Tag Archives: Karl Ricker

Volunteers of 2010: The Weasel Workers

This past month, the Whistler Museum opened a temporary exhibit on the Sea to Sky volunteers of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The exhibit will run through March as Whistler continues to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Paralympic Games.  One of the groups included in this exhibit is a group that formed well before the Games ever came to Whistler.

The Weasel Workers formed in the 1970s when Bob Parsons bad his crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.  Most of the early volunteers were parents of Whistler Mountain Ski Club members, but membership grew over the years as Weasels continued to work on the courses for large races on Whistler and began sending volunteers to help build courses for World Cups, World Championships, and Winter Olympics on other mountains.  When the Games were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003, the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team well in advance of the alpine events held on Whistler Mountain.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

During the 2010 Games, the number of Weasel Workers swelled to about 1,500 volunteers.  Volunteers came from across Canada and other nations to join a core group of 400 to 500 volunteers from Vancouver and the Sea to Sky area.  About 300 volunteers worked specifically for the Paralympics, and a couple hundred Weasel Workers volunteered to work for both the Olympics and Paralympics.  Weasel volunteers began their work for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on Whistler Mountain as early as mid-November 2008 and continued to clean the courses well after the Games had left town.

Even during the Games, the Weasels continued to be a family affair.  Bunny Hume, who began volunteering the with Weasels with her husband Dick in the early 1980s when their grandsons began ski racing, volunteered alongside multiple family members.  She handed out and collected race bibs, her son Rick was the Chief of Course for the women’s course, and her grandsons Jeff and Scott worked on the dye crew.  Rick’s wife Lynne also worked as a Weasel during the Paralympics.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

Some of the Weasel Workers who began volunteering as ski club parents even had children competing in the Games.  Long-time Weasel Andrée Janyk, who could often be found working on a course with a smile, saw two of her children, Britt and Mike, race in the Olympics in their hometown.

Karl Ricker, also a long-time dedicated Weasel Worker, was on the mountain trying to prevent people from crossing where the winch-cats were working when he received the news that Maëlle Ricker, his daughter, had won a gold medal in snowboard-cross on Cypress Mountain and become the first Canadian woman to claim an Olympic gold on home soil.  He went down to Vancouver to attend her medal ceremony, but was back at work on the course early the next morning.

Despite rain, wet snow, and warm weather over the first few days of the Games, and the postponement of three races, the Weasel Workers created and maintained courses for the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic alpine races that were seen around the world in 2010, and those who came to Whistler to work with the Weasels became just as much a part of the team as the long-time volunteers.  Patrick Maloney, then the Weasel president, told The Whistler Question that, “Anybody that’s on that track is a Weasel Worker.”  This sentiment was echoed by Weasel Worker Colin Pitt-Taylor, who claimed that, “as soon as you started working on an alpine course, you became a Weasel Worker, whether you like it or not.”

Coast Mountain Gothic opens Friday, November 2!

Join us Friday, November 2 to celebrate the opening of Coast Mountain Gothic: A History of the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts with special guests Karl Ricker and Jayson Faulkner!  Our latest temporary exhibit complements our online exhibit developed with the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Gothic Arch Huts are modest yet iconic structures that played a major role in the exploration of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia over the past 50 years.  Discover the stories behind the design and construction of these shelters and meet the people and organizations that brought them to life.  Along the way, you’ll learn how networks of hiking trails help protect the sensitive alpine environments and support outdoor educational activities.

Doors open at 6:30 pm.  The exhibit will run through December 31.

For more information on our virtual exhibit, take a look here.

How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Speaker Series: The life and times of Neal Carter

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In conjunction with our current temporary exhibit showcasing photographs from the historic 1923 Carter-Townsend Mountaineering exhibition, this event will showcase the life & times of Neal Carter. For nearly half a century, Neal Carter explored the vast Coast Mountain wilderness. garnering dozens of first ascents. and discovering up whole regions of unexplored backcountry for the enjoyment of future generations.

More than just a climber, Neal Carter also had a wide-ranging professional career in hydrology, cartography, marine biology, and geographical nomenclature. We are extremely fortunate to have none other than Karl Ricker, a local legend in his own right who knew Neal Carter personally, speaking about Carter’s wide-ranging personal and professional accomplishments.

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From the Carter Collection: The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry.: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Davidson, Castle Towers, and Decker.

