Tag Archives: Don Gow

Summer Preparations at Alta Lake

With last Friday (June 21) officially marking the beginning of summer, we’ve reached the time when all the plans and preparations for the season come to life.  This change of seasons would have been a particularly busy and expectant time for the residents of Alta Lake in the first half of the 20th century.  Long before Whistler became known internationally as a ski resort, Alta Lake was a popular summer destination that drew short-term visitors and summer residents to join those who stayed in the area year round.

For Alta Lake, summer was the busy season of the year while winters were very quiet. This would change dramatically with the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s. Fairhurst Collection.

Sixty years ago Alta Lake had no local government, no newspaper and certainly no Facebook groups to notify residents of the goings on (official or unofficial) in the area.  Social gatherings and community initiatives were often organized through the Alta Lake School and the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), founded in the early 1930s and 1926 respectively.  When it came to preparing for an eventful summer, the ALCC played an active role in preparations and kept its members up to date on community efforts through its newsletter, the Alta Lake Echo.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow. Philip Collection.

The Echo was published from 1958 to 1961 and ran weekly through the summer months of 1959.  At this time it was edited by Don Gow, who brought a personal touch to the sharing of news, the description of events and updates on comings and goings, seemingly of everyone in the valley – this led to some entertaining issues. (In one issue calling for newsletter subscription renewal, Gow threatened to cut off the circulation or, even worse, “we will print your names in the paper and let everyone know how cheap you are.”)

Members of the Alta Lake community began preparing for summer in May with a dance at the Community Hall to kick off events for those in the area.  Before this could happen members of the ALCC were reminded of a “Hall Clean Up Day,” the main purpose of which was to wash and wax the floor.  Those planning to pitch in were urged to bring their own tools and reminded that “the more who show up the quicker we can get fishing.”

By May preparations and repairs were also also underway at the lodges around Alta Lake as they looked forward to welcoming their first guests.  Jack and Cis Mansell returned from a winter presumably spent in warmer climes to ready Hillcrest for the season, and Russ and Maxine Jordan improved the porches at Jordan’s Lodge.  Smitty and Don (surnames were rarely included in the Echo) had plans to rebuild the Mansells’ raft in front of Alta Lake Station, used to ferry guests across the lake.

The first dance of the season, scheduled to start at 9 pm and end “when we’re dang good and ready” over the May long weekend, was well attended and a good time by all accounts.  While Rainbow Lodge had not yet opened, the other lodges and accommodations around the lake were full.  Though many people returned to Vancouver and other cities after the weekend, the ALCC continued planning events through the month.  Weekly dances and shows were scheduled to begin in June and the annual Fish Derby was set to run from July 1 through September 6.  A $10 prize was on the line for the largest Rainbow Trout caught in Alta Lake “by any legal method.”

This Rainbow Trout came out of Alta Lake in the 1980s but is a good indication of what the Fish Derby was looking for. Whistler Question Collection.

Summer was in full swing by July as families returned to their summer cottages and the lodges were filled with those escaping the city.  Work days such as the “Hall Clean Up Day” would resume in the fall and the lodges might undergo more renovations, but until then those at Alta Lake were too busy enjoying all the area had to offer, and the events they had planned for so long.

Trail Names Celebrate History: Own A Piece Thursday

On Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, names are often used to tell a story.  Even names that began as simple descriptions of a place have evolved over time to share a part of Whistler’s history (after all, there is nothing round about the Roundhouse these days).  Names of trails, lifts and structures on the mountains are recorded on trail maps, in operational lists and, most visibly, on the signs that direct skiers and snowboarders around Whistler and Blackcomb.

The trail names of the two mountains have hundreds of stories behind them, some hotly contested and some documented.  Because we’ve got names on our minds, we’re sharing the meaning behind a few here.

One of the best-known stories is likely the tale behind Burnt Stew, which actually occurred before Whistler Mountain even opened for skiing.  During the summer of 1958, museum founder Florence Petersen and friends Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were camping on Whistler and, forgetting to stir the dinner left cooking in an old billycan, the smell of burning stew began to waft through the air, setting up the moniker we still use to this day.

Florence Petersen and friend Don Gow enjoy a (possibly overcooked) meal in Burnt Stew Basin.  Petersen Collection.

Other trails were named by or for people who loved to ski them.  Chunky’s Choice was the favourite run of Chunky Woodward, one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. and a member of the Vancouver department store Woodward family.  Over on Blackcomb, Xhiggy’s Meadow was named for Peter Xhignesse, one of the original ski patrollers on Blackcomb Mountain.

A Whistler Mountain trail map from simpler days. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Many of the names on Blackcomb reference the valley’s forestry history, which was active into the 1970s.  A catskinner, for example, is a tractor driver, a cruiser is a logger who surveys standing timber for volume and a springboard is a board used to provide a place to stand when hand-felling large trees.

There are also names that describe something about the trail.  According to our sources, Boomer Bowl gets its name from the vibration that rattled windows in Alpine Meadows when the bowl was bombed by avalanche control.  Windows today may not rattle in quite the same way, but it is still noticeable in Alpine when avalanche control is active near Harmony.

While trail names don’t change frequently, the signs they are inscribed on are replaced every so often.  On Thursday, February 7, the museum and Whistler Blackcomb Foundation are offering the chance to own a piece of Whistler’s mountain history with the sale of over 250 unique trail signs taken off of Whistler and Blackcomb as a fundraiser for both organizations.

Some of the signs have quite literally taken over the Whistler Museum.

