Tag Archives: Skiing

Skiing Whistler Mountain Before the Resort

There aren’t too many people who got the chance to ski Whistler Mountain before the lifts were installed or the runs even cut, but this past week the Museum had a visit from two people who got to do just that.  Keith and Jane Horner sat down with our Collections Manager Alyssa for an oral history interview and recounted the times they spent in Whistler during the very early days of the mountain’s development.

Oral histories can be tricky because they do not often come with what some people call “proof”, that is documents, photos or other written reports that support what someone says.  The oral histories that we collect at the Museum are often people’s memories and reminisces of events that took place many years ago.

Jane Horner was born Jane Shakespeare, the third daughter of Jack Shakespeare, a chairman of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association and one of the original directors of the Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.  Jack was a friend of Franz Wilhelmsen and is believed to have been in the helicopter with Franz and Sidney Dawes while the Canadian representative of the IOC was selecting an appropriate mountain for Olympic development.  Her father’s involvement with the development of Whistler Mountain meant that Jane and Keith got to have some unique experiences before its opening in January 1966.

Franz Wilhelmsen was a friend of Jack Shakespeare. Both were involved in GODA and Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Although we do not appear to have any photos of Jack Shakespeare, we do have many of Franz.

The pair recalled two days in the early 1960s when a small group of about forty people skied Whistler with a man called Peter Bennett.  The first day was spent around the base of the mountain but the second day the group was taken up by helicopter to about where the t-bar would later be installed.  The skiing about the tree-line was incredible, but once the group reached the forest there was no trail and they had to create their own paths from tree to tree.  As Keith explained, there was a “huge variety” in the skiers’ ability; one skier ended up hanging upside down in a tree after getting caught in its branches and from top to bottom took one group member six hours.

Skiing this area before the t-bar took a lot longer for some in their group, especially once they hit the trees.

Keith and Jane both remember spending the Christmas of 1965 in Whistler as part of a group from Vancouver including Jane’s parents.  The gondola and chair had been installed by this time and Jack Shakespeare took a group up to Whistler to see the progress made on the mountain.  The group was staying at the newly built Cheakamus Inn when they got snowed in and ended up staying longer than expected.  Jack had meetings in Vancouver and tried to drive through the snow but had to abandon his car and come back for it weeks later.  This trip had not really been meant as a ski trip so the group found other ways to occupy their time while they waited out the snow.  The Cheakamus Inn made them welcome with a champagne breakfast and taught their guests to make hot buttered rum.  Bridge was also a popular pastime while snowed in.

Whistler has undergone quite a few changes since the early times Keith and Jane recall spending here, though I’m sure quite a few people in town wouldn’t mind getting snowed in during December.  Visits and oral histories like these provide great insight into a Whistler that can no longer be experienced.  Though we cannot guarantee that everything we are told is completely accurate (memories are rarely infallible), if you’ve got a tale you’d like to tell, please contact the Whistler Museum; we’d love to hear it!

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Happy National Ski Day!

Today marks the third annual CIBC National Ski Day in Canada.  Across the country 17 different mountain resorts offer discounted tickets or unique experiences in support of Alpine Canada and Canadian ski teams.  In celebration of National Ski Day we wanted to share a selection of photographs from our archives of people, you guessed it, skiing!

In May 1939 George Bury and three other skiers began a 10-day exploratory trip of the Garibaldi region.

In May 1939 George Bury and three other skiers began a 10-day exploratory trip of the Garibaldi region.  This was over 20 years before Franz Wilhelmsen and GODA would begin developing Whistler Mountain for skiing.  Bury collection.

A family ski day on Whistler Mountain.

A family ski day on Whistler Mountain when skiing with a child on your back was permissible and helmets were an unusual sight.  WMSC collection.

Skiing Whistler Mountain in the 1970s.  Benjamin collection.

Skiing Whistler Mountain in the 1970s. Benjamin collection.

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Visibility of skiers was not an issue with the fashions of the 1980s.  Griffith collection.

You can never be too young (or old) for skiing.

You can never be too young (or old) for skiing.  WMSC collection.

 

Enjoy the snow!

The Nancy Greene-Raine Connection

We recently announced our upcoming Speaker Series on May 6th, celebrating 50 years of summer camps. The inclusion of Nancy Greene-Raine on the speaking panel quickly made it apparent that, although we have decent coverage of her husband Al Raine’s contributions to Whistler on this blog (plus here), up until now, Nancy’s presence is notably lacking. This blog post will start to fix that problem.