Karl’s talk will be followed by a presentation by Whistler Museum Programs Manager Jeff Slack, showcasing a selection of gorgeous photographs from Neal Carter’s 1923 mountaineering expedition in Garibaldi Park, adding stories and context along the way.

As a bonus, we will also be screening a compilation of Neal Carter’s home videos from several other pioneering mountain expeditions throughout the Coast Mountains. This video was recently made available to us by Neal Carter’s daughter, Louise Schmidt, and has never been screened publicly.

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Impressive solitude near Whistler’s peak.

Where: Whistler Museum

When: Wednesday December 7. Doors at 6, Show at 7pm.

Tickets: $10, $5 for Museum members and Club Shred.

For tickets and more info call 604-932-2019.

What’s in a Name?

We love place names here at the Museum. Researching place names, even seemingly mundane ones, often reveals unique stories about earlier human encounters with the landscape. Apparently you love them too; two of our most popular blog posts ever have listed the meaning behind some of Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski run names (Why is that Ski Run Called Hooker? & Who Burnt the Stew?)

So we were especially excited with the most recent arrival to our archives: a thick folder featuring maps, name lists, and correspondence by prolific local mountaineer/geologist/Olympian father Karl Ricker, dating from 1964 to the early 2000s. Essentially the file tells the official story behind dozens of mountain, glacier and creek names around Whistler (primarily the north half of Garibaldi Park).

In 1964 Ricker was still a student at UBC and an active member of their Varsity Outdoor Club. That spring, along with other VOCers, he had famously completed the first tour of what they dubbed the “Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse” better-known today as the Spearhead Traverse. (The Fitzsimmons Range and the Spearhead Range extend back from Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, respectively, to form the “horseshoe.” Both these sub-ranges’ names were created by BCMC mountaineers in the 1920s, and officially adopted after Ricker’s 1964 application.)

Of course these intrepid ski-mountaineers set out for adventure, first and foremost. They also recognized, however, that with the development of ski lifts less than 2 years away, these hitherto remote and rarely visited peaks were about to become a whole lot more accessible, and popular. It was time to investigate just what they had to offer.

This exploration, mapping and naming of the Garibaldi Park mountains was the continuation of a process begun in the 1920s by pioneer mountaineers like Don & Phyllis Munday, and especially Dr. Neal Carter. Carter was still active in the naming process with Ricker in 1964, more than 40 years after he began his exploration, cartography, and nomenclature work in Garibaldi Park. 

And so on to the names… Let’s start with the big one: Whistler. The story was already known, but it’s pretty important for us to finally have the official documentation in our archives.

Alex Philip and guest "At the summit of Whistle Mountain," 1920s.

Alex Philip and guest “At the summit of Whistle Mountain,” 1920s.

Locally, the mountain was always known to Alta Lake residents as “Whistle” or “Whistler” Mountain in honour of the whistling hoary marmots encountered by hikers in the high alpine. Somehow this name never made it to the survey officials in Victoria and Ottawa. Instead, this mountain was identified on government maps as “London Mountain,” presumably in reference to the mining claims on the mountain’s north slopes, registered to the “London Mining Group” (they were Brits).

By 1964, of course, high-profile efforts by Garibaldi Lifts to develop a ski hill and bring the Olympics to the southern Coast Mountains were already well underway, As Ricker wrote in his application to the Geographic Names Board,

Despite being published on every map since 1928 as London Mountain, it has not stood the test of time; the mountain is still “Whistler” Mountain to the Vancouver newspapers and to all the advertisements put forth on the development of skiing in this portion of Garibaldi Park. Yet when a newcomer or new park user attempts to find “Whistler” on the map he is faced with unnecessary confusion.

The Geographic Names Board was convinced, and the rest is history.

As for some of the more lyrical names one finds towards the back of the traverse route: 1964 marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard,” William Shakespeare. As Ricker noted in his application,

His plays are loaded with a diverse lot of characters; the [naming] committee felt that a few of them aptly described some of the features in the area and that we should contribute to the commemoration of this anniversary. 

The mountains resembled Shakespearean characters? Hear him out:

Mount MacBeth: This hulking pyramid marks “the point of no return” for skiers attempting the full traverse. “Similarly, Macbeth reached a point of no return when he began to kill off his friends.”

