Tag Archives: Garibaldi’s Whistler News

Early Freestyle on Whistler

When the first Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp was held on Whistler Mountain during the summer of 1966, the camp focused mainly on racing and was motivated partly by the need for competitive skiers to stay in shape and improve their technique between competition seasons.  This focus changed as more recreational skiers began participating in the camps with an interest in improving their own skills under the guidance of skiers such as Toni Sailer, Nancy Greene and Alan White.  It wasn’t until the summer of 1973, however, that freestyle was included in the Ski Camp programming and the legendary Wayne Wong began coaching on Whistler, reflecting a change in the sport of skiing.

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

At the time, freestyle skiing was still a relatively young sport.  The first recorded freestyle skiing competitions in the United States were not held until the mid-1960s and it was not until 1969 that the first instructional program began at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire.  In 1971 Waterville Valley hosted the first Professional Freestyle Skiing Competition, drawing together competitive skiers from across North America.  These skiers included Wayne Wong, George Askevold and Floyd Wilkie, all of whom decided to stay at Waterville Valley as coaches of the first Freestyle Ski Team.

We don’t know when exactly the first freestyle skiing competition was held on Whistler Mountain but by the spring of 1971 there was enough demand that Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. hosted the first annual Aerial Ski Acrobatic Championship and Hot Shot Contest.  In 1973 freestyle skiing became part of the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp programming under the direction of Wong, Askevold and Wilkie, providing more formal training for skiers interested in the growing sport and “teaching youngsters to ski the ‘Wong Way’.”

Three well-known hot dog skiers show off their style in 1973 at the Tony Sailer Summer Ski Camp. Left to right: George Askevold, Wayne Wong and Floyd Wilkie.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

In the spring of 1974, Whistler Mountain expanded its freestyle offerings with a spring Freestyle Skiing Camp for “youngsters who can ski parallel, but who want to master some of the popular new maneuvers of freestyle under competent coaching.”  According to Garibaldi’s Whistler News, the “newest tricks” such as skiing sideways, backwards or upside down were becoming more common on Whistler, but were also risky, especially without training or instruction.  They decided to provide an opportunity to explore techniques and tricks under the tutelage of Michel Daigle, Tetsuo Fuji, and Bob Dufour.

Michel Daigle demonstrates his synchronized skills during a competition on Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

While freestyle skiing was becoming increasingly popular through the 1970s, it was not officially recognized as a sport by the FIS until 1979, when international regulations and certifications were introduced.  The next year saw the first FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup with event in moguls, aerials, and “acroski,” also known as ski ballet.  To win the overall title, skiers had to compete in all three disciplines.

In 1986 the first FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships were held in Tignes, France, and then demonstration events were held at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.  Over the next two decades, more and more freestyle skiing events joined the Olympic line up, beginning with moguls in 1992, aerials in 1994, ski cross in 2010 and, most recently, halfpipe and slopestyle in 2014.  Unfortunately, ski ballet, though part of competitions and tours in the 1970s and 1980s, did not continue to grow with freestyle skiing in the same way and has not been recognized as an official freestyle discipline since 2000.

Today freestyle skiing looks a little different than it did in the early competition of the 1970s, but it can often be seen on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and around the world.

Lost on Whistler?

In February 1968, The Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) published an article entitled “Were 107 Skiers Really Lost on Whistler Mt.?”  The article was meant as a (somewhat belated) response to articles published in Lower Mainland newspapers on December 4, 1967 about an incident that occurred at the Blue Chair on Whistler Mountain.

In 1966, the Blue Chair had become the second chairlift to be installed onWhistler Mountain.  In was located in the same general area that the Harmony Express run today, loading in the same area and carrying skiers up to where today’s Emerald Chair offloads.  According to Lynn Mathews, the Blue Chair was part of a popular circular route.  After riding the gondola and Red Chair, skiers could go up the T-bar, hike over to the back bowl, and ski down to the base of the Blue Chair, which they could take back up to start the circle again.

On Sunday, December 3, 1967 the Blue Chair was shut down for part of the day, and skiers who had expected to take the lift back up were led out from the bottom of the chair via the beginner tail, just over 3 km.

The view from the lineup at the Blue Chair, today the location of the Harmony Chair.  Whistler Question Collection.

