Tag Archives: John Hetherington

Snow!!!

Snow. For all the changes around us, frozen water is still the fuel that keeps this town’s fire stoked and hot.

While mountain-folk like to play armchair meteorologist year-round, we’re currently in the midst of prognostication silly-season. People are dusting off the almanacs, scouring long-term forecasts, and wildly over-reacting to Mother Nature’s every turn. Last season’s uncooperative weather has only heightened the tension that accompanies every updated forecast.

This year is especially tough to call due to a historically strong El Nino accompanied by a weird phenomenon that oceanographers and meteorologists refer to in their highly technical jargon as “The Blob.”

Snow-wise, we’re off to a pretty good start, but that doesn’t really mean much for those extrapolating for the entire season. Here at the museum, we’re more comfortable with facts than forecasts. So here’s one for you: Whistler has enjoyed some amazingly deep winters in recent years, but they’ve got nothing on what Whistler’s first skiers enjoyed.

We speak to a lot of old-timers here, reminiscing about the good ol’ days, and all attest that Whistler just doesn’t get snow like it used to.

Check these photos of the Whistler Mountain alpine from the early 1970s. For those who know the terrain well, pay close attention to familiar features such as The Coffin chute, or the Couloir near the middle of the photo. Of course, the Saddle has a massive cornice here not only due to the snowpack, but also because the entrance had not yet been blasted to improve skier access.

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Compare it to a recent photo of the same terrain and it still looks epic, but it’s clearly not nearly as coated in the coastal powder we all love.

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Whistler Peak in typical (nowadays) mid-winter form. Photo Thomas Quine/Wikipedia.

Certainly some of the discrepancy can be explained by the increase in skiers and avalanche bombs knocking a fair bit of storm snow off of these steeper aspects. Still, there’s data to indicate that this is more than just some old-timers’ nostalgia-induced exaggeration.

Whistler legend, and Whistler Museum President (full disclosure) John “Bushrat” Hetherington, in his years of snow study as an avalanche professional, found clear evidence from many data sets that all across BC the decade from 1965 to 1975 was a period of abnormally large snowfall.

He also experienced it firsthand, arriving in Whistler in the autumn of 1967 with the town still buzzing about how much snow they had received the previous winter.

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Upper Harmony Bowl, including Pika’s Traverse and the Camel Humps, looking especially frosted.

John stuck around to ski more than his fair share of bottomless pow in ensuing years, but nothing compared to the 1973/74 season. As John recalls, “this was the first winter they had really good data on, and it’s still the record.”

By mid-April 1974, the snow study plot (which was ¾ way down green chair at the time, an even lower elevation than the currently used Pig Alley snow plot at 1650 meters) measured a snowpack 17 feet deep. Anyone remember a 518cm base at mid-mountain in recent years? Me neither.

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The good ol’ days when the Roundhouse was still round, and the snowpacks were profound.

Jealousy-inducing? Maybe a little. But if it happened before, who’s to say that we aren’t about to see a return of this near-forgotten weather cycle? That’s the thing about weather, you never know.

Hippie style of smokin’ salmon

You may think that a fridge is only used for conventional things such as keeping cucumbers, Coca-Cola, and beer cool. However, there are many other uses for old refrigerators. In the museum, we have a fridge that serves as a chronological monument documenting Whistler life from the beginnings of our ski town to the famous destination resort it is today. Gordy Harder’s fridge truly is a tribute to the spirit of the early ski bum – and, of course, “stickermania” at its best.

Bruce Prentice and Bob Sanderson (r.) smoking and hanging fish. Whistler Museum, Benjamin collection, early 1970s

One more purpose of a fridge is – believe it or not – salmon smoking. In the early 1970s, this old fridge actually garnished the backyard of the Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, a property which is now owned by Roger McCarthy. Back then, using an old fridge was a common way of smoking a fish or meat, remembers long-term local and president of the Whistler Museum, John Hetherington.

Someone would get an old fridge from the dump, cut a hole in the side for the stovepipe leading from an airtight stove, and light a fire. An airtight was a cheap heater stove made of a sheet of metal, he recalls. Ask Bruce Prentice or Bob Sanderson. Maybe they will share their fridge construction plan for the white dragon with you. Enjoy!

What is “round” about the Roundhouse Lodge?

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the “flying saucer-shaped” original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1967

Have you ever sat at the Roundhouse Lodge and — while munching a delicious burger — asked yourself why this light-flooded but pretty square-cut, mid-mountain venue is called “Round”-house?

Here is the answer to the brain-twister: Today’s Roundhouse Lodge had a much smaller, flying saucer-shaped precursor that perched atop Whistler Mountain just across from where the Valley View Room is located today.

