Tag Archives: summer

Summer Skiing On (and Off) the Mountain

In the late 1970s, there were two very different ways to ski in Whistler during the summertime: on the snow of the Whistler Glacier with the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps (TSSSC) and into the water off of the Lost Lake ski jump. Both got their start as a way for skiers to train through the summer months, though they also attracted recreational skiers looking to learn something new.

The first TSSSC was held in 19966, headed by Austrian alpine ski racer Toni Sailer. At the time, Whistler’s Glacier Bowl was one of the only year-round snowfields in Canada that was easily accessible by lifts, meaning camp participants didn’t have to rely on helicopters or hiking at the beginning and end of each day with their ski gear on their backs.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp. Whistler Question Collection.

The programming was largely driven by the need for competitive alpine racers to stay in shape and improve their techniques between competition seasons, but the camps were popular with both competitive and recreational skiers. Over the years they expanded to include camps for kids and instruction in novice and intermediate racing, recreational skiing, and, in 1973, freestyle skiing under the tutelage of Wayne Wong, George Askevold, and Floyd Wilkie.

Three well-known hot dog skiers show off their style in 1973 at the Tony Sailer Summer Ski Camp. Left to right: George Oskwold, Wayne Wong and Floyd Wilkie. Murphy Collection.

By 1977, however, freestyle skiers in Whistler had grown frustrated at the lack of summer aerial opportunities offered by the Whistler Mountain camps and began planning for their ski jump in the valley. This ski jump was given no development permit nor any official permission from the newly created Resort Municipality of Whistler or the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and therefore an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site was required. The group selected a spot on the shores of Lost Lake.

The ski jump also had no funding. The timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a new life as the ski jump’s surface. Construction progressed quickly once the materials were gathered, taking over a couple of weeks.

The ski jump emerges from the forest onto Lost Lake. Whistler Question Collection.

When finished, the ramp projected out 6 m over the lake and willing skiers could launch themselves into the air up to 12 m above the water. According to Dave Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

Spectators were common, often watching from the water. In 1981, the ski jump began hosting competitions and the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake was held in 1982, drawing freestyle skiing to Whistler to train with the national team coach Peter Judge. Far from remaining an inconspicuous site, the Lost Lake Ski Jump could be seen in television broadcasts ad film crews arrived to record events.

A skier flies over Lost Lake. Photo courtesy of Dave Lalik.

Neither Whistler Mountain nor Lost Lake offer opportunities for summer skiing today. Summer ski camps ended on Whistler Mountain in the late 1990s due to the receding glacier and low summer snow levels and, as Lost Lake became less and less lost and more developed, the ski jump was taken down and the site was incorporated as part of Lost Lake Park.

Summer and Races at the Whistler Museum

For many, the month of May signals either the end of the ski season or the beginning of the summer season in Whistler, or possibly both. In the 1950s and early 1960s, this change of season was marked by the first dance of the season at the Alta Lake Community Hall. As the area began to be known for skiing rather than its summer activities, other kinds of events became more common such as races and competitions.

Canoeists prepare for their part in the exciting ninth annual Great Snow, Earth, Water Race. Although the weather was great Sunday and Monday, Saturday was a damp one and it actually snowed on Tuesday. Whistler Question Collection.

In May of 1975, Bryan Walhovd organized a race that would become a long-running springtime staple in Whistler: the Great Snow Earth Water Race. When it began, the four stages of the relay race were skiing, cycling, canoeing and running. The teams of five were required to have at least one woman on each team. The race started on Whistler Mountain, where skiers raced to the end of the snow and then had to make their way down to the gondola base in today’s Creekside, ensuring that they still had their skis and boots with them. From there, the baton was passed to a cyclist who rode to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams to pass the baton to the two canoeists. Canoes then travelled across Alta Lake to pass the baton to the team’s runner for the final leg of the race back to the gondola base.

Whenever conversations turn to the Great Snow Earth Water Race, those who have participated invariably describe how much they enjoyed the experience. The first years of the race did not have many rules, leading to inventive ways of getting around the course and memorable stories featuring motorcycles, trucks, and even downloading in the gondola with varying degrees of success. It would appear that the race made a lasting impression on those who attended, whether they were running down Whistler Mountain with ski boots around their neck or watching the chaos of the canoes.

It was no easy task, but for the second year in a row Stoney’s team walked away with first-place honours in the Great Waters Race. (L to R) Dave Murray, Jinny Ladner, Ken Hardy, Lisa Nicholson and Brian Allen. Whistler Question Collection.

To find out more about the race and those who raced in it, the Whistler Museum has added an extra event to our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series this evening (Tuesday, May 25). We’ll be speaking with Bryan Walhovd, Nancy Greene Raine, Trudy Alder, and others to learn more about this race that is remembered so fondly.

While this will be the last event of our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series (we will be hosting April’s postponed event on freestyle skiing at a later yet-to-be-determined date), we are busy at the museum preparing for an exciting summer. Our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour will run daily through July and August, with the same precautions and restrictions that we introduced last year. Crafts in the Park, a partner program with the Whistler Public Library, will also return this summer in a remote format. Thanks to Young Canada Works, we’ll have help with our programs and museum operations in the form of two student employees.

