Tag Archives: Cheakamus Inn

Dag Aabye in Whistler

Many of the names of runs on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains pay homage to skiers and, slightly less often, snowboarders who made a mark on the mountains, whether as an employee, an investor, or an athlete. Some of these names, such as Franz’s Run, McConkey’s, and Arthurs’s Choice are fairly easy to trace back to their source, while others like Bushrat, Jam Tart, and Jolly Green Giant require a bit more knowledge of their namesake. During a 2019 speaker event, however, it was pointed out that there is one skier who, despite making quite an impression during his time in the Whistler valley, has no official namesake on Whistler Mountain: Dag Aabye.

Dag Aabye shows off his skills on Whistler Mountain. Cliff Fenner Collection.

When Roy Ferris and Alan White opened the Garibaldi Ski School in 1966, they asked Ornulf Johnsen from Norway to come manage it. Johnsen persuaded the lift company to bring over fellow Norwegian Dag Aabye to work for him. Aabye had previously been working as a ski instructor in Britain and as a movie stuntman, including skiing in the 1965 James Bond film Goldfinger, and he soon arrived to begin instructing on Whistler Mountain.

Dag Aabye runs with his skis as part of the Great Snow Earth Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

According to Lynn Mathews, Aabye was “tall, lanky, quiet,” a “really nice guy who would do these most unbelievable things.” Mathews described him as “a cat on skis” and remembered watching him ski down the Red Chair lift line, “touching lightly from side to side as he went down these cliffs.” Jim McConkey, who took over the management of the ski school in 1968, described Aabye as “just a phenomenal skier” and recalled watching him jump off a cornice on the Whistler glacier, land, and ski straight down.

Aabye became known for his first ski descents on Whistler Mountain, including areas of Whistler’s peak that are permanently closed today such as Don’t Miss and the Weekend Chutes, sometimes waiting days for the right conditions before hiking up from the top of the t-bar. In some cases, it would be another twenty to thirty years before the next person made the same descent.

Norwegian hot-shot Dag Aabye jumping off the roof of the Cheakamus Inn, 1967. Walt Preissl, who took the photo, recalls the occasion: “We were in the Cheakamus Inn Hotel at Whistler, sitting in the bar with Marg Egger, when we saw this pile of snow go swiftly by the window, including a body with it , we ran out and it was Dag. Ornulf was taking some pics, he asked him to go back up and do it again so that he could get a better shot. And so he did go back and jump off the roof of the Cheakamus Inn [again]. He was a match for Jim McConkey who used to do things like that.” Photo courtesy of Walt Preissl.

Aabye could be seen skiing in films by Jim Rice, including a short 1968 film featuring Aabye and Cliff Jennings skiing the glaciers around Whistler by helicopter. Off the mountain, he also became known for his willingness to ski off man-made structures, such as the Cheakamus Inn. According to Mathews, this was done mostly “for fun. Cause doesn’t everyone ski off the roof and land 50 feet down?” Aabye also built his own jump for his efforts to land a backflip on 215 cm skis and could often be found walking on his hands with his skis still attached to his feet. In summers, Aabye worked as a coach at the summer ski camps alongside ski celebrities such as Toni Sailer and Nancy Greene.

The staff of the 1969 Summer Ski Camp, including skiing legend, Dag Aabye. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

In his 80s today, Aabye is still known as an athlete, competing annually in ultra marathons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though he long ago left Whistler and ended up outside SilverStar (where the run Aabye Road bears his name), Aabye is still talking about in the valley and on the mountain.

Highway to (Powder) Heaven

The towering mountains and lush valleys that inspire people to fall in love with the Sea to Sky also create challenges for access. When Myrtle and Alex Philip arrived at John Millar’s cabin in 1911, they had taken a steamer to Squamish, and then walked the rest of the way to Millar’s cabin at present-day Function Junction. With the introduction of the railway to Alta Lake in 1914, the region was opened to more tourism and industry.

Prior to 1965, the road to Whistler was notoriously unreliable. Regular creek crossings were required and the single lane gravel road suffered extreme washouts, as seen in this photo of Cheakamus Canyon in the 50s. Janet Love Morrison collection.

It was not until 1956, however, that a road connected Vancouver to Squamish, and there was not a reliable road to Whistler until the 1960s. To ensure the highway was completed in time for the opening of the lifts in 1965, rumour has it that the Garibaldi Lifts Company gave a single ski to the then-Minister of Highways Phil Gaglardi. He kept this ski in his office as an incentive to complete the road, and was presented with the matching ski upon the completion of the highway.