When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966 there was no cafeteria. In the first season, hot drinks, soup and sandwiches were served off a picnic table using a Coleman camp stove in the so-called Red Shack at the top of the Red Chair.

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1966

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, summer 1966

The original Roundhouse was built in the summer of 1966 and opened in the following winter. It was a copy of a building in California and was designed as a warming hut with a huge fireplace in the middle where the skiers warmed their feet. No food or washrooms were in the design for the original building. Back then, Skiers couldn’t use inside toilets, only outhouses on the hill below the Roundhouse. John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and ski patroller in the late 1960s, remembers that part of their job was to shovel out and clean the outhouses. “Ugly job” he says.

Early plans for the original Roundhouse. Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

Early plans for the original Roundhouse: Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

The ironic truth is: They built the Roundhouse on a large rocky knob that wooed them with a magnificent all-round view but then left them high and dry. They couldn’t find any water on that knoll. Two hydraulic engineering companies were engaged to study the area – without any success.

They were so desperate that they brought up a professional water dowser from Vancouver Island. Hugh Smythe, a teenage ski patroller at that time who went on to become the CEO of Blackcomb Mountain and all of Intrawest, remembers actually being with the dowser when he located the water which was one year after the original Roundhouse was built. “We found a number of locations but the best was just below where the Peak2Peak terminal is now” he recalls.

The dowser wandered around for a while. Just beside the Roundhouse his willow stick bent down like crazy, and he declared that there was running water about 30 feet below. The next spring they brought up a company with a water drilling rig. And guess what? They really found water. Relieved, a pump was sunk that brought up enough running water for the kitchen and the toilets of the Roundhouse.

The old Red Chair. In the back is the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

The top of the old Red Chair with the original Roundhouse in the background. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

In the following years, there were constant renovations done on the building. When first built, the Roundhouse stood on posts with the wind blowing freely beneath the building, making it almost impossible to heat. One of the major alterations was digging out and enclosing a lower floor. Indoor toilets were installed. The fireplace was removed to make room for a kitchen. They wired the place for electricity, and installed a large diesel generator in the basement which was stolen during a later winter in the 1970s, remembers John.

Finally, in 1998 the original Roundhouse was replaced by the new palatial building. Though, the original Roundhouse hasn’t disappeared entirely. Pieces of it became part of the wall of fame in today’s Roundhouse.

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Good Shit Lolly Pot

There’s no doubt that you’ll come across some weird toilets when you’re traveling. Guess what? We didn’t even need to travel to stumble upon one of the most unusual loos of the world. All that was needed was a quick dig in our photo archives to bring up some quite impressive pictures of the so called Good Shit Lolly Pot that was built on a raft at Alta Lake in the summer of 1969.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake in the hippie summer of 1969, Whistler Museum, Benjamin Collection, 1969.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake in the hippie summer of 1969, Whistler Museum, Benjamin Collection, 1969.

Can you imagine sitting there and gazing out on the lake? John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum, remembers that Gordie Allen and Drew Tait, his friends and housemates at the Tokum Corners squat, decided to live on a raft at Alta Lake for the summer of 1969. It was located at the southeast side of Alta Lake, close to where Wayside Park is today.

The two free spirits even built a little rain shelter on the raft. They found this old broken toilet somewhere in the valley, mounted it on their raft and called it Good Shit Lolly Pot. You couldn’t use it, remembers John. But it was still a great (s)pot to enjoy stunning views during this hippie summer of 1969.

A hard winter’s baby boom

Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.

Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler's famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler's book "Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town"

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie's truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie’s truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…

Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?

Speaker Series: Canoeing the Horton River

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In July 1991 four adventurous souls completed a three week canoe trip on the Horton River in the Northwest Territories. Among them was long term local and President of the Whistler Museum board, John Hetherington, as well as Whistler Ski Patrolman Pat “Dago” Coulter.

The Horton River is one of the most remote rivers in North America, though it deserves great renown. The river has several distinct features: it empties into the Arctic Ocean at a point further north than any other mainland river in Canada, it runs alongside the Smoking Hills (it broke through the Smoking Hills to Franklin Bay around 1800AD, cutting off the last 120 kilometres of river), and it is now in the process of creating a new delta.

The four expeditioners experienced a snowstorm in July, a close encounter with a grizzly, several caribou, coils of smoke from the Smoking Hills, and barren tundra (among other things). Hetherington reminisces: “For the last week of the trip we paddled through the night by the light of the midnight sun, to avoid the strong daytime winds. At the Arctic Ocean we walked to an old DEW Line station, watched icebergs drift by, and had a huge caribou herd migrate by our campsite.”

