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.
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.
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.
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.