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Though Nancy was born in Ottawa, grew up in the Kootenay ski haven of Rossland, BC with its historic Red Mountain Resort, and has lived in Sun Peaks for roughly two decades, her connection and contributions to Whistler remain strong.

Nancy, of course, is one of the most recognized and celebrated Canadian athletes of all-time, regardless of discipline, even earning the title of Canadian Female Athlete of the Century!  She was the most dominant female ski racer of the 1960s, earning 13 World Cup victories, 2 overall world titles, and her gold medal (and silver, all while battling a severe ankle injury) performance at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, alongside French legend Jean-Claude Killy, is the stuff of legend.

Here’s a complete run-down of her ski-racing accomplishments. 

 

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1969 Toni Sailer Summer Camp staff. Nancy is front row, 2nd from left, Toni Sailer is back row, 2nd from right, both wearing cowboy hats.

Nancy retired at the top of her field and a global celebrity after her dominant 1968 season. Retirement from ski racing was no permanent vacation, as the pervious winter she had already launched her Nancy Greene Ski League, Canada’s national, grassroots-level ski racing program. In the nearly 50 years of operation, virtually every single Canadian ski racer of note, from Steve Podborski to Ashleigh McIvoor, and countless thousands of others, started competitive skiing in Nancy’s program.

In 1969, she began coaching at Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps on Whistler Mountain, a position she maintained for several years and which she will be recollecting at this Friday’s Speaker Series.

Al and Nancy first built a cabin in Whistler in 1970, which was their summer home while Nancy coached on the glacier. Once Al retired as a ski coach in 1975, they moved to Whistler full-time and set out to help Whistler become a leading international ski destination.

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Nancy skiing on Blackcomb, circa 1980s

Nancy and her husband Al Raine also played a huge role in the early success of Whistler and their legacy carries on to this day. Nancy became an spokeswoman and ambassador for the resort, using her celebrity to promote the upstart ski area. As such, she was one of Whistler’s original “Celebrity-Athletes” that played such a pivotal role in Whistler becoming, well, Whistler.

Al sat on the first municipal council and was a leading figure in the planning, design, and construction of Whistler Village and Blackcomb Mountain.

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Nancy and husband Al, representing Blackcomb Mountain (note the matching Blackcomb Mountain outfits, and Nancy’s Blackcomb logo name tag). circa 1980s.

In 1985 they built Nancy Green’s Olympic Lodge in the heart of the Village, and despite having long since sold it, the building bear’s Nancy’s name to this day. In the 1990s, Al and Nancy moved on to Sun Peaks in the B.C. interior, but they still maintain close ties to Whistler.

We are truly honoured to have Nancy join this Friday’s  panel, and we hope you can join us. Get your tickets in advance, it will sell out!

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Speaker Series – Celebrating 50 years of Summer Skiing

It’s been a long, nostalgic winter of celebrating Whistler’s Golden Anniversary. But just as Whistler is known for deep snowpacks that sustain the snow-sliding revelry well past winter, we have an abundance of stories this year to push our regular Speaker Series programming well into spring.

Considering the circumstances, it is only fitting that we prolong our season-long retrospective on our resort’s proud ski history with an event paying tribute to that seasonal oddity peculiar to Whistler, summer skiing. The evening of Friday May 6th we will be hosting a Speaker Series focused on fifty years of summer skiing camps on Whistler’s glaciers.

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Summer glacier skiing in Whistler is as old as the resort itself, having begun during the inaugural season of 1966. Beginning with the original Toni Sailer camps and later Dave Murray camps on Whistler, then moving to Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier in the 1980s, with Camp of Champions, Momentum Camps, to name just a few, summer skiing in Whistler has been a novel way to compliment and extend the regular ski season, promote the resort with a veritable who’s who of celebrity athletes and guest coaches, and create fifty years of memorable and unique experiences.

Former camper and ski history enthusiast Alex Douglas has organized a weekend long “Whistler Summer Camp Reunion” series of events, with this Speaker Series included. There will also be a reunion dinner hosted at Creekbread on the Saturday, and, of course, group ski outings during the day. One need not be a former camper to attend the Speaker Series event.

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The crew from the 1969 Toni Sailer Summer Camp, including (front row at left) Alan White and Nancy Greene, and Toni Sailer himself (back row, 2nd from right).

