Tag Archives: Roger McCarthy

Avalanche Control and Thundering Snow

Next month we will be opening Land of Thundering Snow, a traveling exhibit created by the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.  The exhibit complements Revelstoke Museum’s virtual exhibit of the same name, which examines the history and impact of snow avalanches across Canada, and we are very excited to be its first stop through March 2021!

When we think about avalanches in Whistler, one of the first things to come to mind is often the sound of avalanche control that echoes through the valley in the winter.

An avalanche set off during control on Whistler Mountain. George Benjamin Collection.

According to John Hetherington, who joined Whistler Mountain’s pro ski patrol for the 1967/68 season, early avalanche control was often “putting a bunch of Forcite dynamite sticks together and going out and going, ‘I think we should throw some over here, and I think we should throw some over there.'”  Over time the patrollers learned which slopes and conditions were more likely to have an avalanche, but it was still mostly done by instinct and past experience.

In 1978, Hetherington and Chris Stehem, a former patroller then working as Whistler Mountain’s Safety Supervisor, wrote “Whistler Mountain Avalanche Control Programme,” a technical memorandum, describing the methods then used by Whistler patrollers and providing an idea of a typical morning.  Documents such as this are incredibly useful for learning about past procedures and the development of current practices.

Over a typical season, patrollers would use approximately 1,000 avalauncher rounds and 2,000 hand-charges containing Submagel 95%, a nitroglycerin explosive.  Hand-charges were most often used singly but were sometimes combined into doubles or triples in “special circumstances”.  For control purposes, Whistler Mountain was divided into three sections, Zones A, B & C.  The zones would be covered by teams of two using their own knowledge of the area and radios to communicate.

Some recognizable patrollers examine the data at the Alpine Office. George Benjamin Collection.

On a typical control day, 7 am would see ten to twelve patrollers heading up Whistler Mountain to the Alpine Office at 1,850 m.  Along the way, weather data, snowfall readings, and wind readers were taken.  Once at the Alpine Office, one patroller would take weather readings while the others would begin preparing the day’s charges.  The patrol leader would make an initial evaluation of the avalanche hazard and decide on the control measures.

On an average day, three hand-charge teams and one avalanche gun team would be sent out by 8 am to cover Zone A.  A second gun team would then head out to clear the more inaccessible slopes of Zones B and C.  Radios would be used to update other teams and allow the plan to be adjusted.  If all went according to plan, Zone A would usually be open by 8:45 am when the first skiers were reaching the upper mountain.

The Avalauncher sat in storage at Whistler Mountain for several seasons before improvements were made to the technology. George Benjamin Collection.

On days when helicopters were used, eight patrollers would control Zone A while three patrollers controlled Zones B and C from the air.  The helicopter was not, however, without its shortcomings.  Helicopter use was limited by the weather and reportedly eliminated the “feel” for the snow that teams learned while hiking.

Avalanche control is only one focus of the virtual Land of Thundering Snow exhibit, but it is one with which many are familiar in Whistler.  Though we will not be able to host an opening event, we hope to see many of you (from a distance and a few at a time) at the physical exhibit over the winter.

Our 2020 Speaker Series Begins!

We’ll be opening our 2020 Speaker Series with a screening of Pro Patrol, Curtis Petersen’s 1980 short documentary on ski patrol on Whistler Mountain, followed by a talk on changes in ski patrol and mountain safety with Roger McCarthy, Brian Leighton and Bruce Watt.

Doors open at 6:30 pm. Show begins at 7pm. Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum and Club Shred members) and will be available at the Whistler Museum beginning January 17.

Getting Fit (& Fun) at Myrtle Philip

Opportunities for continued learning and recreational programming are not always abundant in small communities.  This was especially true before the internet made distance learning and online tutorials commonplace.  In the 1970s and 80s in Whistler, Myrtle Philip Elementary School was the site of learning for more than just school aged kids.

An adult education department began running out of Myrtle Philip School after the school opened in 1976.  It offered various classes and programs, mainly in the evenings, to those living in the area.  Looking at the summer programs offered in 1981, it would seem that there was high demand among the local population for sports and fitness related programming.

Programming in the Myrtle Philip School gym included drop-in sports, including basketball and volleyball. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

That summer, seven different activities were offered out of the school, including gardening, French lessons, basketball, tennis, and karate once or twice a week.  The most popular and frequent classes were named Fun & Fit and Superfit, occurring a total of seven time weekly, almost enough to fulfill the small community’s “seemingly insatiable need for fitness classes.”

The classes were run by instructors Sue Worden and Susie Mortensen, who began the program in the fall of 1980.  According to the Squamish Citizen, the popularity of the program was “overwhelming” and it was regularly attended by at least thirty to forty people, including a core group of five to ten men.  By adding later time slots, the class hoped to increase those numbers even further.  Debbie Cook, the adult education coordinator, attributed the program’s success to its instructors and “the enthusiasm and dedication they have infused into the participants.”

Sue Worden of Body Works puts a group of Corporate Cup die-hards through the paces in Village Square Saturday. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

For $2 (or $10 for ten sessions) participants could engage in an hour-long exercise class including stretches, aerobics, and strengthening exercises.  In 1982 Sue Cameron wrote a review of the program for the Citizen, describing it as a great opportunity to get in shape for the ski season.  According to Cameron, the class began with fifteen minutes of stretching and warming up before turning to twenty minutes of “sweat-out time, running and hopping on the spot intermingled with subtle stretching exercises.”  Pushups and sit ups were followed by another period of stretching, this time concentrating on breathing “so as to get the most out of the pain you just went through.”  All of this was, of course, set to modern music of the 1980s.

Classes were offered daily Monday through Friday, meaning that “if you can walk the next day you can do it again!”

