Tag Archives: Skiing

Snow Expectations

Recently Whistler Blackcomb announced the first snowfall of the season on the mountains and it has many thinking about what the winter will look like this season.  Snow is always a major topic of conversation in Whistler, as we can see by looking back on previous years.

In 1972, Garibaldi’s Whistler News noted that the snowfall in the valley was a record high at 943 cm, and according to their Fall 1972 issue “there was snow covering the mountain tops mid-September and it looks like another year for early skiing.”  The average snowfall in the years leading up to 1972 was recorded at 12.8 m.

Unsurprising for a town built on skiing, snowfall has been the talk of the town in Whistler for decades. Benjamin Collection.

This wasn’t the case for every year, however.  In 1976, the winter ski season was off to a sluggish start.  A lot of rainfall and sunny weather in November caused the snow on the mountain to melt, thereby pushing back the opening of the mountain.  The Whistler Question reported in December that employees were let go or not hired due to the lack of snow, leaving about 25 fewer people working for Whistler Mountain.  This also affected the number of tourists that came in to town and had an impact on the economy.  Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays, but all skiers had to download using the gondola.  In February 1977, the first snow gun was obtained for Whistler Mountain to help combat the lack of snow.

Luckily, the next winter, 1977/78, was “marked with the return of good snowfalls and a good season for the ski school,” as reported by the Whistler Question.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.  Whistler Question Collection, December 1979.

Winter came early again in 1981 as Blackcomb Mountain announced it would be opening a week earlier than planned, while Whistler Mountain remained closed until the scheduled opening on November 26.

El Nino was blamed for the warmest winter of record  in 1992 by then Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe, as reported in the Blackcomb Mountain Staff News.

There was a feeling of déjà-vu in 1995/96, as rain affected the beginning of ski season and workers were laid off.  American Thanksgiving usually marks the beginning of skiing but that year Whistler Mountain’s alpine didn’t have a sufficient base of snow, while Blackcomb was pumping water out of its snow guns and hoping the freezing level would drop enough to make snow.  Blackcomb Mountain opened on the US Thanksgiving weekend, but with only a limited number of lifts and trails.

A Whistler wonderland appeared overnight Sunday, October 17 with the season’s first snow in the valley.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Once again, a slow opening was followed the next year by great snowfalls.  Meteorologist Marilyn Manso in December 1996 said, “by mid-December we’ve had more snow on the ground than at any time since records were kept.”  There was 74 cm of snow on the ground in the valley at this time in December, compared with the previous year of 34 cm.

The first week in December 2001 brought about 1.2 m of snow on the mountains, which allowed for half of Whistler Blackcomb terrain to be open.  This was more than any other ski resort in North America at that time, and allowed for the snow guns to be moved lower on the mountain and provide ski-out access.

Last winter also got off to a slow start, so let’s hope that this season brings great snowfalls.

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Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  The roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

This Week In Photos: November 29

1979

One of the many new international symbol signs at Garibaldi Lifts.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth, the new general manager of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., Whistler operation.

The pillared form of package no. 2 rises at the Town Centre looking like a southern mansion.

A study in concentration – Trev Roote carves out house number signs at the Fall Fair.

The new first aid room in the old garage building at the lift base.

New signs for winter parking regulations were revealed this week.

One of Whistler Disposal’s new front-loading garbage compactor trucks at work at the Mons site.

1980

Evelyn and Harold Cullen cut their 40th anniversary cake.

The products of the Mountain Cake Bake – part of the annual Fall Fair.

The snow arrives – an early scene in Alpine Meadows.

Mayor Pat Carleton shows off Town Centre to Jim Lorimer, Charles Barter and Bob Williams.

1981

The proposed course for the 1982 World Cup was discussed at the latest meeting.

Pottery of all kinds was for sale at the Fall Fair over the last weekend.

Eager skiers head up for the fresh snow on Blackcomb…

… while skis pile up at the base.