As part of the Whistler Museum Speaker Series, John Hetherington will be sharing photographs and stories from this remarkable adventure. The event, “Canoeing the Horton River,” will take place on Wednesday, February 18th, from 7 to 9pm (doors are at 6pm) at the museum. Tickets are $7 each ($5 for museum members) and can be purchased by telephone or in person from Whistler Museum. There will be a cash bar and complimentary tea and coffee.

Anyone interested in the Canadian Arctic, canoeing, adventure sports, or anything to do with the Canadian wilderness should not miss this one.

Which comes first, the Nudist or the Squat?

The kind of questions that arise when debating our community’s heritage are, well, unique. We held our annual celebration of Whistler’s history, Icon Gone, on Wednesday and the evening’s debate eventually boiled down to this: Which is more emblematic of our community’s cherished free spirit, a long-gone squat which sheltered hundreds of ski bums with a propensity for public nudity, or the timeless act of naked skiing itself. Seriously.

Maybe serious isn’t the best word to describe an event featuring hippie wigs, an ode to drinking, G.D. Maxwell singing (screaming?) “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT!?” and the anti-serious “Big Kev” Mikkelsen, but you get the point. In all, eight brave souls got in front of a packed crowd at Merlin’s to plead their case for a cherished icon from Whistler’s past. In the end, our town came out looking pretty darn good.

A packed Merlin's, an iconic Whistler watering hole itself, was the perfect venue for another Icon Gone throwdown.

A packed Merlin’s, an iconic Whistler watering hole itself, was the perfect venue for another Icon Gone throwdown.

A celebration of, or nostalgia for, Whistler’s free spirit was a binding theme through much of the night. Mo Douglas, who has done an amazing job MCing all 6 Icon Gone’s, warmed the crowd by roasting every competitor before they had a chance to get on stage.

G.D. Maxwell opened the ceremony with an ode to dogs, and the integral role they have played in fighting ski town solitude over the decades. Little known fact: a dog once ran for mayor of Whistler (and some in attendance last night evidently  wish Bob the Dog had won.) Max’s opening-round opponent, Emily Wood, narrowly took the bout with an ode to Whistler’s ultimate pioneering spirit, Myrtle Philip.

Emily Wood educates the crowd on how Myrtle Philip willed the community of Alta Lake into existence.

Emily Wood educates the crowd on how Myrtle Philip willed the community of Alta Lake into existence.

Up next Steve Andrews took the stage armed solely with his acoustic guitar and a nice little ditty about Dusty the Horse, everyone’s favourite taxidermied farm animal. Steve definitely had the best audience participation of the evening, as seemingly everyone was singing along with his Johnny Cash-inspired chorus. Despite the audience’s vote, defending champ Angie Nolan won over both judges (Museum prez John “Bushrat” Hetherington, and Whistler Question Editor Tanya Foubert) with her spirited defense of Whistler’s most famous squat, Toad Hall.

Steve Andrews won the crowd.

Steve Andrews won the crowd over by singing about a dead horse.

Mandy Rousseau used her generally quiet demeanour to totally floor the judge’s and audience with a hilarious profile of naked skiers. The Icon Gone neophyte managed to beat out event veteran and inaugural champion Stephen Vogler’s ode to drinking, despite the fact that virtually everyone in attendance, and virtually none were naked.

Know your market.

Know your market.

The final opening round match-up saw Kevin “Big Kev” Mikkelsen up against veteran scribe Michel Beaudry. Both had compellingly nostalgic performances: Kevin listed the powder-preserving advantages of the fast-disappearing fixed-grip chairlift, while Michel Beaudry celebrated the humility and free spirit of the under-appreciated Stefan Ples. Michel took the round, possibly due to his dominance in the facial hair department (no offense to Kev’s mutton chops).

Big Kev (at right) and Michel Beaudry's moustache (center background) simultaneously evoke memories of a quieter, simpler era.

Big Kev (at right) and Michel Beaudry’s moustache (center background) simultaneously evoke memories of a quieter, simpler era.

The subsequent rounds were a blur of debate, dispute, and a little debauchery, but in the end, Angie Nolan simply wanted the prize the most. In the second round she managed to explain how every other icon up for debate was fundamentally indebted to the spirit of Toad Hall, and in the final showdown against Mandy and Max (who was voted back in as a wildcard) sealed the deal by proclaiming :

As long as we remember to break some rules, Toad Hall will never be gone.

And that is how you win Icon Gone.

Angie reclaims the crown, the belt, and the glory.

Angie reclaims the crown, the belt, and the glory.

A HUGE thanks to all the competitors, our judges, Mo Douglas, our sponsors (Merlin’s, Araxi, Whistler Foto Source, Sushi Village, Purebread Bakery, and the BC Provincial Government) and everyone who made it out to the show. Is Icon Gone now a thing of the past, or will it continue to make history in the near future? Only time will tell.

Competition Bracket - final results