You can find out more about upcoming programs and events and the latest museum updates at whistlermuseum.org.

Whistler’s Answers: April 1, 1982

We’re starting something new on the Whistorical blog!  In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Question: What type of activities would you like to see in Whistler this summer? Why?

Mike Culwell – Logger – Alpine Meadows

I’d really like to see them get a baseball field together.  We’ve got a team now, but there’s no place to play.

Outdoor concerts on the mountaintop would be a great idea. It might be a bit of a hassle to figure out how to do it, but it definitely would be worth it.

I’d also like to see organized outdoor barbeques.

Heather MacLeod – Deli Clerk – Alta Vista

I would like to see a sailing regatta, 10-speed cycling races, and a few organized ‘fun runs’. Something that would be really popular would be local outdoor dances.

We need the type of activities that gets the whole community involved together and gives everyone something to do besides handing around in bars.

Min Carter – Waitress – Alta Vista

Horseback riding, definitely, because there’s nothing nicer than riding horses through the mountains. I’d like to see organized overnight rides up into the hills complete with tents and packs.

The biggest thing we lack here is getting things organized. We’ve got almost everything else.

Frank Switzer – Bartender – Gondola Area

We need more support from the whole town for existing athletes in the form of providing both enthusiasm and facilities. People know that sports exist here – why don’t they push a little harder to develop them?

I think the Town Centre should support the fastball league a little better. Who knows? Someday this town could compete on a national or international level in a variety of sports.

Harry Carman – Unemployed – Adventures West

It’s an outdoor area, so I want to see fishing and baseball. One thing we definitely need is horseback riding, which I hear they’re going to be starting soon.

They also need to build more hiking trails because it’s such a beautiful area, people should be able to explore and enjoy it more.

Also, we need more access to the lakes around here.

Paul Roche – Unemployed – Alpine Meadows

We need some community organization. I’d like to see organized hikes and outings into the back country, and tournaments for baseball or soccer – any activities which generate a community feeling and allow people to get to know each other in ways other than working together.

We need more in the way of public facilities like tennis and racquet ball courts.

One good project would be the restoration of the rec centre.

Pranks at Witsend

When describing summers spent at Alta Lake, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) once explained how she, June Collins, Kelly Fairhurst, Betty Atkinson, and Jacquie Pope (her fellow Witsend residents) would plan their days: “You’d take a walk, and say ‘What’ll I do today?’  Something would happen that would lead to something else.”  Sometimes these walks would lead to days that, though not necessarily the most productive, were still remembered by the Witsend group for their fun nearly fifty years later.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen continue to share a laugh well after their Witsend days. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Florence remembered one walk in particular that ended with an elaborate prank being played on one of the seasonal forestry workers staying at Alta Lake.

She and Julie, a visiting friend, were out walking when Julia accidentally killed a grouse while tossing rocks down the path.  As a biology teacher, Julie had with her all the necessary equipment to skin the bird, after which the pair decided to stuff the skin.  They took it and poultry meant for their dinner with them to the forestry cabin.  They suspended one bird above a door, to fall into the face of the next person to enter, and arranged the other on the table so that it appeared to be sitting cross legged while staring at the door.  This might have been startling enough, but the pair went further and filled the bottom of the sleeping bag with the cabin’s cutlery.

Trail rides had always been a part of summer at Rainbow Lodge, and sometimes the Witsend group would ride along on the extra horses. Philip Collection.

The Witsend group was well acquainted with “the forestry guys,” and knew that the joke would be taken well.  Unfortunately for the occupant of the cabin, his boss from the city happened to be visiting that day and his departure was delayed.  The boss had to stay the night, and the forester kindly offered to take the couch while his boss used the sleeping bag.  After being greeted by flying poultry and finding a fork with his foot while going to bed, this was a stay that the boss would remember.  As Florence recalled, “Of course, all of the forestry kids knew who it had been, but they wouldn’t say.”

Perhaps the best story of a Witsend prank came from June Collins.  The group used to ride horses at Alta Lake, often getting to take the spare horses on Rainbow Lodge trail rides.  One day, there were only four horses and five hopeful riders.  Kelly very kindly volunteered to stay behind and the other four happily went off to spend the day on the trail.  According to June, when they returned to Witsend they found Kelly looking “like she was going to burst.”  When asked what she had gotten up to that day, a sparkling eyed Kelly told them “Nothing.”  When they tried to go to bed, however, the other four discovered just what Kelly had spent her day doing.

The beds had been apple-pied and filled with pop bottle caps, and Kelly had meticulously sewn their pyjamas shut an inch in, making them impossible to put on.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

They never got mad at each other but took such practical jokes as the fun they were meant to be.  Despite their antics, those who lived at Witsend could also be serious and practical.  As June described it: “All of us had been the same kind of people.  We worked hard, we had always worked hard.  We all had jobs in the summer and we taught in the winter and we went through school.  We did everything right and we never had time for fun.  When we got up there, wow, what a difference.  Why not have it?  So we had a good time.”