Doyle had this to say about the local mountain biking scene in 1993:

“Mountain biking in Whistler today is like skiing was twenty years ago. In those days the skiing was every bit as astounding as it is currently, but it hadn’t been dubbed “World Class” yet… All we had was the best skiing in the world and hardly anyone outside the Lower Mainland knew or cared anything about it.” Just to be clear, Charlie wasn’t complaining about this lack of recognition.

The article describes how Whistler decommissioned logging roads formed the backbone of the local trail network, frequently re-cleared by rogue bike enthusiasts to provide smooth climbs and trunk roads servicing an ever-expanding network of single track routes.

Newcomers to the sport will be surprised to learn how many of these trails had already been built in 1993. Some of Whistler’s bike trails might even  be older than most of the people riding today!

An early x-country race on Whistler Mountain, early 1990s.

An early x-country race on Whistler Mountain, early 1990s.

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About as technical as downhill descents got at the time, many of the images from in this collection show the racers walking their bikes down this section. Way up in the Whistler Alpine, early 1990s.

Among Charlie’s suggestions were now-classic trails such as Cut Yer Bars (“offers a truckload of technical drops, obstacles, climbs and slalom descents”), Northwest Passage (“runs like a roller coaster across creeks and big sweeping corners”), the Black Tusk climb (“not to be missed for those who love gut-wrenching climbs”) and a few Westside favourites like A River Runs Through It (“you may never want to leave”).

A poster for

A poster from an early Loonie Race (late 1980s). These weekly summer rides still run to this day (although inflation forced them to be re-branded “Toonie Rides” a few years back) are now massive social events, often with hundreds of participants.

As an aside, Charlie noted that “the municipal government has yet to be convinced that the bike scene can provide sufficient retail kickback to jump on the bandwagon.” Since that assessment the RMOW has clearly seen the light, as it is widely considered a case study in the positive impacts that follow from local government support for mountain bike trail networks. Interestingly, the first place Charlie suggested for prospective riders was Lost Lake Park, which is now a municipally-operated bike park.

Fast forward 20 years and Whistler’s biking scene is firmly in the situated in the mainstream.  As the trail network expanded, all the accompanying markers of “world class” status Charlie referred to are here as well: overseas visitors, global media recognition, dozens of dedicated bike shops, and media blitzes that are as calculated and labour intensive as the trails themselves.

For more info on the history of local trail-building, check out WORCA’s trail history article, and “Quest for the Holy Trail” run in the Pique last summer. 

And for fun, we’ll re-post this classic clip from our archives, showing some sweet mtb action from 1988:

“For Those Tired of Questions…”

Usually, if you’re looking for a laugh, you don’t seek out your local newspaper. Of course, as we’ve made clear over and over again in this space, Whistler is no ordinary town. We’re blessed with more out-of-the-boxers, more trixsters, and more contrarians per capita than most small towns, and their presence has coloured our history remarkably.

Back in 1977 a group of free-thinking  and creative souls began publishing the Whistler Answer. In its first iteration the Answer ran until 1982, and it made a short revival in 1992-1993. The Answer provided an alternative voice for a growing community full of ski bums, squatters, hippies, and other counter-cultural types. Even its title was irreverent, a playful response to the Whistler Question, the only serious local paper at the time.

The Answer’s content was witty, creative and cherished by (almost) all who were around to read the originals. Few publications could have managed to fit in so much censor-maddening drugs, nudity and profanity while maintaining such a consistently hilarious and good-natured tone.

The first cover of the Whistler Answer, launched April 1st 1977.

The first cover of the Whistler Answer, launched April 1st 1977.

 With that said, we are extremely excited to announce the launch of the Whistler Museum’s latest on-line exhibit, the full digitization of both runs of the Answer, Whistler’s original underground newspaper. It can be found at www.whistlermuseum.org/whistleranswer, or from anywhere on our main website under the “Exhibits” drop-down menu simply click on “Whistler Answer.”

While it often featured stories that weren’t covered elsewhere, due to its heavy satire and quirky record-keeping the Answer’s main historic value stems less from its recorded facts than from its expression of the spirit of the times. The Answer provides a window into the oft-reminisced “Old Whistler,” an idyllic era that pre-dates our valley’s hyper-development and fast-paced urban atmosphere.

The guerilla newspaper’s content was inherently iconoclastic and irreverent, and when we look back upon that era in Whistler’s history, quite often the youthful, free spirit of the “ski bum” community is considered just as important as the more conventional historic figures: politicians, developers, business leaders, and so on. A core element of Whistler’s historical narrative is that many of the rebellious, counter-cultural youth went on to fill these more “serious” roles in later years.

With the benefits of hindsight one can see the extent to which those counter-cultural elements that the Answer represented actually became the mainstream in Whistler. With that in mind, a playful browse of the Answer catalogue is perfect fodder to debate whether Whistler’s free spirit is truly long-gone, or alive and well.

Hard-hitting journalism, December 1992.

Hard-hitting journalism, December 1992.

Either way, times have clearly changed. Consider how the Whistler Answer is now digitized, text-searchable, tablet-friendly, and has been given a permanent on-line home, but the original 1977-82 run was hand-drawn, hand-lettered and hand-pasted by the light of kerosene lamps in a local squat. That, in its own right, is an apt summary of Whistler’s mind-numbing rate of change in recent decades.

The original idea to digitize the Answer was born from a conversation between Whistler Museum staff and original Whistler Answer editor Charlie Doyle in 2011. Funding for the project was generously provided by the University of British Columbia’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, as part of their British Columbia History Digitization Program.