According to The Vancouver Sun, the Blue Chair broke down, “stranding scores of skiers,” but the versions of events presented by those who were “stranded” differed greatly from the lift company.  Those who talked to the paper claimed that 117 skiers were led by four ski patrol volunteers on “a gruelling 6 1/2-hour hike through shoulder deep snow,” with skiers needing rescue after falling off of the single-file trail trampled by the patrollers, finishing long after dark (in December, sometime after 4 pm).

The Sun wrote that the lift company’s response to these claims was to “sneer”.  Jack Bright, then the area manager for Whistler Mountain, reported that it took less than four hours for the group to hike out, using a ski run “which happened to have a bit more fresh snow on it.”  The company handed out free passes to those who had been stranded, but claimed that the number of passes handed out did not necessarily reflect the number stranded, as “Everybody claimed to be stranded so they could get a free ticket.”

Thanks to the colour coded nature of the early Whistler Mountain chairlifts, it’s easy to identify chairs in colour photographs! George Benjamin Collection.

Two months after the incident, the lift company used their publication to clear up lingering questions.

According to Jack Bright in the GWN, high winds and extremely heavy snow caused mechanical difficulties for the Blue Chair, causing the engine to overheat and automatically stop the lift.  The operator announced that it would take from an hour to an hour and a half for the engine to cool off before they could restart.  The auxiliary engine was used to evacuate the chair.  The decision was made to send those waiting in line, accompanied by five experienced patrollers and employees, out along the beginner trail.

Due to the snow, it took longer than expected for the group to make it out.  The trail was marked and, according to Bright, “however irritable people were, there was a general gay harmony throughout the safari.”  This agrees with the memory of Lynn Mathews, who remembered her husband Dave, Whistler Mountain’s operations manager, coming home late and announcing that there were over 100 people lost on the mountain, although she said he told her, “They’re not lost, they’re having too much fun at the moment.”  According to Lynn, Dave claimed the skiers in the group were making snow angels, throwing snowballs, and generally having a good time.

No matter what truly happened on the mountain that day, this experience is unlikely to be repeated today as over the past five decades both chairlifts and grooming (as well as on-mountain communications) have advanced.

Growing Whistler (quickly)

We get asked a lot of questions at the museum, such as “Where did the name Whistler come from?”, “When was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola built?” and “Is this the Audain Art Museum?”  One question that people are often surprised to learn the answer to is “When did people start skiing down Whistler Mountain?”

Visitors to Whistler and to the museum come from all over the world, as flipping through our guest books quickly show, and to many the development of Whistler seems incredibly recent.  After all, when Kitzbühel, Austria hosted its first ski race in 1884 the individuals who would spearhead the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s hadn’t even been born.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Looking back at the Whistler described in Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) of February 1969, only three years after lifts had opened on the mountain, it’s very easy to see that the area has changed a lot in only fifty years.

The winter of 1968-69 was an exciting time in the area.  Though the Resort Municipality of Whistler had not yet been formed, that September Whistler Mountain had been named the Canadian site for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and members of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) were actively campaigning in the lead up to the International Olympic Committee’s site selection vote in May.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Lorne O’Connor, the Executive Director of GODA, and Tadec Barnowski, a former member of the Polish National Ski Team, were even marking the final routes for alpine events before officials from the FIS were to visit in March.  We know now, of course, that it would be another three failed bids and 41 years before Whistler would host the Olympics, but in 1969 and 1976 bid was looking very promising.

That season also saw the introduction of the Green Chair to Whistler Mountain and the opening of new trails that we know well today, including Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant.  With the cutting of a new trail running all the way down to what the GWN referred to as the “gravel pit” (now Whistler Village), the lift company also began running a bus service back to the gondola terminal.  As well as new trails and Whistler’s sixth lift, a service called “Park-A-Tot” was introduced as the company’s first foray into childcare.  For $3/day, skiers could drop off their children in the morning and collect them again after their last run.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The area around the gondola terminal was not yet known as Creekside though one article in GWN claimed that it was “gradually becoming a village.”  It already had a gas station and ten lodges alongside older cabins and newly built condominiums.  With more condo projects underway and plans for a grocery store, the Creekside of five decades ago was growing quickly.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Today, the lifts that were announced with such fanfare in Garibaldi’s Whistler News have been replaced by bigger and faster models; the “gravel pit” has become an established town centre and “Park-A-Tot” has evolved to include various programs for all ages.  Though many visitors may be surprised at learning Whistler Mountain only opened in 1966, after perusing the museum’s exhibits these same visitors are often amazed at how quickly Whistler has grown.