The latest winter fashions were on show in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

1982

A dozen of the finest roses is presented to Kay Carleton, the woman behind the man during Pat Carleton’s seven-year term as Whistler’s mayor. One of the municipality’s first aldermen, Garry Watson, presented the gift to Mrs. Carleton during a surprise party held at the Delta Mountain Inn November 29 for the retiring mayor.

Ahoy there mate! November 27 was moving day for the sailboat being built by Cress Walker and Paul Clark in Alpine Meadows. Her maiden voyage took her to a new berth in Whistler’s Industrial Park.

Diane Smith (left) and Karen Benoit smile from their ticket wickets where they offer new two-mountain passes for $20/day. Youth can ski both mountains for $15/day and children for $5. These tickets are also available in two, three and five-day packages.

Superset for a super skier. Blackcomb’s Hugh Smythe sits in ‘the chair’ at the Downhill Shop while skitodics expert John Colpitts fits him out with a pair of Superset footbeds.

Whistler’s newest citizens join their moms for a well-baby clinic with Public Health Nurse Marilyn McIvor. From left to right in the front row are Brock Crofton and mom Yvonne, Jaclyn and Suzi McCance, Andrew and Lee Bennett and Alexandra and Donna Liakakos. Behind are Robin and Tamsin Miller, Marilyn McIvor and Trevor and Jean Dally.

What’s new in ski wear this season? Whistlerites got a chance to find out November 26 at the Winter What to Wear fashion show,held at Delta Mountain Inn. Above Andrea Maw and Nigel Woods – a dazzling duo – show off the latest in winter wear.

Betty Jarvis greets visitors Rich, Robin and Tamsin Miller to the opening of Beau’s Restaurant Wednesday.

1984

Trev Roote, chairman of the Advisory Parks and Recreation Commission, became Whistler’s fifth Freeman Monday, in recognition of his five years at the helm of municipal parks development – as a volunteer. Roote, 55, is a West Vancouver businessman, but spent considerable time here first of all finding out what recreation needs are and then, in 1981, gaining referendum approval of $2 million parks spending.

Mike Snetsinger, Whistler Mountain lift attendant, helps a youngster onto the west side rope tow.

Whistler Mountain lift attendant Heather Watson loads ’em on Sunday at the Olive Chair. About 13,000 people skied the mountain on the first big weekend of the ski season.

The owner of the car municipal works foreman Gord Voncina unearthed on Mountainview Drive Monday learned an important lesson: don’t park on the road allowance, and doubly don’t let your car get buried in snow. A grader using back banks Monday morning discovered the car by accident, and it appeared some other driver had already smacked the car.

Wednesday marked a long evening at the Black Forest of roasting and toasting Jenny and Nello Busdon – more fondly known as Nelly and Jello. Representatives from virtually every community group paid tribute to the 17 years of service and dedication the Busdons have contributed to the valley. They leave this week with their children Nicholas and Melanie for Sun Valley.

Remember the huge exposed boulder near the front entrance of The Highland Lodge? Well, now it forms one of the walls inside the entrance way following a $500,000 facelift of the oldest continuously operated lodge in Whistler.

In one of his last official duties as mayor, Mark Angus cuts the ribbon to officially open the Whistler Valley Housing Society Project at the gondola Saturday. He is flanked by John Nicholls, Vancouver branch manager for Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the three ribbon holders: Lisa Koby, Stephanie Simpson and Michele Zinsli. A reception followed in The Keg.

Management consultant David Golinsky spoke last week to Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises’ 120 employees with an eye to upgrading their skills in dealing with customers. Golinsky’s main theme is that employers and employees have to work as a team. He said there are certain basic guidelines for dealing with customers, but at the same time not all tourism programs offer skills needed for specific industries, such as skiing, and part of his purpose is to offer seminars to fit that need. Whistler Mountain has also introduced a similar program for its employees.