Mount MacBeth from Whistler Mountain. Source: Bivouac.com.

Mount MacBeth (the glaciated peak at center/right) as seen from Whistler Mountain. In case “MacBeth” wasn’t accepted Ricker proposed as an alternative “The Fox Ears” due to the appearance of the twin summit. Photo: Bivouac.com.

Mount Iago: While on the 1964 traverse, this peak “appeared to be an impossible barricade to our ski touring party. The summit glacier is criss-crossed with hidden crevasses as well, and as a result the 1964 party was coerced into taking a long detour” (hence Detour Ridge). Later, the party realized that the peak was not so hazardous as suspected, and Ricker drew the comparison with Iago, “a very deceptive fellow in Shakespeare’s Othello.”

Mount Benvolio: The report describes how “when viewed from the north, this peak stands out from Mount Overlord and Fitzsimmons… However, its beauty from afar is somewhat dulled in close up views and its ascent is of no trouble. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the character of Benvolio had similar traits.”

Mounts Angelo and Diavolo, by the way, are not part of this Shakespearean celebration. They were named by Neal Carter in the 1920s. Steep, rocky Diavolo proved a hellish ascent. Its twin peak is snowier and more elegant appearing, and thus earned its name in counterpoint. Ricker heartily endorsed these place names out of respect for Carter, but alo because of their “euphony” (today’s word of the day) especially when combined with their similar-sounding Shakespearean neighbours. (For a great contemporary ski-mountaineering tale from Mount Angelo which adds another layer to this poetic place-naming story, click here.)

There you have it. Who said place names are boring?!

This just scratching the surface of all the great stuff in these folders, there are definitely more blog posts to come. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below if you’re curious about a specific name or feature, and we’ll see what we can do.

Origins – UBC VOC Lodge

On this blog we have highlighted the pioneer explorations and contributions to the community made by such clubs as the British Columbia Mountaineering Club and the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club. One such club who hasn’t received their due is UBC’s hallowed Varsity Outdoor Club. Formed all the way back in 1917 (and thus, with a fast-approaching centennial) the VOC has helped introduce thousands of youth to Coast Mountain adventure over the years, and was involved in Whistler’s development from the very start.

The VOC were a big part of the growth of ski-mountaineering post-World War Two, and soon began hosting spring skiing camps around Garibaldi Lake. In 1964, one especially adventurous group of students, including one Karl Ricker, embarked on a visionary ski traverse linking Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains, which they dubbed the Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse and now better known as the Spearhead Traverse.

This nine-day epic of the now-popular route has gotten a lot of attention of late, largely due to the Spearhead Huts Project. Perhaps the most eloquent treatment comes from Robin O’Neill’s  short film Breaking Trail.

All this to say that the VOC was ahead of the curve in recognizing the ski potential around Whistler. When development of Whistler Mountain began ramping up in 1965, free land was made available for select ski clubs, with some “badgering” Ricker recalls, to build cabins on ( a shrewd move by Garibaldi Lifts, harnessing the social nature of skiing), and the VOC took full advantage.

From Ski Trails, January 1966

From Ski Trails, January 1966

The Lodge was built entirely using VOC funds and volunteer labour. According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand. Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions. It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades, and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The lodge was ready for Christmas 1965, even if Garibaldi Lifts wasn’t (a story in itself). Undeterred, the many students passing the holidays at the lodge slapped their skins on and toured Whistler Mountain. With runs cut but no lifts turning they had the mountain virtually to themselves!

After Whistler Mountain officially opened in February 1966 VOC’s cabin was an instant hit, both among VOC members and other budget-minded skiers. The next winter, when Ski Trails ran a story about how UBC students had started a petition asking for special student pricing on lift tickets, a VOC rep estimated (unverifiably) that half the skier traffic on Whistler Mountain came from the VOC.

Unfortunately, despite this early success, the lodge underwent some trouble in the 1970s as the VOC couldn’t keep up with rapidly increasing operating and upkeep expenses. Things turned from bad to worse when, despite their massive investments in time and money, the UBC Alma Mater Society took control of the lodge against the VOC’s wishes.

Finally, these issues were resolved in 1980, and the VOC used the settlement money to fund construct backcountry cabins near Mount Brew and Mount Overseer, which complemented their existing Burton Hut on Garibaldi Lake. This was more in line with the backcountry-oriented club anyways.