Today (Saturday, February 25 2017) Callaghan Valley Cross Country will host the Sigge’s P’ayakentsut, a loppet event for all ages and levels of cross country skiing. With the support of other local cross country ski clubs, the P’ayakentsut offers competitors the choice of a 50, 30 or 15 km course, as well as a 10 km sit-ski course for para-athletes and a 5 km race for kids. A legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Callaghan Valley Cross Country ensures the continued use of the Whistler Olympic Park for nordic skiing and competition. Organized cross country skiing, however, has a history in Whistler that far predates the Olympics.
The Alta Lake Sports Club was founded in 1975 to “organize and encourage participation in outdoor sports at all levels of ability in the Whistler area and beyond,” (“Whistler News” Winter 1979/1980) with a focus on cross country skiing. In their first year, the ALSC organized three races in the valley, attracting up to 125 competitors from clubs within the valley and Vancouver.
The early success of the club inspired the planning of a more permanent 10 km course meant to attract more events. The proposed course would begin at the Myrtle Philip Elementary School (originally located in the current site of the Delta Village Suites) and then pass over Fitzsimmons Creek and around Lost Lake. The summer and fall of 1976 were busy ones for members of the club who got together to form work parties to cut through underbrush and hack through slash in logged off areas. Perhaps the most difficult step was the construction of a bridge over Fitzsimmons Creek which was completed with help of community members such as Lawrence Valleau who provided a free front end loader, Terry Arsenault who donated a day of work operating said front end loader, and the many residents and contractors who donated timber for bridge decking. By the end of November 1976, despite working in pouring rains and muds likened to quicksand, the new course was complete and the club looked forward to another promising season.
Unfortunately for the club, the winter of 1976/1977 was a particularly mild winter with far more rain than expected. Though there were periods when the new course was in good shape and was used extensively by locals, one after another the events planned by the ALSC were cancelled or moved to Manning Park. The club had been meant to host the Fischer Cup in January, the BC 50 km Marathon in early February drawing participants from BC, Canada and the United States, and an orienteering race nearer to the end of the month.
A disappointing season at home could not stop the members of the ALSC though. Over 75 competitors began the 50 km Marathon at Manning Park – only ten finished, three of whom were members of the ALSC.
Despite a wet and mild season, the club continued to encourage the sport of cross country skiing in Whistler. In 1977 the club purchased an alpine double track skidoo and a track cutter to cut proper tracks and ensure the course could be kept open regularly. By 1980 the club was again hosting multiple races each season, including the BC Winter Games trials for Zone 5, Molson’s Cup Citizen’s Tour Race, Labatt’s Race, and the Alta Lake Tournament. They also put forward a proposal in 1980 to build multiple ski trails at Lost Lake, traces of which can be seen in the trails today.
The club was active in promoting more sports than only cross country skiing. They proposed trails to encourage hiking, walking and running around Lost Lake and organized running events in the summer. Though no longer active, the Alta Lake Sports Club proved that Whistler could be a destination for sports other than downhill racing and encouraged the growth of sports that continue to flourish in our community today.