The Speaker Series will open with a screening of footage and a short film dating back to the original Toni Sailer Summer Camps of the 1960s and 70s. After the film will be a panel discussion featuring Canadian ski racing legend and former summer camp coach Nancy Greene-Raine, Alan White, founding manager of Toni Sailer camps and one of the true ski pioneers of Whistler, and former coach from the Dave Murray Summer Camp era, Mark Taylor.

Needless to say, this is a wonderful panel of speakers and we are extremely excited to host them and hear their stories.

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A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s, including Mark Taylor (back row 4th from the left). The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing. Stephanie Sloan Photo.

Doors will open at 6pm, with the presentations beginning at 7pm. Tickets are $10, $5 for museum members. To purchase tickets, stop by the Whistler Museum or call us at 604-932- 2019. To ensure a seat, make sure to purchase in advance as this event will sell out.

As always, we will be serving complimentary coffee provided by the Whistler Roasting Company, assorted tea, and a cash bar serving beer and wine.

The FIS Fiasco of 1979

With the world watching, the mountain began to fall apart.

It was early March 1979, and heavy rains had turned a mid-winter snowpack already beset by persistent depth hoar into a sodden mess. The avalanche hazard went through the roof. This was a mountain manager’s nightmare, but as they say, “through adversity comes greatness.”

Patrol began doing what came naturally; they bombed everything that could move. As long-time Whistler pro patroller Roger McCarthy recalls, “in a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

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Roger McCarthy at left, with Bruce Watt and Ken Moyle going over wind data,   mid-1970s. George Benjamin photo.

That’s right. Whistler was experiencing one of the most volatile avalanche cycles in memory, and we were just days away from hosting the resort’s first ever FIS World Cup downhill skiing race.

A few days before the race, some FIS officials insisted on riding the gondola up to check on conditions. While standing on the loading ramp at the bottom of red chair they witnessed Goat’s Gully shed its snow right to the ground. The avalanche even damaged one of the Orange Chair’s towers. Further downslope, a slide on Lower Insanity had left debris piles five feet high on Coach’s Corner. This was not the auspicious debut on the world stage that Whistler had planned for.

“In a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

Still, mountain staff managed to clean up the mess and the forecast for race day was cold and clear. However, FIS officials deemed that safety requirements had not been met and the race could not run. As a new course with a relatively small budget, the safety infrastructure was not at the same level as some of the more established European courses, but some suspected politics as the true reason for the cancellation.

This was the era of the upstart Crazy Canucks trying to crack the European-dominated world of ski racing, and some feathers were being ruffled in the process. Regardless, with so much invested, it was going to be a major letdown for the organizers, the resort, the sponsors, and the tens of thousands of fans expected to be in attendance.

The night before the race, sensing it would be cancelled, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene came up with an idea to salvage the event. They ran an exhibition Super G race, the first ever, instead. It wouldn’t count as a World Cup, but as local writer Janet Love Morrison described in her book The Crazy Canucks, it would entertain the crowds, satisfy the sponsors, and demonstrate the spirit and ingenuity of Whistler, and Canada as a whole.

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The Crazy Canucks at the race. From left to right, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Unknown (can anyone help us out?), Steve Podborski, Ken Read.

And just in case anyone was wondering how the racers really felt about the cancellation over safety concerns, when it was Crazy Canuck Ken Read’s turn to race the exhibition course, he ignored the Super G gates and tucked the entire course at full speed, much to the crowd’s approval.

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Ken Read addressing the crowd, with Steve Podborski to viewer’s left.

“Everyone—racers, fans, and media—had a good time,” Morrison recalled.

And so, in 1979, with the ski racing world focused on Whistler, nearly everything that could go wrong did. But somehow we still managed to get things right.

Rob Boyd is God

February 25, 1989 is a date that any long-time Whistlerite should remember, because on that day Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup Downhill event on Canadian soil.

It remains not only one of the most memorable days in our community’s history, but for Canadian ski fans as a whole. Not too long ago, we even had some visitors here to the Whistler Museum who recalled watching the race live on a black-and-white television in the lodge at Luggy Lump Ski Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. If that does not warm your heart with old-fashioned Canadian nostalgia, nothing will.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. WMAS, Greg Griffith Photo. 

It was a triumphant moment not only for the historic achievement, but also because Canadian supporters were still reeling from the gruesome and nearly fatal crash that Boyd’s teammate Brian Stemmle had suffered at Kitzbuhel six weeks earlier. By this point Stemmle was back on the long road to recovery and everyone was keen for a reason to celebrate.