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Condo-mania Hits Whistler

Today the term “condo” can be heard pretty much every day throughout most of Canada.  When Whistler Mountain first opened in the 1960s, however, condominiums were almost unheard of.  The first official condominium in Canada was Brentwood Village in Edmonton, Alberta in 1967.

After Whistler opened for skiing the valley experienced a boom in construction.  While many ski cabins were built, the condominium took hold as a vacation home, both to own and to rent.  In the fall of 1969 Garibaldi’s Whistler News even published an article by Ian Douglas entitles “What is a Condominium?” for those unsure of what exactly was for sale.  In it he mentions “some new condominiums” located “across from the base of the Gondola at Whistler” which all have their own separate entrances, real estate taxes and mortgages, unlike the Whistler Alpine Village co-operative, which does not technically operate as a condo.  Douglas lists the benefits of owning a condo, such as the security of owning rather than renting and being able to do renovations (within limits).

These condos in Nordic were still under construction in 1968. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

From the coverage of the Garibaldi’s Whistler News it would seem housing and real estate were as much a topic of conversation in the 1970s as they are today.  Almost every issue contains news of a planned or completed development as well as real estate listings and updates on the progress of Alpine Meadows, Emerald Estates and Whistler Cay.

One condominium development that gets quite a few mentions is Tamarisk.  Still a part of Whistler today, construction began on Tamarisk in 1973.  The plans for the $15 million development, located about a mile away from the base of Whistler Mountain, included over 400 units, a “condo-lodge” containing a cocktail lounge and dining facilities, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and pools and squash handball courts, all to be built over two phases.

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

The first included 140 units, an outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  By the spring of 1974 all first phase units were sold and a tennis pro, Australian Lex Vinson, had been hired.  A 1974 advertisement (meant to attract buyers for phase two) announced “All apartments feature massive cut-stone fireplaces, wall-to-wall shag, private sauna (every apartment has one) and a furniture selection that’s an interior decorator’s dream.  There’s more but you’ll have to see it to believe it.”  It being the 1970s, wall-to-wall shag carpeting was a selling point, rather than a deterrent.

The units were designed by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe, the same architect who had designed the twelve units of Edelweiss Village near the Creekside gondola in 1968.

The shape of the Tamarisk buildings remain the same today (apart from one). Garibaldi’s Whistler News

The first phase was completed by 1975 and continues to house residents and visitors today, as was the first outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  The plans for Tamarisk, however, were never fully realized, similar to the case of Adventures West from a few weeks ago.

Whistler Après: 1968

In February of 1968 entertainment options for locals and visitors were limited.  Alta Lake, as the area was still called, had a very small full-time population and comparatively little infrastructure.  The Village was still serving as a town dump site and development in Creekside had really only just begun.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The February edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News included the “Whistler Mountain Weekly Schedule of Entertainment”, a listing of weekly events that were open to the public.  While not a lengthy list (especially when compared to the five pages of listings found under PiqueCal and Nightlife in this publication just last week) every evening provided something different.

The week began on Sunday with a General Information Night where “ski-weekers” were invited to the Cheakamus Inn to view slides of the area and ask any questions they might have about Whistler Mountain.

On Monday a day of skiing could be followed by hot drinks in the Cheakamus Inn lounge and a “Get-Acquainted Party” at the Highland Lodge to meet instructors and others on vacation.

Shown here with his children, Dick Fairhurst was the owner of Cypress Lodge and a ski-doo enthusiast. Fairhurst Collection.

Cypress Lodge (the current site of the Point and Sailing Club) offered Ski-Doo parties every Tuesday, including a ski-doo trip to Cypress Lodge, hot drinks, light refreshments and the option to dance or rent a ski-too to take around Alta Lake.

Wednesdays were Movie Night when a film would be shown in the Day Lodge at the foot of Whistler Mountain.  In 1968 a ticket to the movies was a reasonable $1 for adults and $0.50 for children.

On Thursday the entertainment moved to the Mount Whistler Lodge, a location of fond memories for many Whistler residents and visitors.  Guests were encouraged to come “any time after 9 pm and see the local people in action” with a Jug Band on hand and records for dancing, as well as refreshments and pizza.  According to an advertisement placed by the Mount Whistler Lodge, in which it was described as a “rustic waterfront lodge with rooms and cabins in one of the finest settings in the world,” this was also the place to be every Friday and Saturday for dancing and pizza.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Collection.

