Tag Archives: ice skating

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

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Frozen Alta Lake

Winters at Alta Lake were a quiet season for the small community without the crowds of summer visitors.  Whistler Mountain did not open for skiing until 1966 and until then downhill skiing in the valley was uncommon.  Instead winter sports centred on and around Alta Lake.  In addition to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, activities that took place on the frozen lake itself were popular within the small community.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

With the right conditions skating was a common pastime that could quickly become a community gathering with a bonfire and marshmallows.

In 1924 Sewall Tapley built an iceboat for his daughter Myrtle after she injured her leg.  He used a few boards, old skate blades and a sail and thus introduced a new activity to Alta Lake.  With a good wind the iceboat could easily outpace the skaters.  While the iceboat did have a tiller attached it was not an effective means of steering.  Instead, Myrtle recalled, “we’d crash into the snow bank on the other side of the lake, get out and turn it around to get home.”  In the 1980s a new generation tried sailing on Alta Lake, this time using “windskiers” which hopefully had much better steering capabilities.

Wind skiing was a new sport for Alta Lake. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1985.

The lake continued to be a community gathering spot for Alta Lake residents through the 1950s and into the 60s.  In the January 5, 1960 edition of the “Alta Lake Echo”, the weekly newsletter put out by the Alta Lake Community Club under various named from January 1958 until June 1961, it was noted that “a good crowd turned out Friday night to skate and spectate at Rainbow Rink.  Cabin 8 was cosy and warm for the less hardy types and those whose feed would not fit the available skates.”  The evening ended with hot dogs and hot chocolate provided by Alex and Audrey Greenwood, then owners of Rainbow Lodge.

The same newsletter also reported on the annual New Year’s hockey game that was postponed “due to poor player condition after New Years Eve.  Rescheduled for 2 pm Jan. 2nd, game commenced promptly at 3:30.”  On the side of the Alta Lake Amatoors were Frantic Fairhurst (foreward front and centre) and Non Stop Crankshaft, Capricious Croaker, Gummed Up Gow and Fearless Ferguson (all playing defence).  The Rainbow Rockets lineup featured Sky Scraper Skip (“centre, right and left, fore and back”), Spud Murphy (“goal defence and generally against Alta Lake making a goal”), Gallopping Greenwood, and GoGetter Gordon.

A game of hockey on frozen 19 Mile Creek, November 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Despite having fewer players, Rainbow took an early lead that they kept for a final score of 7-1, though the accuracy of the score is questionable.  According to the sports report, “before the first half of the first quarter was over the judges retired to the warmth of Cabin 8 and the score was rather hard to keep track of.”  Clearly the residents treated this game with the utmost professionalism.

The opening of Whistler Mountain shifted the focus of winter sports away from Alta Lake, though it took only one winter with very little snow to return people to the lakes.  According to the Whistler Question, in January 1977 Whistler Mountain closed due to “adverse weather conditions”.  Instead skating, hockey and even ice stock sliding kept the community busy.

Ice stock sliding, a sport introduced to Alta Lake during a particularly bad snow year, remained popular in Whistler for some time. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1980.

Today, if the lakes have a safe layer of ice, ice skating and hockey games can still be seen on lakes throughout the valley.