Whether you love the trail the name signifies or the significance behind the name (or you just really want to let people know when to lower their restraining device) chances are you’ll find a sign that reminds you of days spent on the mountains.

Signs will be available for purchase at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com from 10 am on February 7.  Signs can be picked up from the Whistler Museum during our opening hours on February 9, 10 & 14.

If you want to learn more about the stories behind trail names, take a look here and here.

Whistler’s First Snowmobile Superstar

Whether used to access fresh ski lines, or simply for “rooping” in the snow, snowmobiles are a way of life for many Whistlerites. While 4x4s hauling sleds are ubiquitous come winter, few realize just how deep Whistler’s snow machine roots go.

While browsing through old issues of Ski Tracks, a Lower Mainland ski newspaper from the 1960s, we came across a pretty cool bit of trivia.  Their January 1966 issue announced that the newly-formed B.C. Snow Vehicle Association would be holding their inaugural meet and race on January 30th on Alta Lake. The group seems to have been run out of Vancouver.

The report in Ski Trails’ next issue revealed that 23 entries ran in the races, and “Ski-doo” brand machines took all events. Notably, the champion of the large-machine slalom race, running the 20-gate course in 39.9 seconds, was none other than Dick Fairhurst on his Ski-doo “Super Olympique.”

Dick with his little sled-groms on a neighbour's sled, Ron Dent's "Dentmobile," 1965

Dick with his little sled-groms on a neighbour’s sled, Ron Dent’s “Dentmobile,” 1965

Dick is better known among Whistler history buffs as the owner of Cypress Lodge, a small lakeside resort he ran from the early 1940s until 1972, when he sold the property to the Canadian Hostels Association. Today, the former lodge is known simply as The Point, a grass-roots arts centre next to Rainbow Park. The snowmobile races were held on what was essentially Dick’s front yard.

From R-L, Dick Fairhurst, Gray Mitchell, Stephan Ples, and Don Gow take a break on Callaghan Lake, March 1970. The entire upper Callaghan Velley, including Callaghan Lake, is now a non-motorized zone to avoid conflicts with backcountry and nordic skiers.

From R-L, Dick Fairhurst, Gray Mitchell, Stephan Ples, and Don Gow take a break on Callaghan Lake, March 1970. The entire upper Callaghan Velley, including Callaghan Lake, is now a non-motorized zone to avoid conflicts with backcountry and nordic skiers.

Other winners at the inaugural race: Dee Wickes claimed the small-class slalom on a regular Olympique in 42.0 seconds. A “twisty course” around the lake was set up for the open race, and 30, 15, and 10 lap races were won by Ralph Monhay, Hugh Charbonneau, and Mandy Harrison, respectively.

Unfortunately, we don't have any background info of this archival photo of snowmobilers taking a break in front of Black Tusk. Judging by the sleds, this is probably from the early 1970s.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any background info of this archival photo of snowmobilers taking a break in front of Black Tusk. Judging by the sleds, this is probably from the early 1970s.

Who Burnt the Stew? Ski Run Names, Part 2

We received a great response for our recent post about Whistler-Blackcomb ski run names, so we figured we would post a few more. Last time we were pretty Blackcomb-heavy, so this week we’ll weight things more towards Whistler.

Whistler

Franz’s Run – Franz Wilhelmsen, from Norway, was one of the founders of Garbaldi Lifts Ltd and remained the president of the company for 20 years.

Bagel Bowl – Preferred piste of former Whistler Mountain President, Lorne Borgal, affectionately known as the ‘Lone Bagel’.

Franz Wilhelmsen and Lorne Borgal (the Lone Bagel!) at the Franz’s Run dedication ceremony in 1983.

Chunky’s Choice – Named after Chunky Woodward, he was another one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.  It was his favourite run.

Jolly Green Giant – Named after Vancouver and Whistler resident Casey Niewerth.  He was over six feet tall and dressed all in green so he was easily recognized on the hill as “the Jolly Green Giant” named after the canned vegetables brand.

Jam Tart – Named after cat driver John Cleland who was tragically killed in Whistler Bowl while recovering avalanche duds – Jam Tart was Cleland’s nickname.

Pony Trail – At one point during the construction of lifts on Whistler Mountain, fire hazard forced workers to use packhorses to transport supplies up the mountain.  The road they used became a ski run, so it kept the name.

Tokum – Named after Tokum Corners – a ‘skibum’ house lived in by John Hetherington, George Benjamin and others. Tokum was the run they took home at the end of the day. We’ll let you figure out how Tokum Corners got its name.

George “Benji” Benjamin outside Tokum Corners, 1970s.

Cockalorum – Named for mechanic Jack Goodale, who died in an accident in 1981. Cockalorum means a small person with a large presence.

Boomer Bowl – Apparently, windows in Alpine Meadows rattle when this bowl gets bombed for avalanche control.

Burnt Stew Trail – In the summer of 1958 Florence Peterson, Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were on a back-packing trip around Whistler Mountain.  After setting up camp one evening they started cooking dinner in an old billy can over a fire, built into the rocks of a dry creek bed.  Nobody remembered to stir the pot, resulting in the smell after which the area (Burnt Stew Basin), and ski run are named after.

Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen during their 1958 Burnt Stew hike.

Blackcomb

Arthur’s Choice – Named for Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager Arthur DeJong in 1994. Designed to bring a new dimension to glad skiing.

Xhiggy’s Meadow – Named after Peter Xhignesse, an original ski patroller on Blackcomb Mountain who died of cancer at 32.

There are literally hundreds of more run names, both on and off the trail map, so if you are curious about any specific names leave a comment or e-mail us your questions!