Tag Archives: Heli-skiing

This Week in Photos: April 26

1980

Jim McConkey displays the McConkey Cup Trophy.

Kris Shoup instructs John Garnet in the school mini-course knitting class while Serap Graf and Monica Niederlich concentrate on the task at hand.

Recently engaged couple Deanna Chan & Graeme O’Neill.

On the Coast Mountain Outdoor School farm site – (L to R) Outdoor Education Coordinator Rick Price, W.L.B. Hawkes of the Ministry of Education, and Pemberton School Trustee T.B.M. (Slim) Fougberg.

A class visiting the Coast Mountain Outdoor School farm learns about chickens.

Johnson’s Trucking gravel crushing plant at work in the Alpha Lake Aggregate pit.

1981

And the winners are: (L to R) Tom Simister, Richard Juryn, Perry Rousseau & Debbie Wood – with the Whistler Cup.

Architect Barclay McLeod and developer Brian Moran indicate to council and concerned Adventures West owners the proposed plans for the ‘Keg property’.

May the Force be with you. Ezekial and His Force rock and reggae it up at the Mountain House until May 2.

Constable Klaudt of Whistler RCMP and Ron Mallinson of Ike’s Towing try to figure out how this Plymouth Horizon ended up in the ditch by the Alta Lake Inn turnoff late on Saturday, April 25!

1982

Survivors of the April blizzards, these crocuses stand proudly in Whistler Village.

Youngsters give it their best during an end-of-season match of Snowball (created by Doug Calder) held at Myrtle Philip School grounds.

Skiers on Whistler enjoyed the sun as much as the runs Sunday.

After a day on the mountain, a little recovery is in order. A siesta helps revive tired muscles.

Sowing so he’ll reap, Resort Municipality of Whistler maintenance man Brian Sandercock prepares the turf for summer.

Two contestants go under the pole during Friday’s Caribbean Night held at L’Apres. Michael Chidley limboed his way to Mexico taking first place in the competition. Val Wong’s style won her first prize in the women’s competition and a heli-skiing trip.

1983

A top-notch mogul basher takes one of the two required air times in his run down Whistler’s Raven run in the Schloss Laderheim Dual Mogul Classic on Sunday, April 24.

A march protesting nuclear weapons makes its way through Vancouver towards Stanley Park.

Anti-nuclear weapons protestors congregate at the rally.

Bill Runge of Whistler Mountain Ski Corp. fastens down the village’s newest signs on Monday reminding ski enthusiasts to keep heading south to the Gondola side of the mountain.

Got the summertime blues of what to wear this season? Not if you were at The Keg’s Fashion Show Sunday, April 24.

1984

The Whistler Question staff pose for a sunny photo in the Whistler Village.

Dr. Peter Oberlander of Vancouver is the lucky winner of a lifetime Whistler/Blackcomb ski pass. The final draw of the Whistler Rotary Club lottery was held Friday afternoon, and proceeds from the sale of tickets go towards the Whistler Health Planning Society. Rotary Club President Geoff Pearce drew the winning ticket.

Picnickers and powder skiers flew to Powder Moutnain Friday for the annual Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing picnic.

While most people brought along only skis and sunglasses, Pascal Tiphine thought to import a little champagne, which he literally splashed into anyone who didn’t ming a few bubbles up their nose.

The surprised look on Drew Meredith’s face was no surprise, considering that 100 people were gathered at the Carleton Lodge Wednesday night to pay tribute to him. Meredith, who thought he was coming to attend a meeting, listened to roasts and toasts throughout the evening, which paid tribute to his work as Interim Director during the toughest year in the history of Whistler Resort Association.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.

Pacific Ski Air – Whistler’s First Heli-ski Operation

With our upcoming Speaker Series about the origins of heli-skiing in Whistler, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into the Pacific Ski Air story.

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Among the many ski industry-altering innovations that have occurred here in Whistler, it is often under-appreciated that, as far as we can tell, Whistler was the first ski resort to offer heli-skiing. When Hans Gmoser’s Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), the first commercial heli-ski operator, began their operations in April 1965 they were based out of an abandoned logging camp south of Golden, BC. They opened their first purpose-built backcountry lodge, Bugaboo Lodge, in 1968 in the same vicinity as the logging camp.

Pacific Ski Air, meanwhile, began shuttling skiers up from Whistler’s original Creekside base directly to exhilarating ski descents on the massive north-facing glaciers of the Spearhead Range during the winter of 1967-68.

The fledgling company had the huge advantage of working in partnership with Okanagan Helicopters. Originally formed in Penticton, BC with the intent of using helicopters to spray pesticides for large-scale agriculture, Okanagan Helicopters quickly grew into the largest helicopter operator in the world by supporting a variety of resource industries and industrial construction projects in the mountains of British Columbia. By the end of the 1950s,  OK Helicopters, as they were known, owned more than 60 aircraft and had relocated to Vancouver.

Glenn McPherson, President of Okanagan Helicopters, was also on the original board of directors of Garibaldi Lifts Limited, the company that built Whistler Mountain ski resort, so it’s no coincidence that OK feature prominently in early photos of the resort:

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Not surprisingly, OK was also heavily involved in Pacific Ski Air from the start as well, as a partial owner, in partnership with Joe Csizmazia, Al Raine, Jamie Pike, and Peter Vajda. Brian Rowley and Cliff Jennings were the original ski guides.

