Tag Archives: Rainbow Mountain

Whistler’s Past Institutions

The Rainbow Ski Hill in 1980. Today this slope is the sight of Whistler’s Rainbow neighbourhood. Photo: Whistler Question

Yesterday (Friday, January 26) we opened our 2018 Speaker Series season with an evening dedicated to the Rainbow Ski Village, presented by Tom Jarvis, John Lee and Tommy Thompson.  The three told stories of Rainbow from three different perspectives: the owner trying to make the small ski hill a going concern, the former liftee in his first kitchen job, and the teenage ski jumper who got his start jumping on the BC circuit.  We’d like to thank all of our speakers as well as everyone who came out!

As we’ve been preparing for this event over the past few months we’ve gotten the chance to talk to some of the people, like our speakers, who worked, skied, owned and jumped at the Rainbow Ski Village, as well as Beau’s Restaurant, and have been gathering their stories.

Recently the museum was fortunate to speak with Andy Clausen, whose family managed the Rainbow Ski Village when it first opened and whose memories include not just Rainbow but also life in the Whistler valley in the 1960s and 70s.  Along with an article from the fall 1970 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Andy’s memories five us a much clearer picture of the early years of the Rainbow Ski Area.

The sign for Beau’s Restaurant. After the ski hill closed the restaurant continued to be a popular gathering place. Photo: Whistler Question

Andy’s stepfather, Vic Christiansen, worked for Jim McConkey at Whistler Mountain and had an impressive reputation as a skier.  In the late 1960s Vic was approached by Norm Paterson of Capilano Highlands Ltd. to operate a small ski area at Rainbow.

Vic Christiansen and his family ran the Rainbow Ski Hill until 1978. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Rainbow Ski Area first opened in the winter of 1969/70 with one 400-foot tow lift servicing a beginners’ slope.  After that first winter Capilano Highlands added a new 1,200-foot towrope and cleared four beginner/practice slopes leading off the lifts.  They also began construction of a day lodge and a parking area.

In the 1970s many people had their first skiing experience on Rainbow before moving onto the bigger Whistler Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

In 1970 Rainbow opened five days a week (Wednesday – Sunday) under the management of Vic and his family.  Night skiing and reasonable rates (an adult pass for day and evening was $3, a child’s was $1.50) made Rainbow a popular place to learn to ski.

Over the next few years another towrope was added and the Rainbow Mountain Ski Club was formed.  Vic and Andy built Whistler’s first ski jump and Rainbow became a stop on the BC ski jump circuit.  The café was a popular stop for coffee and before he became Whistler’s first mayor Pat Carleton, a Nabob rep, could be found there frequently.

The Rainbow Ski Jump was a 30-40 metre Nordic ski jump and hosted competitions as part of a BC circuit. Photo: Clausen Collection

Being able to draw from both personal recollections and published articles helps to create a more colourful and complete picture of any given time and place.  Memories provide detail and a personal experience while publications, such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News, often record specific dates, names and even lift rates that an individual may not recall.  We are lucky to be able to refer to Whistler’s many publications, including Whistler News, the Alta Lake Echo and The Whistler Answer, when looking for information about this area’s past.

Paul Burrows, the founder of The Whistler Question, teaches a ski class on Rainbow Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

For the past 41 The Whistler Question has provided a record of life in and around Whistler, chronicling a rapidly changing community and growing mountain resort.  From covering the opening of Blackcomb Mountain on its front page in 1980 to announcing the marriage of Bob Daniels and Kashi Richardson in “Notes From All” in 1985, The Question has been an important source of local news in our town.

This past week we wrote our last article for The Question as it published its last edition on January 23 (Museum Musings will be appearing in the Pique beginning next week).  We would like to thank The Question for providing the Whistler Museum with a space to share Whistler’s stories, as well as an archive from to gather them.

Ski Rainbow: Whistler’s Other Ski Hill

Did you know Whistler once had another ski hill? Ever wondered why you live on Ski Jump Rise? Join John Lee and Tom and Beau Jarvis to learn about the Rainbow Ski Hill, a beginner slope where many skiers took their first runs.

