Tag Archives: Seppo Makinen

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part Two)

There is an often told story of the first meeting of Stefan Ples and Franz Wilhelmsen of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. on Whistler Mountain.  Apparently Franz arrived at the top of the mountain by helicopter to find Stefan there on skis.  Franz asked, “What are you doing on my mountain?”, to which Stefan replied, “What are you doing on mine?”  Though we do not know exactly how their first meeting occurred, the story certainly demonstrates Stefan’s love of the mountain and his preferred way to navigate it.  (For more information on Stefan’s life before coming to Alta Lake, check out last week’s article here.)

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

Although Stefan didn’t understand why people would prefer going up on lifts and skiing only a short distance down, he became greatly involved in the development of Whistler Mountain.  By the mid 1960s he had been exploring the mountain on his skis for years and knew the are perhaps better than anyone at the time.  Stefan began working for the lift company in 1963, going up to Alta Lake every weekend for over a year to climb up to a meadow at the bottom of the T-bar, where he would record the temperature and snowfall and other information (his handwritten reports were donated to the Whistler Museum & Archives by his daughter Renate Bareham in 2013).

When construction of the runs and lifts began Stefan moved up to Alta Lake full time to work.  Part of his responsibilities was to bring the horses up the mountain with supplies to a work camp that was set up in what may have been the same meadows he gathered his reports from.  Renate accompanied him on one of his trips up with the horses and told the museum, “It was just magical, because we went up through the forest and everything and we ended up in this meadow.  Oh, it was so beautiful up there.”

During one particularly bad snow year, Stefan also introduced the sport of Ice Stock Sliding to the valley.  “The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler.” (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

Though Gerda had continued to run their rooming house in Vancouver when Stefan first started working for the lift company, the rest of the family moved to Alta Lake in 1966.  According to Renate, not many people lived in the area at the time, and those who did either worked for the lift company or worked construction around the gondola base.  Renate attended high school in Squamish and worked for the lift company on the weekends and breaks.  At fourteen she began by stapling lift tickets and then handing out boarding passes, moving on to teach skiing for Jim McConkey when she turned sixteen.  She also babysat, caring for the Bright and Mathews children whose parents worked for the mountain.

Stefan continued working for the lift company and led ski tours to areas the lifts didn’t access.  One summer Renate even remembered helping him paint the top of the Red Chair.  Despite working for the lift company and receiving a lifetime pass in 1980, Stefan continued to prefer walking up, occasionally taking a lift as far as midstation before beginning his climb.

According to Renate, the only person who could go up the mountain on skis faster than her father was Seppo Makinen: “It took my dad three hours, probably, to get to the peak.  Seppo made it in an hour and a half.  I think he actually ran, you know, on his cross country skis, and my dad walked on his cross country skis, but Seppo ran.  He was also considerably younger than my father.”

Stefan Ples, long-time resident of Whistler, receives a lifetime pass from Garibaldi Lifts President Franz Wilhelmsen in recognition of his long involvement with Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Parts of Stefan’s legacy can be seen throughout the area though many may not know of his role in creating it, from the Tyrol Lodge to the two runs off Whistler Peak that bear his name (Stefan’s Chute and Stefan’s Salute).  He was a founding member of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s and helped start Whistler’s first Search and Rescue Team in 1973.  His name can also be found on the Stefan Ples trophy, the prize for the overall winners of the Peak to Valley Race, as he like to climb to the peak and then ski all the way down.

Though some people may come to Whistler to build a career or make it rich, Renate said of her father that, “All he wanted to do was be in the mountains,” a goal it would appear he certainly accomplished.

This Week in Photos: February 22

1979

The crowds begin to arrive – the Olive Chair loading area on Thursday.

Blizzard! The scene looking down the Green Chair during the snowstorm on Tuesday.

The shed at Mons the day after firefighters were on the scene attempting to put out the blaze.

1980

Election day in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

Two of the many Japanese ski writers who have been visiting Whistler lately – From Skier Magazine in Tokyo (l to r) Photographer ‘Dragon’, Writer ‘Ando’, and Toshi Hamazaki of Whistler.

The new “guard rails” installed to protect the Lift Company office windows from skis.

No diplomatic immunity here – Mons prepares to tow away the Question truck from the lift base.

1981

Students at Myrtle Philip School take a look at cameras through the ages.

Nancy Green, Prime Minister Trudeau and Hugh Smythe spend the day taking in Blackcomb.