Crossing creek on the road to Alta Lake (now known as Whistler), south of Pinecrest. Before the highway, numerous creek crossings meant access via car was not possible at many times during the year. Janet Love Morrison collection.

Even once the highway went in, it was still a hair-raising journey. While driving the Sea to Sky in certain conditions today requires confident and experienced winter drivers, imagine if the roads were only plowed once a week. This is what visitors and residents had to contend with for the inaugural season of Whistler Mountain. Only ski fanatics would brave the journey, and you had to be a special type of enthusiast to make the trip on Friday evening before the roads were plowed on Saturday morning.

When you met another car along the single-lane plowed gravel road, there was no room to pass. Both cars were required to stop and snow was dug out of the snow banks to let the smaller car squeeze by. Revellers would spend Friday night at the Cheakamus Inn, watching to see whose cars had survived the rough trip. As Paul Burrows remembers, “Eventually most people ended up at the Inn because after driving that road you needed a drink.”

Even the good sections of road were rough and hard on vehicles. This photo was taken prior to the highway near Pinecrest. Janet Love Morrison collection.

In 1966, one year after construction, Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons and kept clear of snow as much as possible. As we know, that did not eliminate all transport problems. The Squamish Citizen reported in 1987, “Poor visibility, the near eradication of lines along the edge of the highway and the dinginess of the centre line coupled with the spottiness of the cat’s eyes (road reflectors) in many places makes it almost impossible to distinguish the centre line or edge of the road.” Does that sound familiar? The article goes on to recommend imbedding the cat’s eyes in the centre of the road, and suggesting that someone invent fluorescent paint for the road lines.

These solutions (including the invention of fluorescent paint), along with the widening of the road for the 2010 Olympics, have no doubt helped with access and we have seen incredible growth in visitors and residents alike, resulting in far more people using the Sea to Sky Highway. However, where you have mountainous geography and weather that brings amazing snowfalls, road and access continue to be topics of great debate. At least it does not take five hours to get to Costco every visit, unless you make the mistake of leaving on Sunday afternoon!

Narrow road through Cheakamus Canyon. Janet Love Morrison collection.

First Trips to Whistler

When Hugh and Hilda McLennan first heard about Whistler Mountain in the early 1960s, they didn’t know exactly where it was or what was planned for the area. This, however, did not stop them from buying shares in Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.

Hugh and Hilda McLennan moved to Vancouver with their two children, Catriona and Neal, in 1957, when Hugh took a position at the University of British Columbia as a professor in the Department of Physiology. The family were already skiers before Whistler Mountain became known to them, often skiing at Mount Baker and even thinking about purchasing property there. Despite buying shares in the company, the McLennans didn’t believe that they would ever ski at Whistler, though they thought that their grandchildren might enjoy it. This didn’t stop them from investing further in the area, however, and when Sandy Martin brought his model of Alpine Village to their living room in 1964, the McLennans agreed to buy one of the units of his proposed development.

While we don’t have any photos of Alpine Village from the 1960s, we do have a photo of Alpine 68, condominiums built just a few years later right by Alpine Village. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

In the summer of 1965, the McLennans decided to take their first trip to Whistler. According to Hilda, the highway around Squamish was still new to them and so they missed a turn and ended up driving into Paradise Valley. After a dusty lunch and new directions, they set off again and eventually came upon a sign on the edge fo the road that read “Site of Garibaldi Lifts.” They continued driving and found another sign that read “Site of Alpine Village.” There wasn’t too much to see at either site, but Sandy Martin had told the McLennans that they could be in their Alpine Village unit by Christmas that year.

The McLennans made their next trip to Whistler on December 17, 1965. It was a short but eventful stay. In an oral history interview in 2016, Hilda recalled that when they moved in, many of the units were frozen. As they were built on a rock cliff, much of the plumbing for the units was housed in cedar boxes above the ground. Before going back to Vancouver, the plumber had wrapped electrical cables around the pipes in the boxes to keep them from freezing. Not only did some of the pipes freeze anyway, but a fire started in one of the boxes in the night.