Doors open at 6 pm; talk begins at 7 pm.
Tickets: $10 ($5 for Museum & Club Shred members)
Cash bar.


Whistler’s Wildfire Past: Alpine Meadows is Burning

The arrival of summer (especially the summer-like weather we are currently enjoying) is universally admired, but with it comes the increased risk of wildfires. Despite our relatively wet climate, fire season is a reality in Whistler. A great deal of our valley has burned within the last century alone.

Throughout this summer we will share a series of stories about the history of wildfires in our region, making use of the remarkable amount of information that has been assembled through the Whistler Forest History Project. Through these stories we hope to provide a better understanding of the active role that wildfires have played in shaping our valley.

All of the wildfires in the Whistler Forest History database.

All of the wildfires in the Whistler Forest History database. You may notice the absence of the recent high-profile fires on Blackcomb Mountain. Those have not yet been added to the Forest History Database, but we’ll discuss those fires in detail in a future post.

First off, we’ll start with two photos taken by Myrtle Philip that are now in our archives. Looking northward from Rainbow Lodge, the images portray massive columns of smoke billowing up from the lower east flank of Rainbow Mountain,  approximately where Alpine Meadows is today.

Alpine Meadows wildfire1 - ACCESS WMA_P86_0688B_Philip

Alpine Meadows wildfire2 - ACCESS WMA_P86_0688B_Philip

Quite the raging fire. As is the case with many of our archival photos, especially our older ones, we have limited information about the image. By the time the Whistler Museum formally acquired the few thousand photographs in the Philip collection in the 1980s, memories were already fading, and only sparse details could be recorded for most acquisitions. We knew this photo was taken from Rainbow Lodge, likely mid-1920s to to 1940s, but that’s about it.

Now that the Forest History Project has compiled a comprehensive database of virtually every large forest disturbance (logging, wildfires, urbanization and other development, etc), using a combination of historical aerial survey photographs, Forest Service records, and other archival research, we have the opportunity to get a bit more of the story behind the photos.

The database isn’t 100% complete, but it’s virtually certain that a wildfire as large as appears in the above photos was not missed. Plotting only the wildfires in the database into Google Earth, then zooming in on the Alpine Meadows region, we get this:

Wildfire history of the Alpine Meadows area since 1914.

Wildfire history of the Alpine Meadows area since 1914.

Judging by the Rainbow Lodge buildings in the photo, as well as the location of the smoke, it’s probably not the 1920 fire (burning roughly on the flats where Mons and Nicklaus North lie today). That leaves 1940 or 1943 as possible dates for the photos.

So we’ve managed to add a bit more background info for some archival images, but more interestingly, those are pretty massive fires, right where Whistler’s largest residential neighbourhood sits today! The 1940 fire in particular covers more than 3 square kilometres of terrain, encompassing the entirety of Alpine Meadows and Rainbow.

It is easy to take for granted the protection we are afforded by a modern wildfire management service, but these images demonstrate just how common large fires such as these would be in this valley without human intervention.

In future wildfire-related blog posts we’ll look at the effects of lightning strikes in triggering fires, and recount the massive 1919 Cheakamus Canyon fire (the massive brown splotch near the bottom of the first image) that took out several PGE railway bridges, leaving Rainbow Lodge isolated for several months before they were re-built.


FYI: As of Friday afternoon our wildfire hazard rating is 3 out of 5, or “moderate.” A moderate rating is characterized as “forest fuels are drying and there is an increased risk of surface fires starting. Carry out any forest activities with caution.” 

Practically speaking, this means that there no major changes to restrictions on outdoor fires (these come at level 4, “high”), but the risk of human-caused wildfires spreading out of control is certainly present. Our current wildfire danger rating can be found on the BC Wildfire Management Branch’s website (on this comprehensive list for the coastal fire section, Whistler’s rating is listed under “Blackcomb Base”).