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The bread and butter of the operation was a 2 or 3 run package in the Spearhead Range, primarily on the Blackcomb, Decker, Trorey, and Tremor Glaciers, before finishing up with a drop on Whistler Peak where the guides and clients skied down Whistler Bowl and Shale Slope back down to the Red Chair. Special trips were also made to Overlord Mountain, Rainbow Mountain, the Brandywine area, and north of Blackcomb around Wedge and Weart Mountains.

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Pacific Ski Air only lasted a few short seasons, stifled by a number of factors including an inability to secure an operating tenure. Still, the pioneering folks at Pacific Ski Air were among the first to truly appreciate the Coast Mountains’ potential as an unparalleled destination for adventure-skiing.

Join us Wednesday January 20th at 6pm as Pacific Ski Air veterans Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike share more photos and stories from this groundbreaking era.

When: Wednesday January 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

Speaker Series – Origins of Whistler Heli-Skiing

1969 Skiout to Green Lake 09 (Cliff)

Ski Guide Cliff Jennings, enjoying perfect powder beneath the mighty south face of Wedge Mountain.

Join us Wednesday January 20th at 6pm as Pacific Ski Air veterans Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike share more photos and stories from this groundbreaking era.

When: Wednesday January 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

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For almost any skier, heli-skiing is the ultimate dream.

And up until the early 1960s that’s essentially all it was, until renowned Austrian-Canadian mountain guide Hans Gmoser famously invented the new sport. It began with some experimental reconnaissance flights around Canmore in 1963, and by April 1965 Hans was leading his first commercial trips in the idyllic Bugaboo Mountains, south of Golden, BC.

Gmoser’s company Canadian Mountain Holidays and the creation of heli-skiing is a celebrated chapter in mountain culture lore. Far less appreciated is how quickly some enterprising folk at the fledgling Whistler Mountain Ski Resort followed suit.

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Pacific Ski Air began operations during the winter of 1967-68, started by a group of upstart twenty-somethings working in partnership with Okanagan Helicopters. For a shockingly low price you could get multiple runs on the vast north-facing glaciers of Blackcomb Mountain and the Spearhead Range.

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Tours were usually capped off with a drop on Whistler Peak, nearly 20 years before the construction of Peak Chair. Needless to say this final lap down Shale Slope, in full view of the resort-bound skiers, was great marketing.

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They were quite adventurous days: charting new terrain, learning how to better operate the helicopters in the high alpine in the middle of winter, guerilla marketing for new clients, and, of course, skiing endless amounts of flawless powder.

We are extremely excited to share with you that the Whistler Museum’s next Speaker Series event will feature Whistler heli-ski pioneers Cliff Jennings and Jamie Pike, as they share their stories and photographs from this early halcyon era. The evening presentation begins at 7pm on Wednesday January 20th (doors at 6pm). General tickets are $10, while museum members and Club Shred members get their tickets for half price. See you there!

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All photos by Cliff Jennings.

Helicopters, Hats & Hummingbirds

By Jaimie Fedorak, Summer Collections Assistant

While looking through our artifact collection this summer we stumbled upon a familiar item: an Okanagan Helicopters baseball cap in the trademark orange and blue. We recognized the cap’s distinctive hummingbird logo because a helicopter enthusiast we know [Editor’s note: Jaimie’s father] has the exact same hat, but we were unsure why this hat would be part of our artifact collection.

The hat in all its orange glory.

The hat in all its orange glory.

Heli-skiing in the Whistler area has long been a popular activity, since the choppers provide access to the glaciers and backcountry areas for skiers looking for prime powder skiing. Pamphlets from the museum’s research files reveal that a bevy of helicopter companies were involved in providing heli-skiing tours, including Canadian Helicopters Ltd (one of the companies which Okanagan Helicopters became when it was restructured in later years, who also had a hummingbird logo).

Franz Wilhelmsen and unidentified man with an OK Heli, 1960s.

Franz Wilhelmsen and Willy Shaeffler with an OK Heli, 1960s.

Issues of the Garibaldi Whistler News going back as far as 1970 also prove that Okanagan Helicopters was the one of, if not the, first company offering heli-skiing services in the Whistler area. The company was allied with skiing superstar Jim McConkey, who was the Director of the Garibaldi Ski School at the time and acted as the guide on heli-skiing trips.

Early heli-skiers, near Whistler. Yes, winter is coming.

Early heli-skiers, near Whistler. Yes, winter is coming.

But the connection between Okanagan Helicopters and the resort goes back even further. Photos in the Museum’s collection show many Okanagan Helicopters machines, and the earliest photos from the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation collection reveal that Okanagan Helicopters was the company that took Franz Wilhelmsen and company on tours of the area during the early 1960s to scope out the viability of developing a ski resort.

Touring around the Whistler Mountain alpine, early 1960s.

Touring around the Whistler Mountain alpine, early 1960s.

Once the decision was made to make the resort a reality, Okanagan Helicopters was called upon again. Construction of the lift towers was done before ground transportation up the mountain was feasible, and helicopters were thus  chosen the construction vehicle of choice. When the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA for short) was formed to promote Whistler Mountain as a potential host for the 1966 Olympics Glen McPherson, the president of Okanagan Helicopters, was on the committee due to the company’s important role in the construction of the resort.

The hat itself is most likely from the late 1970s or early 1980s – before Okanagan Helicopters became Canadian Helicopters Ltd and CHC in 1987- but the legacy of how it came to be in the collection goes back almost 20 years to the very beginning of the Whistler-Blackcomb resort.