This Week In Photos: November 22

From the photos, it looks like snow in the valley this week isn’t a given but certainly a possibility.  We hope everyone enjoys opening day today, whether heading up the hill or not!

1978

Highways’ truck gets stuck by the yard on Thursday.

Lone Highways’ worker pushes snow off of the overpass after the snowstorm.

The Gardiner vehicle as it ended up in Green Lake.

1979

No door on the helicopter allows a crystal-clear view of the Town Centre, Public Service Building and Myrtle Philip School.

Large pile of construction garbage at Mons dump indicates total disregard for sign by garbage dumpers.

Mayor Pat Carleton and Frans Carpay of Whistler Village Land Co. lead one of many media groups on a walking tour of Whistler Town Centre on Wednesday.

Border Lake has spring ice blasted away…

… while 60,000 metric tonnes of ice is dislodged to prevent future disaster to work crews.

The presentation of the Pemberton Community Plan, left to right: Zoltan Kuun, Clerk Tom Wood, Mayor Shirley Henry, Planner John Connelly.

1980

Phone system change hits snag.

Voters line-up to decide Whistler’s future last Saturday, November 15. A record turnout was recorded by the Municipality.

Valley employees begin a Hospitality Seminar.

The interior of the totally revamped Creek House Restaurant.

1981

Don’t recognize this building? It’s the new 54-unit Crystal Lodge, complete with observation decks and 20,000 sq. ft. restaurant. Of course, this is just a model, but the real thing is scheduled for completion by August ’82.

Municipal workers divert water around an area contaminated by creosote, which was washed off power poles in the background by heavy rains. The area is 200m north of Scotia Creek on Westside Road.

Hold it! Two models from Dominion Creative Consultants take advantage of Whistler as a backdrop to model some of the latest ski fashions for an upcoming catalogue for Jones Leisurewear of Vancouver.

1982

Hearty congratulations were in order for Mayor-elect Mark Angus Saturday, November 20 at his well-attended victory party.

Mayor Pat Carleton unveils a plaque commemorating the opening of his namesake, the Carleton Lodge, which opened November 21.

Lead singer from Willie Catfish belts it out into the mouth of the mascot at the Brass Rail Saturday, November 20.

After a long time away from slippery slats skiers ventured cautiously on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains’ opening day Friday, November 19.

Viv Jennings and family survey the remains of their Mercury wagon that was partly demolished on November 18 by a large snow removal machine in Whistler Village.

Blackcomb’s 1982/83 Snow Hosts – the on-mountain PR people that provide information, guided tours and much more to Blackcomb Mountain visitors. Shown here are Mike Rodgers, Deb Gurlach, Linda Turcot (Assistant Supervisor), Shelley Phelan (Public Relations Co-ordinator), Valerie Lang (Racing and Special Events Co-ordinator), Megan Armstrong, Andrea Houston, Bob MacIntosh. Not shown is Kent Rideout.

1984

Bill Herdman of North Vancouver takes major airtime on Blackcomb Satruday, just off Catskinner. There was some new snow over the weekend and skiers responded by hitting the slopes in favourable numbers – Whistler and Blackcomb report that in the first 10 days of skiing, more than 27,000 skier-days were recorded. Both lift companies are this winter offering a number of special programs, including lessons, orientation days for destination tourists, and speciality clinics for already accomplished skiers. Blackcomb is still offering a special discount rate on season’s passes for valley employees. Conditions to qualify for the $340 pass ($100 off) are that the employee works for a member of the Whistler Resort Association and Chamber of Commerce, and works a minimum of 20 hours a week.

Five models – four women and a man – modelled 30 new outfits at a fashion show at the Sundial Friday night. The models came from Blanche MacDonald modelling agency in Vancouver, and according to owner Sharon Donair, they were the best available, one of them recently returned from Japan, another from Milan and others destined for great success in the modelling world.