If you watch the video clip of the CBC’s coverage of the race (available on YouTube), right after he crosses the finish line Boyd waves the cameraman over to get up close so that he can proudly announce “For you, Stemmle!” There’s also a pretty glorious cutaway to the raucous celebrations going on at Dusty’s.

Here in Whistler it was a massive community event. Rob had moved to Whistler as a teenager in 1982, so he had huge local support. The medal ceremony drew one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Whistler up to that point and the party kept going for days.

That evening a fundraiser was held at the Conference Center for the national ski team, featuring performances by Colin James and Smokey Robinson. Apparently the $125 event had not been selling well, but Boyd’s dramatic victory put everyone in the celebratory mood and all 1,800 tickets were eventually spoken for.

It was a legendary party that included, among other things, the golden boy being gifted a pair of Dwight Yoakam’s cowboy boots that Boyd proceeded to brandish on the dance floor.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Greg Griffith Photo.

This wasn’t Rob’s first World Cup gold medal, having won twice already at Val Gardena, Italy, but winning on home soil was certainly a career highlight.

Rob still lives in Whistler and remains one of our town’s biggest heroes. Just a few weeks ago there was a huge party at Dusty’s Bar to celebrate Rob’s 50th birthday, a stone’s throw from the finish line where he won gold 27 years earlier.

When he’s not celebrating birthdays you can find Rob coaching for the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. The club’s Creekside headquarters are easy enough to find, address: 2028 Rob Boyd Way.

Some go as far as to say that Rob Boyd is God:

A Century of Skiing in Whistler

Sunday February 21st was International Ski History Day. At the museum we hosted a delegation from the International Ski History Association and put on our Speaker Series “Celebrity Athletes & the Growth of Modern Skiing” featuring Stephanie Sloan, John Smart, and Rob McSkimming. There were also events up on Whistler Mountain during the day.

We have an incredibly rich skiing heritage to celebrate here in Whistler. And though Whistler Mountain’s 50th anniversary is the big story this season, it’s not the only milestone worth celebrating this year.

As we’ve profiled on this blog previously, there were plenty of skiing pioneers doing things the old-fashioned way prior to the installation of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain. Examples include Tyrol Club members like Stefan Ples who regularly skinned up Whistler Mountain in the 1950s and early 60s, and famed explorers Don & Phyllis Munday, along with summer resident Pip Brock, who undertook ski-mountaineering expeditions into the heart of the Coast Mountains in the 1930s.

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A 1939 ski-mountaineering expedition near Black Tusk led by George Bury, in search of appropriate locations to build a ski resort. They found excellent skiing and remarkable landscapes, but their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WW2.

Skiing, mostly of the cross-country variety, was also a popular pastime at Rainbow Lodge during the quieter winter months. We’re fortunate enough to hold in our archives dozens of photographs from that era of skiers trekking around the valley, posing on Alta Lake, or schussing down a small wooded slope near Rainbow. We even have a few shots of Bob the Workhorse pulling Myrtle around the lake on her skis, otherwise known as skijoring.

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Just out for a rip!

The solid wooden skis are generally massive, even putting your 30-year-old 210cm racing planks to shame, and the fashion is as nostalgic as it gets. One specific image, a little fuzzier than the rest but otherwise inconspicuous, is especially relevant to today’s story.

The image portrays Myrtle Philip with two other women posing while skiing on a frozen Alta Lake. They are adorned in wool tops and baggy bloomers, and are all using a single, solid wooden pole in the traditional Scandinavian style.

And written on the back of the image is the simple phrase “the first skiing guests at Rainbow about 1916. Janet Drysdale and friend and Myrtle Philip.”

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The dawn of skiing in Whistler.

Needless to say, the 3 ladies were unaware of the historical significance of this simple ski outing.

Of course it is completely possible that skis were used in the Whistler Valley prior to this visit, but we have come across no such stories or evidence. At that time trappers and prospectors generally used snowshoes and considered skis more toy than tool.

Local prospector Harry Horstman, when he encountered Pip Brock climbing Sproatt Mountain on a set of skis, apparently proclaimed “what the hell you got them flanks for? I can get around twice as fast as on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin’ boards!”

Needless to say, we don’t share Harry’s disdain. Three cheers to 100 years!