The February of 1968 offered extra entertainment with two dances scheduled in Whistler Mountain’s main lodge for February 3 and 17, alternating Saturdays with the Mount Whistler Lodge for the month.  Admission to these dances was $1.50 and music was provided by the newly formed Poppy Family.  An added attraction was a “psychedelic lighting show”.

Today there is no shortage of evening entertainment opportunities for visitors to Whistler, including outdoor activities, restaurants, bars and theatres (movie and otherwise), not to mention the events, classes and presentations put on by many local organizations.

Whistler’s Past Institutions

The Rainbow Ski Hill in 1980. Today this slope is the sight of Whistler’s Rainbow neighbourhood. Photo: Whistler Question

Yesterday (Friday, January 26) we opened our 2018 Speaker Series season with an evening dedicated to the Rainbow Ski Village, presented by Tom Jarvis, John Lee and Tommy Thompson.  The three told stories of Rainbow from three different perspectives: the owner trying to make the small ski hill a going concern, the former liftee in his first kitchen job, and the teenage ski jumper who got his start jumping on the BC circuit.  We’d like to thank all of our speakers as well as everyone who came out!

As we’ve been preparing for this event over the past few months we’ve gotten the chance to talk to some of the people, like our speakers, who worked, skied, owned and jumped at the Rainbow Ski Village, as well as Beau’s Restaurant, and have been gathering their stories.

Recently the museum was fortunate to speak with Andy Clausen, whose family managed the Rainbow Ski Village when it first opened and whose memories include not just Rainbow but also life in the Whistler valley in the 1960s and 70s.  Along with an article from the fall 1970 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Andy’s memories five us a much clearer picture of the early years of the Rainbow Ski Area.

The sign for Beau’s Restaurant. After the ski hill closed the restaurant continued to be a popular gathering place. Photo: Whistler Question

Andy’s stepfather, Vic Christiansen, worked for Jim McConkey at Whistler Mountain and had an impressive reputation as a skier.  In the late 1960s Vic was approached by Norm Paterson of Capilano Highlands Ltd. to operate a small ski area at Rainbow.

Vic Christiansen and his family ran the Rainbow Ski Hill until 1978. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Rainbow Ski Area first opened in the winter of 1969/70 with one 400-foot tow lift servicing a beginners’ slope.  After that first winter Capilano Highlands added a new 1,200-foot towrope and cleared four beginner/practice slopes leading off the lifts.  They also began construction of a day lodge and a parking area.

In the 1970s many people had their first skiing experience on Rainbow before moving onto the bigger Whistler Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

In 1970 Rainbow opened five days a week (Wednesday – Sunday) under the management of Vic and his family.  Night skiing and reasonable rates (an adult pass for day and evening was $3, a child’s was $1.50) made Rainbow a popular place to learn to ski.

Over the next few years another towrope was added and the Rainbow Mountain Ski Club was formed.  Vic and Andy built Whistler’s first ski jump and Rainbow became a stop on the BC ski jump circuit.  The café was a popular stop for coffee and before he became Whistler’s first mayor Pat Carleton, a Nabob rep, could be found there frequently.

The Rainbow Ski Jump was a 30-40 metre Nordic ski jump and hosted competitions as part of a BC circuit. Photo: Clausen Collection

Being able to draw from both personal recollections and published articles helps to create a more colourful and complete picture of any given time and place.  Memories provide detail and a personal experience while publications, such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News, often record specific dates, names and even lift rates that an individual may not recall.  We are lucky to be able to refer to Whistler’s many publications, including Whistler News, the Alta Lake Echo and The Whistler Answer, when looking for information about this area’s past.

Paul Burrows, the founder of The Whistler Question, teaches a ski class on Rainbow Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

For the past 41 The Whistler Question has provided a record of life in and around Whistler, chronicling a rapidly changing community and growing mountain resort.  From covering the opening of Blackcomb Mountain on its front page in 1980 to announcing the marriage of Bob Daniels and Kashi Richardson in “Notes From All” in 1985, The Question has been an important source of local news in our town.

This past week we wrote our last article for The Question as it published its last edition on January 23 (Museum Musings will be appearing in the Pique beginning next week).  We would like to thank The Question for providing the Whistler Museum with a space to share Whistler’s stories, as well as an archive from to gather them.