The Prime Minister was also taken on a tour of the construction sites of Whistler Village.

An unusually bright and empty view of the bar at Tapley’s.

Whistler Mountain’s Franz Wilhelmsen and Peter Alder watch proudly as Whistler’s Black Chair carries passengers for the first time this season on February 21.

1982

Search and Rescue Squadron 422 from Comox dropped into Whistler last week for a mountain rescue training session.

Stretching, an essential when preparing for a race.

A few Crazy Canucks share a laugh at Dave Murray’s retirement part at Myrtle Philip School.

The first test run of the fire department’s latest addition proved it could be instrumental in putting out high level fires such as the one at Whistler Village Inn January 13.

Long before they started making snow at Olympic Plaza snow piles have provided endless amusement.

A parking attendant’s dream… This giant tow truck pulled into town the other day – and quickly pulled out again, much to the relief of nearby parking violators.

1983

Soaking up the sun (l to r) Rosilyn and Marlin Arneson and Bill Bode of Washington State relax before calling it a day Monday, February 21 after the first really warm one on Whistler Mountain.

Sjaan DiLalla tries out one of the ranges in one of the 29 “studio lofts” in the recently opened Crystal Lodge.

First place team members in the Team Supreme competition. The event, held at Blackcomb February 20, raised $2,400 for the BC Disabled Skiers Association.

Seppo Makinen and Sam Alexander discuss Whistler’s proposed new Zoning Bylaw No. 303 with Assistant Municipal Planner Cress Walker.

Cross-country skiers set off on the Whistler Cross-Country Marathon which was held over a 20km route Sunday, February 20.

1985

Art ’85 was hosted in the gym of Myrtle Philip School this past weekend.

During an introductory press conference Sunday at Crystal Lodge, Todd Brooker (far left) introduces members of the Canadian Men’s Alpine Team: (l to r) Felix Belcyzk, Chris Kent, Paul Boivin, Chris McIver and Jim Kirby.

Canadian blues man Long John Baldry and crew crank it out at The Longhorn Sunday.

Jan Seger, Ski instructor, White Gold resident.

Let’s Get Poetical

We’ve brought you dozens of blog posts about historical characters and events from our archives, crazy photos, and other Whistler stories. One thing that we feel we’ve brought you too little of is poetry composed by Museum staff. I’m sure you’ve been thinking the same thing. I can almost hear you thinking, “‘H – E – double hockey sticks’, when will Sarah, Jeff, Robyn, Allyn, and Myles write some goddamn poetry? A limerick maybe? A Haiku? Is that really too much to ask?”

Well, patient reader, the wait is over. Without further delay, here is a selection of poetry (mostly haiku) composed by the Museum staff (and friends).

Two mountains, strung with
cable- rise above this town,
this valley of dreams.

– Robyn

Seppo Makinen:
The mighty man among us.
His spirit rests here.

– Robyn

Stillness on Alta –
Alex Philip falls in drunk,
Myrtle shakes her head.

– Sarah

Myrtle and brother Phil Tapley on shores of Alta Lake

We love history.
We love Whistler’s Whistory!
Whistler is awesome.

-Myles

Extreme sports paired with
endless good times, paradise
is Whistler-Blackcomb.

– Robyn

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972

Silently gliding
Through deep, endless white powder –
Another Whistler day.

– Robyn

Truth Hurts

Rainbow Lodge, Seppo,
Crazy Canucks, HISTORY!
Kids just want LEGO.

– Jeff

On hot afternoons
Molly and McGee nap on
While Freckles watches.

-Allyn

Molly and McGee share a nap while a forlorn Freckles the Dog surveys the scene, alone in the distance.

Outside is too hot?
Museum has two words for you:
Air conditioning.

-Allyn

There once was a Texan named Millar
Whose life was something of a thriller.
He first was a cook,
But two lives he took,
So he fled here where life was much stiller.

-Allyn

There once was a pub called the Boot
Just next to the highway’s main route.
It had dancing girls
And drinkers who twirled
In a “ballet” of well-known repute.

-Allyn

Ski Boot Hotel, later the Shoestring Lodge and Boot Pub

An ode to the archives

Last night I dreamt of a magical place,
Dreamers, doers, and icons all shared one space.
Oh, to visit this land where our legends can thrive.
Why, it already exists, our almighty archives!

Our collections are vast, rich with ripe tales,
From diaries and drawings to bent, rusted nails.
All with the ineffable scent of the past,
A real-life time machine that’s built to last.