Action! Fitness instructor Sue Worden pedals her heart out for Action BC testing Saturday, March 6 while Kevin Ponnock, fitness consultant, records pulse rate. The government-sponsored program includes flexibility training and a diet analysis so that participants can asses their fitness level. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The demand for fitness programs was not just for the adults 0f Whistler.  Kindergym, a weekly class of basic gym activities and occasional handicrafts sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club, also ran out of the Myrtle Philip School gymnasium.  Targeting children aged two to five, the class was also an opportunity for parents and caregivers to socialize.

The offerings of the adult education department expanded over the decade.  Instructors were drawn from within the community, calling on anyone who wanted to share a particular skill or hobby.  During the fall of 1986 community members could learn about European cooking from Mark Kogler, first aid from Karen Killaly, and mountain safety and avalanches from Chris Stetham and Roger McCarthy, as well as various crafts such as macrame, glass etching, and dried flower arranging.  Topping the list of programs was still Fun & Fit with Sue Worden.

Whistler has grown quite a bit since the 1980s and today there are numerous classes and programs, some still running out of (the slightly newer) Myrtle Philip School.

This Week In Photos: December 20

Somehow, we’ve only got one more week of This Week In Photos left after this one.  Though the year seems to have passed alarmingly quickly, we’ve really enjoyed sharing photos from The Whistler Question with you each week.  Be sure to take a look through past weeks – you never know if there’s something (or someone) you missed!

1978

The season’s first skiers lining up to buy tickets on Friday.

One of the first gondolas full of skiers to go up the mountain this year.

Santa is surrounded by children at the school concert.

Betty Shore shares a joke with Santa after the concert.

1979

The ruler measures 28 cm! After the storm on Thursday, December 13, before it turned to rain.

At the Ski Club Benefit Evening, a smiling group enjoys themselves…

… and auctioneer Paul Burrows looks for bids on a Salomon cap.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.

Mechanical failure causes the School Bus to go off the road last week – there were no children on board.

4:30 PM at the Husky intersection on a busy, snowy evening.

1980

An unusual sight on Whistler – aerial view of skiers lining up at the mid station loading on the Green Chair – Friday, December 19.

Latest aerial view of Whistler Village – December 19, 1980.

Santa’s helpers pass out goodies at Signal Hill School in Pemberton.

After a dramatic arrival by helicopter, Santa is mobbed at the Rainbow Ski Village Saturday as he tries to distribute candy canes.

New sign at the entrance to the Village has proved very helpful to both visitors and residents. The only problem is the wrong spelling of Whistler’s first lady – it should be Philip.

Big puddle formed quickly at the northern entrance to Blackcomb Estates after rain started and warm temperatures melted the past week’s heavy snowfall.

1981

Make-up time for moms and dads and kids before curtain call for the Myrtle Philip School play.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.

Hats off to Peter’s Underground. Peter Skoros and crew gave a tip of the old hat at the lively opening of Peter’s Underground Sunday, December 20. Cordon Rouge, prime rib and a roomful of laughter highlighted the evening. Located under Tapley’s, Peter’s Underground promises good food at very reasonable prices 21.5 hours a day (open 6 am – 3:30 am) seven days a week.

Gerry Frechette gets a hand fro Sylvan Ferguson in erecting the parking meter stand.

1982

No, this young man is not a practitioner of the latest foot fetishes. He’s fitting WMSC General Manager Peter Alder with a new pair of boots from McConkey’s Ski Shop. (By the way, Peter’s old boots were just that – old. They fastened with laces.)

Nick Gibbs, Stoney’s chef, went all out with his culinary talents and produced this appetizing creation from a 40 lb. salmon donated by the Grocery Store. It was part of a huge “indoor picnic” for participants in the All Cal Winter Carnival.

Susan Christopher helps a sheep into costume before the school play.

Publisher Paul Burrows and his wife Jane prior to a well-earned visit to the Caribbean.

1984

Michele Bertholet is the head chef at Pika’s (pronounced Peeka’s), Whistler Mountain’s new restaurant adjacent the Roundhouse. The facility, which is licensed to seat 400 persons, had its official opening Friday. The 8,300 sq. ft. restaurant, designed by architect Lee Bruch and engineer Jon Paine, cost about $600,000 to construct including more than $150,000 in kitchen equipment. Bertholet and his staff will now be able to provide freshly baked pastries, rolls and buns daily as well as hearty meals such as Baron of Beef and chilli. As well, the new restaurant features a custom sandwich bar. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation named the restaurant Pika’s, a small rock rabbit commonly found through the high alpine regions of North America, after a contest that drew 300 entries. Whistler residents Ms. Lori Mitchell and Mr. Peter Pritt were the winners and will split the grand prize so that each will receive $100 as well as a $50 gift certificate from Dusty’s Cantina. Coincidentally, the name also fits a former mountain resident of a slightly larger form: Jessica Hare. Jessica lived in Whistler Mountain’s alpine residence for four of her five years and gained the nickname Pika.

The North Shore Community Credit Union moved across the square to its new 1,300 sq. ft. premises Sunday. The bureau, an 8,500 fund safe and other banking equipment had to be moved by truck from the old location to the new. Carpenters and electricians worked nearly around the clock Sunday and Monday to be ready for business as usual Tuesday. They made deadline.

Sunshine Jim entertained about more than 100 Whistler youngsters Saturday afternoon before the kids were visited by Santa Claus. Sunshine Jim sang a series of songs including Scooter the Car and Porky the Raccoon who, even though traditional enemies, became friends. The event was sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club and was held in the Myrtle Philip School lunchroom.

Five-year-old Paul Vance shares Santa’s knee with his brother, six-month-old John.