Tag Archives: Lynn Mathews

Framing Whistler

Today you are less likely to come across and A-frame in Whistler than you would have been a few decades ago. However, the once widely popular structure can still be spotted throughout Whistler’s older neighbourhoods and found in many photographs of Whistler’s mountain resort past in the Whistler Museum’s archival collections.

While A-frames have historically been used for various purposes around the world, the A-frame did not become widespread in North America until after the Second World War. It then became a popular vacation home for affluent middle class households, especially in the mountains. A-frames were relatively simple to build and were soon available in prefabricated kits. This popularity continued through the 1960s when Whistler Mountain was first being developed as a ski resort, so it is no surprise that A-frames began to appear throughout the area soon after development began.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel at the base of Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Some of the A-frames built in Whistler at the time were constructed right at the base of the Whistler Mountain lifts, including the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, the first interdenominational chapel in Canada. The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was constructed in 1966 after the first shortened season of skiing on Whistler Mountain. It was inspired by the memories of lift company president Franz Wilhelmsen who recalled small chapels in the ski villages of Norway where he had skied as a child. The lift company donated land near the gondola base and the A-frame design of the Chapel was provided free of charge of Asbjorn Gathe. Like Wilhelmsen, Gathe had been born in Norway. He studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology at the University of Zurich and then immigrated to Vancouver in 1951, where he worked as an architect. The Chapel was easily identifiable at the gondola base thanks to both its A-frame structure and its stained glass windows designed by Donald Babcock.

One of the A-frames built by the lift company to house their managers. Wallace Collection.

In 1966, the lift company also built two A-frames at the gondola base to serve as staff housing for its manager and their families (at the time, the Bright and Mathews families). The houses were situated right on the hill and Lynn Mathews, whose husband Dave was operations manager, recalled that their A-frame had seventeen steps up to the deck in the summer but only three in the winter when snow built up around them.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created. Burrows Collection.

A-frames were popular away from the gondola base as well. When Don and Isobel MacLaurin built what at the time was their holiday home in the 1960s, they chose to build an A-frame themselves with help from local residents such as Murray Coates and Ron Mackie and beams from a 1915 school in Squamish that was being torn down. Similarly, when Paul and Jane Burrows moved to Whistler full-time in the 1970s they decided to build an A-frame in Alpine Meadows. Like many of the A-frame homes in Whistler, both these A-frames and the managers’ houses at Whistler Mountain later had extensions added onto them, changing the A-frame shape.

These are just a few of the A-frames pictured in the museum’s collections and while they may no longer look quite like the classic A-frame, some of them are still standing in Whistler today.

Dag Aabye in Whistler

Many of the names of runs on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains pay homage to skiers and, slightly less often, snowboarders who made a mark on the mountains, whether as an employee, an investor, or an athlete. Some of these names, such as Franz’s Run, McConkey’s, and Arthurs’s Choice are fairly easy to trace back to their source, while others like Bushrat, Jam Tart, and Jolly Green Giant require a bit more knowledge of their namesake. During a 2019 speaker event, however, it was pointed out that there is one skier who, despite making quite an impression during his time in the Whistler valley, has no official namesake on Whistler Mountain: Dag Aabye.

Dag Aabye shows off his skills on Whistler Mountain. Cliff Fenner Collection.

When Roy Ferris and Alan White opened the Garibaldi Ski School in 1966, they asked Ornulf Johnsen from Norway to come manage it. Johnsen persuaded the lift company to bring over fellow Norwegian Dag Aabye to work for him. Aabye had previously been working as a ski instructor in Britain and as a movie stuntman, including skiing in the 1965 James Bond film Goldfinger, and he soon arrived to begin instructing on Whistler Mountain.

