Tag Archives: Stefan Ples

Why Curl When You Can Ice Stock Slide?

Over the decades Whistler has been home to clubs and teams for pretty much any sport you can name – skiing, swimming, squash, soccer, hockey, field hockey, baseball, tennis, rugby – you name it and someone in Whistler has likely played it.

Ice stock sliding, a sport more commonly associated with European countries such as Germany and Austria than a Canadian ski resort, was introduced to Whistler during the cold and dry winter of 1976/77 by Stefan Ples, a long-time resident and member of the Tyrol Club who started skiing Whistler Mountain before Franz Wilhelmsen even envisioned it as an Olympic venue.

“Ice Stock Sliding” on the River of Golden Dreams (Whistler News Winter 1979-80)

Ice stock sliding (also known as esstock sliding or Bavarian curling) is similar to curling, though an ice stock and a curling stone differ in weight and ice stock sliding uses a different kind of running surface.  Ice stocks are made from wooden blocks with an iron band and a handle on top.  Teams of four slide ice stocks over a surface (usually ice though asphalt can also be used by adding a special plastic surface to the bottom of the stocks) aiming either for a target called the daube or for the longest distance.

In Whistler ice stock sliding began, as many thing have, on Alta Lake, which was particularly smooth and clear due to the weather that winter.  Ice stocks were supplied by Ples, who built them himself.  The sport was enthusiastically received and became so popular that a tournament was incorporated into the Whistler Winterfest events of 1977 and the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club (WISSC) was formed to organize and control the growing sport.  Games continued as long as the ice on Alta Lake was suitable and floodlights enabled play to go on into the nights.

Ice stock sliding on Alta Lake in the 1970s.

Though one might assume that the coming of spring would have meant a dwindling interest in the sport, members of the club continued to play using an area of blacktop at Valleau’s logging camp that was set aside for them.  That spring the club applied to the school board to have an area for two rinks paved by the tennis courts at Myrtle Philip School.  The asphalt rinks were approved and constructed for September 1977.

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)

The WISSC incorporated as a society in October of 1977 (three years before the formation of the Canadian Ice-Stock Federation) and included many long-time residents and visitors to Whistler, such as Kay and Pat Carleton (Whistler’s first mayor), Paul and Jane Burrows, Dick and Kelly Fairhurst, Hans and Margaret Kögler, Bill and Elaine Wallace and Andy and Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum) in addition to Stefan Ples.  The mission of the society was to “develop, maintain and manage all kinds of activities of the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club which may benefit in anyway the residents of, and visitors to the Resort Municipality of Whistler.”

In their first year the WISSC played regularly twice a week, sent representatives to Vernon to demonstrate the sport at the Vernon Winter Festival (and were even invited back the next year) and organized tournaments through the winter and spring.  The club continued to be active into the 1980s but we have no records of the sport being played in Whistler in the past few decades, perhaps partly due to the relocation of Myrtle Philip School (and the demolition of the asphalt rinks) in 1992.  During a winter without much snow, however, ice stock sliding provided a welcome alternative to skiing for residents and visitors alike.

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!