Hilda McLennan, Richard Heine, and Eleanor Bishop at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club Benefit Dinner. Whistler Question Collection, 1978

That evening, just as Hilda had put dinner on the stove, the water to their unit thawed and began coming up under the toilet. She, Catriona, and Neal were trying to mop up and control the water, but didn’t know where to shut it off. At this point, Hugh, who had been visiting the unit of the Alpine Village architect near the top of the hill, returned. He observed that, in comparison to the architect’s unit where “they’ve got a lovely fire going and the table is all set for dinner with candles,” their place was “a mess.” This was not incredibly well received by those dealing with the flood.

According to Hilda, they didn’t notice the fire until they had no electricity in the morning. She got up to make a cup of coffee and discovered that they had no power. She asked a construction worker who was living in the next unit what had happened, and he told her how the people at the Cheakamus Inn across the highway had seen the fire and come over to put it out. As a precaution, they also turned off the power to the other boxes, especially as some had already shown signs of smouldering. Despite their efforts, Hilda and Neal recalled that some of the units in a different section sustained serious damage. Not surprisingly, the McLennans decided not to stay for another night.

Alpine Village units had another major fire in 1985, though it was reportedly different units that were affected. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

This was just the first of many trips the McLennans made to Whistler, and they returned to Alpine Village with friends for New Years. Though they hadn’t ever expected to ski on the mountain they’d never seen, they became founding members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, helped run international ski races on the hill, and Hugh even served as president of the Western Division of the Canadian Ski Association in the 1970s.

Saunas of Whistler

Looking through Whistler publications from the 1970s, it’s easy to see that building and design in Whistler has changed a lot over the decades.  It’s rare today to see a newly constructed A-frame, Gothic arch cabin or a condo advertised using wall-to-wall shag carpeting as a selling point.  Like the shag carpeting and A-frames, saunas also seem to be disappearing from town.

Not all saunas built in Whistler necessarily met the criteria of H.J. Viherjurri, one of the founding members of the Suomen Saunaseura (Finnish Sauna Society), to be considered a true sauna.  He and other members defined a sauna as a room or hut built of wood and containing stones heated by some kind of stones.  These stones heat the air to upwards of 160°F and water can be thrown on the stones to produce steam, called löyly.  Viherjuuri explains that, unlike steam rooms, the air in a sauna remains dry as the moisture is instantly absorbed by the wooden walls of the room.

It’s not clear whether the products in this 1980 California Pool & Spa ad from the Whistler Answer would meet the requirements of a sauna.  Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Also important to be considered a true sauna is the multi-round process of alternately heating and cooling, whether by a cold shower, jumping in a lake or even rolling in snow.  The process often also includes light beating with leafy birch branches to clean the skin.  Without known how saunas built in Whistler were used in the 1970s it is impossible to assume they met the requirements of this definition.  The term sauna was, however, used to attract buyers and visitors to various properties.

In advertisements placed in Garibaldi’s Whistler News the Christiana Inn, Highland Lodge, Cheakamus Inn, Ski Boot Lodge and Whistler Inn all featured the word sauna among their various assets.  The Whistler Inn, described as “an ultra modern, yet rustic lodge” listed their sauna first among their attractions “available for your added enjoyment and comfort”.

Many of the condominiums built around Whistler at the time also included saunas, whether private or shared, for the use of guests and residents.  Blackcomb Condominiums, Telemark Townhouses and Alpenforst condos all had saunas available and the “very deluxe units” of Adventures West included “dishawashers, saunas, washing machines and dryers”.

This living room was used to sell Tamarisk units in 1973; see the massive fireplace and wall-to-wall shag. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973.

Perhaps best known is the example of Tamarisk.  The first phase of Tamarisk, built in 1973, included 146 units, each featuring a sunken living area, a “massive stone fireplace”, shag carpet and a private sauna.

Saunas remained a popular part of aprés-ski culture into the 1980s.  For those who didn’t already have their own sauna Wedge Mountain Construction advertised in The Whistler Answer in December 1980 that they could build one for you.  You could also purchase a freestanding sauna kit from California Pool & Spa for $900.

For a price Wedge Mountain Construction would build a sauna for you. Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Though houses may still contain saunas, many of these rooms are now used for purposes other than bathing.  Growing up in a 1980s house built with one of these wooden rooms, some small children thought sauna was just another word for storeroom.  Rather than attract buyers with the promise of their own private sauna, house listings today are more likely to advertise a Tamarisk unit with a converted sauna.

While saunas may not be nearly as prevalent as during their 1970s ’80s heyday, they can still be found in Whistler at Meadow Park Sports Centre, various hotels, the Scandinave Spa and even some private residences.