Dag Aabye runs with his skis as part of the Great Snow Earth Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

According to Lynn Mathews, Aabye was “tall, lanky, quiet,” a “really nice guy who would do these most unbelievable things.” Mathews described him as “a cat on skis” and remembered watching him ski down the Red Chair lift line, “touching lightly from side to side as he went down these cliffs.” Jim McConkey, who took over the management of the ski school in 1968, described Aabye as “just a phenomenal skier” and recalled watching him jump off a cornice on the Whistler glacier, land, and ski straight down.

Aabye became known for his first ski descents on Whistler Mountain, including areas of Whistler’s peak that are permanently closed today such as Don’t Miss and the Weekend Chutes, sometimes waiting days for the right conditions before hiking up from the top of the t-bar. In some cases, it would be another twenty to thirty years before the next person made the same descent.

Norwegian hot-shot Dag Aabye jumping off the roof of the Cheakamus Inn, 1967. Walt Preissl, who took the photo, recalls the occasion: “We were in the Cheakamus Inn Hotel at Whistler, sitting in the bar with Marg Egger, when we saw this pile of snow go swiftly by the window, including a body with it , we ran out and it was Dag. Ornulf was taking some pics, he asked him to go back up and do it again so that he could get a better shot. And so he did go back and jump off the roof of the Cheakamus Inn [again]. He was a match for Jim McConkey who used to do things like that.” Photo courtesy of Walt Preissl.

Aabye could be seen skiing in films by Jim Rice, including a short 1968 film featuring Aabye and Cliff Jennings skiing the glaciers around Whistler by helicopter. Off the mountain, he also became known for his willingness to ski off man-made structures, such as the Cheakamus Inn. According to Mathews, this was done mostly “for fun. Cause doesn’t everyone ski off the roof and land 50 feet down?” Aabye also built his own jump for his efforts to land a backflip on 215 cm skis and could often be found walking on his hands with his skis still attached to his feet. In summers, Aabye worked as a coach at the summer ski camps alongside ski celebrities such as Toni Sailer and Nancy Greene.

The staff of the 1969 Summer Ski Camp, including skiing legend, Dag Aabye. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

In his 80s today, Aabye is still known as an athlete, competing annually in ultra marathons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though he long ago left Whistler and ended up outside SilverStar (where the run Aabye Road bears his name), Aabye is still talking about in the valley and on the mountain.

A Harrowing Journey to Whistler

For many people, their first impression of Whistler begins with a trip up Highway 99 from Vancouver. Depending on the time of year and the weather, this can be anything from an inspiring journey with spectacular views to a frustrating slow-moving slog through traffic to a harrowing experience sharing the road with drivers unprepared for snowy conditions. For Lynn Mathew’s mother, her first impressions were closer to the last.

Lynn’s mother had already visited the west coast before her first visit to Whistler; when Lynn and David Mathews first moved out to Vancouver from Quebec in the 1960s, both her parents came out to see their new home. At the time, Lynn’s mother had never been in an airplane and didn’t particularly want to be in one, so she boarded a bus in New York and three days later Lynn’s father boarded a plane. Lynn picked up her father at the airport and then together they drove to Vancouver’s bus station to collect her mother. A year or two later, when Lynn had her first child in November 1967, her mother got on her first plane and ventured out to visit her new grandson in Whistler.

With snow on the road, Highway 99 could easily become a treacherous, one-lane route. Laforce Collection

She arrived the day after her grandson was born and, until that day, there had been no snow in the Whistler valley. David picked her up at the airport and they stopped at the Squamish hospital where Lynn and the baby were staying the night. While they were there, it began to snow in Squamish. David, who had the lift company truck, suggested that they leave before it snowed too much. When they returned to collect Lynn and the baby the next day, she got to hear about their adventures driving up to Whistler.

The highway between Squamish and Whistler today is very different from that of 1967 but, as Lynn put it, “the hill at Daisy Lake is still there.” She described this section at the time as “a very narrow hill with no shoulders, and very steep.” Though there wasn’t a large number of cars traveling up the highway, many of those that were encountered difficulties getting up that hill. By the time David and Lynn’s mother got to the hill, there were cars off the side of the road, some of them leaning towards the cliff. As they told Lynn, it was fortunate that no cars ended up in the lake.

