Tag Archives: Tony Lyttle

Whistler Mountain’s First Ski Patrol

We all know that ski patrol is vital to a safe and functioning ski resort. The first people on the mountain and the last to leave, ski patrollers ensure the terrain is safe before anyone else can access the runs and regularly take risks to save lives. Originally run entirely by volunteers, First Aid Ski Patrol on Whistler started with 12 people in 1965, before construction of the lifts had even been completed. There were over 80 active volunteers at its peak. With Whistler Mountain growing rapidly professional ski patrollers were brought in, and First Aid Ski Patrol volunteers continued to support professional patrol until Blackcomb opened in 1980.

First Aid Ski Patrol volunteers during chairlift evacuation practice in 1978. Whistler Question Collection.

Tony Lyttle was the head of the First Aid Ski Patrol from 1965 to 1971. According to Lyttle, “In 1965, when the Mountain opened, we were all staying in trailers along with the rest of the staff of Whistler. As Whistler got more and more paid staff, there was less and less room for the patrol to stay. So that’s when we eventually got moved to the floor of the cafeteria, and that wasn’t very good because they started cooking at about 3 am or earlier. So people would never get any sleep.”

On top of sleeping in the cafeteria, everything that a patroller needed was self-funded, relying on donations, fundraising and the generosity of the patrollers themselves, including the construction of the patrol clubhouse. In 1972, there was a raffle to raise money for portable two-way radios which revolutionised ski patrol practices. Before this they used the ‘bump system’ where patrollers would rotate between skiing a lap and waiting at the top of a lift so someone could always be found in an emergency. It also meant waiting long periods out in the elements, and could be bitterly cold in the days before Gore-Tex.

Along with the volunteer patrollers, there was a rotation of ten doctors who could administer pain relief and assist with diagnosis, sutures and dislocated shoulders. Flags were raised to get a doctors attention when additional medical support was required. There was no medical centre, only a small First Aid Room. Without ambulances people mostly went home injured or travelled to Squamish or Vancouver via private vehicle. There was a helicopter landing pad by the gravel parking lot, but only the most serious head or back injuries were flown out via helicopter for further treatment.

First Aid Ski Patrol volunteers during training in 1978. Whistler Question Collection.

Washouts and rockslides regularly closed the road to Whistler. Lyttle remembers once loading dozens of injured skiers onto the train to Vancouver on Sunday night after the road was closed all weekend. “There were people loaded in that train on every seat, on the floor, down the aisles, all their luggage was piled high in the racks and then we had two freight-type cabins where we piled all the patients. All the stretchers were one on top of each other on racks. It was unbelievable and people were being sick and we were trying to give hypodermic needles, painkillers in the semi-dark with flashlights. It was like a movie. Then when we arrived in Vancouver, every ambulance in the city was at the North Vancouver station with all these red lights flashing and police cars.”

Recognised as some of the most capable patrollers in North America while paid not a dime, volunteer First Aid Ski Patrol was responsible for risk management, marking runs, trail maintenance, lift evacuations, finding lost skiers and First Aid, and they regularly had to help dig out the lifts after a big snow. However, as many fondly remember, the parties were legendary and the powder never got skied out!

Forget the Glass Slippers: Whistler Chicks Wear Ski Boots

The tale of Tony and Irene Lyttle really is a ‘Made in Whistler’ story.  The couple first met in the mid 1960s and while it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, sometimes things are just meant to be.  Tony worked for BC Hydro and was also a ski patroller.  Irene was a skier, subletting an apartment from Paul Burrows in Whistler while he was in Europe.  In a 2003 interview Irene was asked how she first met Tony, and romance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind:

“[…] the long and the short of it was that I hitched a ride in the back of Tony’s car, so I basically met the back of his neck.  I wasn’t too impressed, actually, by the back of his neck.  So that’s how we met.  Tony was on the Patrol and I was ‘just the skier’ and he gave me a drive up to go skiing.”

Whistler Skiers’ Chapel in 1989

Despite this inauspicious beginning, Tony and Irene soon became a couple and later engaged in 1967.  They chose Whistler as the perfect place for a wedding. When the Lyttles were asked why they chose to be married in Whistler, they said it just seemed like the natural place to do it. Irene elaborated:

“I don’t know whether it [getting married in Whistler] had been done at all.  I didn’t do it because it was popular.  I didn’t have any church affiliation and I loved mountains and the outdoors, and it didn’t make sense to get married in a church in Vancouver when none of us spent much time there.”

Tony and Irene Lyttle getting married in the Skiers’ Chapel, January 1967.

In fact, the Lyttles may have been the first couple married in Whistler. It certainly wasn’t easy.   Tony wasn’t even in the country at that point  — he was working for the Aspen Ski Corporation at the time.   Also, everything had to be brought up from Vancouver a treacherous 2.5-hour drive in the best weather.

The challenge was how to get all the guests up to Whistler in January.  Some guests travelled all the way from Nanaimo to attend the wedding.  One of Irene’s friends was only two weeks away from delivering a baby and still managed to make the trip. Tony himself brought the priest up to Whistler in a sports car during a snowstorm!

Irene Lyttle on her way to the wedding alter, January 1967.

While all their friends joked that Irene would wear ski pants to the wedding she was determined to wear a white wedding dress. However, one of the wedding ushers placed her white mid-calf ski boots in the aisle.  As the now married couple prepared to make their exit, Irene stopped, pulled up her skirt, removed her fancy white satin heels and, like the Whistler version of Cinderella, placed her newly married feet into the ski boots. She then proudly left the chapel with her patroller prince.

Wow – a wedding on the mountain and a bride wearing ski boots.   Maybe there’s hope for romance after all.