Archival documents in acid-free boxes,
Fight group amnesia from LSD memory losses.
Fifty thousand pictures worth fifty million words.
Fishing rods, ice axes, taxidermied birds!

We record more than elections, wheelings and dealings,
Our shelves carry facts, dates, but also a feeling.
Whistler’s free spirit – it’s impossible to fake it,
Live here long enough you’ll end up in here naked!

Cynics deride Whistler’s history as short,
But we prove that the truth is none of the sort,
Our peaks, trees, and tales are all very tall,
And we’ve done big things for a town that’s so small.

Next time you’re curious of Whistler’s glorious past lives
Stop in (appointments only) at the Whistler Archives!
Thus concludes these haiku, limericks and jingles,
From the only folks in town still selling Boot Pub shingles!

-Jeff

Postscript:

All night long (all night)
All night (all night) All night long,
All night long (Ooh yeah)

– Lionel Ritchie

 

“Just Another Day in Paradise” – A Tribute to Seppo

Whenever nostalgia causes long-time Whistler locals to reminisce about the old days, the conversation invariably leads to Seppo. It says a lot about this community that one of the most cherished figures in our history was not a politician or “founder” in the traditional sense, but a generous and warm-hearted Finnish logger. Few could keep up with Seppo’s work ethic and zest for life, but countless people had a blast trying.

In commemoration of the remarkable impact that Seppo had on Whistler, both the mountain and the community, a new public art installation dedicated to Seppo will be installed this week. There will be an official unveiling ceremony this Thursday May 31st at 3pm, near the Passivhaus at the entrance to Lost Lake Park.

Seppo Jalmari Makinen was born December 6, 1928 in Vyborg, Finland, a small town near the Russian border.  One world war and twenty-five years later, Seppo stepped off the plane in Gander, Newfoundland, never to return to Finland. In the summer of 1963, while visiting Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition, he introduced himself to Franz Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen was selling shares for the fledgling Garibaldi Lifts Limited, a company he had formed to develop a ski resort on Whistler Mountain. Seppo was already familiar with the area so he proposed to Wilhelmsen that he would hire a crew to clear the ski runs. Eyeing up the burly Finn, Wilhelmsen didn’t need a job reference.

It was the start of a highly successful, life-long partnership between the two Scandinavian transplants. Seppo was an unstoppable workhorse who helped clear virtually every run on Whistler Mountain. In 1980 Seppo cut his last run. The wild, off-camber descent quickly became a local’s favourite on big snow days, and was named “Seppo’s” in his honour.

Meanwhile, Seppo built himself a massive log house that quickly became an unofficial community hub and the venue for many legendary parties. Sadly, the house burned down in 1998, and Seppo froze to death the following December while living in his camper van. He was two days shy of his 71st birthday. Seppo’s passing led to an unprecedented memorial service, with more than 800 people overflowing from the Whistler Conference Center to celebrate the gregarious Whistler icon.

The artist responsible for the new Seppo memorial, mixed-media sculptor Christina Nick, has fond memories of the local legend from attending some of the famous parties in his log home near Nesters, and serving him lunch at Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Marketplace, where Seppo was a regular. “I sketched several different versions of Seppo for his memorial sculpture,” Christina explains, “and I wanted to represent him with as much respect as possible.”

Ultimately, this led her to favour a simpler design. For the piece, Christina has employed her innovative “drawing with light” technique to etch a portrait of Seppo into a large sheet of steel that will be framed in-situ by rough cedar logs–a reference to Seppo’s long career as a logger. The thick steel panel has been cut with a plasma cutter, then ground down and finished with an acid and covered with a special penetrating protector to give it a beautiful sheen.

Christina Nick using her “drawing with light” technique on another piece.

With the sculpture’s installation, Seppo–whose hospitality knew no bounds–will be welcoming visitors to Lost Lake Park for generations to come. Stop by this Thursday for the unveiling ceremony including a short statement by artist Christina Nick.

Calling All Artists: Seppo Memorial (Deadline extended to March 1st)

The Whistler Museum and Archives Society is currently accepting artists’ proposals for a sculpture memorializing Whistler pioneer, and Finnish logger, Seppo Makinen.

“Just another day in paradise.”

The Museum is particularly interested in life-size, representational work in wood, but will consider all mediums and styles. The sculpture will be located at the base of Lost Lake Park near the Passive Haus, backing onto Blackcomb Creek and Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

For more details, please click the link below to view the full RFP:

Request for Proposal Seppo