Prior to the development of Whistler Mountain in 1965, the “roads” were in even more questionable condition. MacLaurin Collection.

David and Lynn’s mother came across a couple on their way home to Pemberton whose car was “definitely in the ditch.” Despite the fact that the bench in the lift company truck would only comfortably fit three, David and Lynn’s mother offered the couple a ride as far as Whistler, where they could arrange for friends to pick them up. The four of them squished into the truck and zigzagged up the hill between the cars stuck on the sides.

As it happened, one of the people they had picked up was from Norway, not too far from where Lynn’s mother was from. The two had a great visit as David drove them safely through the snowy conditions to Whistler. The next day, David and Lynn’s mother returned to Squamish to bring Lynn and the baby home to Whistler.

It continued to snow steadily in the area and, according to Lynn, “My mother wasn’t sure just what I had moved to.” This sentiment was echoed by David’s mother when she came out to visit from Quebec in January 1968, a visit that involved a lot of snow, a power outage, and an evacuation by snowcat to the Ski Boot Motel, but that’s a story for another day.

How to Lift Some Spirits

Looking through the photographs in the Whistler Museum archives, it is clear that Whistler has thrown a lot of parties. Whether attending a formal dinner at a restaurant, a Halloween costume contest in a bar, or a dance that got moved into an underground parking lot due to rain, residents and visitors alike have found many reasons to celebrate. At times, parties have served not to celebrate an event or person, but to boost morale during difficult periods. During an interview in 2019, Lynn Mathews described such a party held for Whistler Mountain staff, though the reason behind the low morale might today seem backwards: they had too much snow.

During one of the early years of Whistler Mountain’s operations, according to Lynn, it had snowed all through January and well into February and staff were getting tired of moving so much snow. Each day was “day after day after day of shoveling,” first digging out the gondola, then going up to dig out Midstation, and then shoveling out the top of the Red Chair (not unlike Hugh Smythe’s early memories of riding the Red Chair in 1966). It was decided that a party was needed to raise people’s spirits.

The gondola barn (easily identified by the word GONDOLA on its side) had much more space to host staff than the A-frame to its side. Wallace Collection

At the time, there weren’t many venues in which a party could be held. The gondola barn had reportedly hosted a staff party in a previous season, but questions about it were afterwards raised by the insurance company and the lift company’s board of directors. Lynn decided to hold the party in her own home, one of the two A-frames at the base of Whistler Mountain occupied by the lift company managers (Lynn’s husband David was operations manager, while the other A-frame was occupied by area manager Jack Bright and his family). The A-frame structure was quite small, but that didn’t stop Lynn from issuing invitations to all members of the staff, with the mysterious instruction to bring a pillow.

In preparation for the party, the Mathews moved all of their furniture outside. Lynn recalled that David even put an ashtray out on the coffee table that was set up with the sofa on their deck. Various people were organized to make food, silverware and dishes were borrowed from the cafeteria, and two sheets of plywood were covered in aluminum foil. When it came time to eat, the covered plywood was brought out and set on the floor as tables. Those who remembered their pillows were instructed to use them for seating.

A-frames built by the lift company were not very large, though over time some additions were made. Wallace Collection

There were so many people gathered in the house that Lynn remembered thinking at one point during the evening, “It’s a good thing there’s so much snow around here, because I’m afraid otherwise the A-frame might slide down the hill.” At the height of the party, lift company president Franz Wilhelmsen’s nephew and his two friends arrived from Montreal to pick up the keys to the Wilhelmsens’ condo and seemed taken aback by all the people crammed into the building.

According to Lynn, the party did exactly what it was supposed to do. It lifted the spirits of the disheartened employees and, for days afterwards, staff could be heard exclaiming over how many people they managed to fit into the A-frame.