Tag Archives: International Ski History Day

A Century of Skiing in Whistler

Sunday February 21st was International Ski History Day. At the museum we hosted a delegation from the International Ski History Association and put on our Speaker Series “Celebrity Athletes & the Growth of Modern Skiing” featuring Stephanie Sloan, John Smart, and Rob McSkimming. There were also events up on Whistler Mountain during the day.

We have an incredibly rich skiing heritage to celebrate here in Whistler. And though Whistler Mountain’s 50th anniversary is the big story this season, it’s not the only milestone worth celebrating this year.

As we’ve profiled on this blog previously, there were plenty of skiing pioneers doing things the old-fashioned way prior to the installation of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain. Examples include Tyrol Club members like Stefan Ples who regularly skinned up Whistler Mountain in the 1950s and early 60s, and famed explorers Don & Phyllis Munday, along with summer resident Pip Brock, who undertook ski-mountaineering expeditions into the heart of the Coast Mountains in the 1930s.

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A 1939 ski-mountaineering expedition near Black Tusk led by George Bury, in search of appropriate locations to build a ski resort. They found excellent skiing and remarkable landscapes, but their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WW2.

Skiing, mostly of the cross-country variety, was also a popular pastime at Rainbow Lodge during the quieter winter months. We’re fortunate enough to hold in our archives dozens of photographs from that era of skiers trekking around the valley, posing on Alta Lake, or schussing down a small wooded slope near Rainbow. We even have a few shots of Bob the Workhorse pulling Myrtle around the lake on her skis, otherwise known as skijoring.

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Just out for a rip!

The solid wooden skis are generally massive, even putting your 30-year-old 210cm racing planks to shame, and the fashion is as nostalgic as it gets. One specific image, a little fuzzier than the rest but otherwise inconspicuous, is especially relevant to today’s story.

The image portrays Myrtle Philip with two other women posing while skiing on a frozen Alta Lake. They are adorned in wool tops and baggy bloomers, and are all using a single, solid wooden pole in the traditional Scandinavian style.

And written on the back of the image is the simple phrase “the first skiing guests at Rainbow about 1916. Janet Drysdale and friend and Myrtle Philip.”

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The dawn of skiing in Whistler.

Needless to say, the 3 ladies were unaware of the historical significance of this simple ski outing.

Of course it is completely possible that skis were used in the Whistler Valley prior to this visit, but we have come across no such stories or evidence. At that time trappers and prospectors generally used snowshoes and considered skis more toy than tool.

Local prospector Harry Horstman, when he encountered Pip Brock climbing Sproatt Mountain on a set of skis, apparently proclaimed “what the hell you got them flanks for? I can get around twice as fast as on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin’ boards!”

Needless to say, we don’t share Harry’s disdain. Three cheers to 100 years! 

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Speaker Series – “Celebrity Athletes and the Growth of Modern Skiing”

A few weeks ago we profiled Stephanie Sloan, freestyle superstar and featured presenter at our upcoming Speaker Series event “Celebrity Athletes and the Growth of Modern Skiing.” The event will explore how professional skiers have harnessed their top-level skills and name-recognition to introduce cutting edge techniques to skiers. This phenomenon has long been a major driving force for the sport, otherwise, we would all still be doing telemarks and stem christies.

Here in Whistler, the first high-profile skier to hitch his name and skills to the new resort was Austrian ski-racing star Toni Sailer, who began operating summer ski camps on the Whistler Glacier in 1967. The following year big-mountain ski pioneer Jim McConkey was hired to run the Whistler Mountain ski school.

Before (and during ) his time in Whistler, McConkey made a name for himself as an early ski film star. Here he is enjoying some of Alta, Utah's famous champagne pow.

Before (and during) his time in Whistler, McConkey made a name for himself as an early ski film star. Here he is enjoying some of Alta, Utah’s famous champagne pow.

Then in 1970, fresh off her historic gold medal performance at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, Nancy Greene and her husband Al Raine built a cabin in Whistler and became heavily involved in teaching skiing, promoting the sport, and developing the resort.

The following image shows the coaching staff at the 1969 Toni Sailer summer camp. Sailer is back row, 2nd from right, and Nancy Greene is front row, 2nd from left. Almost all the other coaches were World Cup level racers.

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This trifecta of early ski stars set the standard, but there have been countless others over the years. One who has most skillfully made the transition from competition to coaching is John Smart. A moguls specialist John was a two-time Olympian, 13-time World Cup medallist, 3 time Canadian Champion and World Pro Champion during a career spanning from 1987-1996.

In 1992 he founded Momentum Ski Camps which focused on training the next generation of freestyle ski champions every summer on Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier. Today, Momentum is bigger than ever, having fully embraced the Freeski revolution and hosting some of the sport’s biggest names as their coaches each summer.

But some might say the real highlight of John’s career came in 2013 when he taught renowned Canadian ranter Rick Mercer how to jump onto an inflatable crash pad.

Rounding out the panel discussion will be Rob McSkimming. Rob brings several decades of experience in the ski industry to the table, including a stint as a coach at Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps in the 1980s.

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Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp 1987 – coaches group photo. Among many legends of Canadian Skiing pictured here, Rob McSkimming is seated front row, 3rd from the left.

Rob went on to become the snow school’s general manager for several years before moving onto his current position with Whistler-Blackcomb as VP-Business Development.  Clearly, Rob has a wealth of knowledge that will complement John and Stephanie’s recollections on the panel.

We hope you can join us on Sunday February 21st for “Celebrity Athletes and the Growth of Modern Skiing”! The event is being held in conjunction with International Ski History Day, being organized by the International Ski History Association who will have a delegation in attendance. They’re also offering a full-day ski package, concluding at our Speaker Series, that is incredible value. Details available through the above hyperlink.

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When: Sunday February 21st; 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 and W-B Club Shred.

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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