The Whistler Winterhawks raised more than $1,800 at an overwhelmingly successful fundraiser Friday in Dusty’s. One hundred and fifty team supporters turned out for the event and danced to the music of The Questionnaires. Nearly one quarter of the supporters also went home with prizes ranging from a Whistler Mountain season’s pass and ski lessons to computer courses and hats.

Seppo Makinen won a prize at Friday’s Whistler Winterhawks Benefit at Dusty’s but decided to let organizers draw another name for ski lessons on Whistler. That’s the spirit Seppo!

Nello and Jenny Busdon, as well as their two children, Nicholas and Melanie, bid farewell to Whistler November 30 when the family moves down to Sun Valley in Idaho. After 17 years in Whistler, where the couple saw the community develop from 100 residents to more than 1,800, the couple caught the travelling bug after seeing many of their friends in Whistler move to other areas.

Women’s History Month: Part II

If you read last week’s post (if you haven’t had a chance yet, you can check it out here), you already know that October has been designated Women’s History Month in Canada since 1992.  One of the reasons for choosing October to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women across Canada was the inclusion of Person Day.  On October 18, 1929 (only 89 years ago last Thursday) Canada’s highest court of appeal ruled that women are considered ‘persons’ under the British North America Act of 1867 and should be eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada.

For the woman we’re featuring this week, the Persons Day is of significance as it made her appointment to the Senate in 2009 possible.

Toni Sailer and Nancy Greene-Raine on the World Cup Downhill course.  Question Collection.

Nancy Greene grew up skiing in Rossland, British Columbia and was Canada’s biggest ski star during the 1960s.  After winning the inaugural World Cup in 1967 Nancy went on to win two medals in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics (gold in giant slalom and silver in slalom) and her second World Cup.  Nancy’s total of 13 World Cup Victories and 17 Canadian Championship titles remain Canadian records today.

Though Nancy retired after 1968, her two incredibly successful seasons had inspired hundreds of young skiers.  The Nancy Greene Ski League was formed to promote participation in ski racing and fun in competition nationwide.

Nancy married Al Raine, then the Canadian National Ski Team coach, and the pair built a home in Whistler for when Nancy was working as a coach at the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps on Whistler.  When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed in 1975 Al was appointed to council and the family moved to the valley permanently.

The group at the Sailer Fischer Ski Camp party catered by the Keg. (L to R) Wayne Wong, Wayne Booth, Schultz, Nancy Greene, Toni Sailer, Rookie, Alan White.  Question Collection.

Over their 25 years in Whistler Al and Nancy were very involved in the community.  Active in early bids for the Olympics and founding members of the Blackcomb Ski Club, they were also involved in other aspects of the community.  Nancy served as School Trustee for the local school district during the early years of the first Myrtle Philip School and they were both involved in the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association.

In the early years it was hard not to be involved.  As Nancy recalled, “You had to go to every little sort of festival or function as a person who lived in the valley, ’cause if we didn’t all go there weren’t enough people.  And between volunteering for it, and driving the trucks, or putting your kids’ bikes in the parades and cutting the cake, we were all there.”  In 1990 Al and Nancy were jointly named Whistler’s Citizens of the Year.

Al and Nancy opened the Nancy Greene Olympic Lodge in 1985 (the word “Olympic” had to be dropped after protests from IOC lawyers), one of the first few hotels in Whistler Village.  They ran the lodge until 1994 when it was sold and renamed the Crystal Lodge.

The Raines: Willy, Charley, Nancy and Al, returned to Whistler just before school started after two years in Crans, Montana, Switzerland. Al and Nancy were ski instructors in the 1,500-person resort while the 14-year-old twins went to school in the French speaking community.  Question Collection.

The family left Whistler for the newly developing Sun Peaks resort in 1995.  There they continued to be involved in creating a new ski destination.  In 1999 Nancy was voted Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century.  Nancy has also received the Order of the Dogwood, the Order of British Columbia and been named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Nancy was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2009, where she served until her retirement this past spring.