Tag Archives: Tyrol Club

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! 

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Celebrating Tyrol Lodge’s 50th

Travelling along Whistler’s westside, properly known as the Alta Lake Road, is a bit like travelling back in time.

The arrival of downhill skiing in the 1960s caused the pace of life in our valley to shift gears completely. While gondolas and condos, followed by full neighbourhoods and villages grew around the flanks of Whistler Mountain, across the valley the sliver of railway-accessed waterfront that formed the backbone of the community of Alta Lake was left to develop at a gentler pace. As such, despite the glitz, hustle and bustle of our modern resort, much of the Westside’s nostalgic charm has persisted to this day.

Tucked away on the west shore of Nita Lake, Tyrol Lodge has managed to survive through these eras as well as any other property.  When members of the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club first chose the site for their cabin in 1963, the gorgeous view across Nita Lake to Whistler Mountain (still officially named London Mountain at the time) didn’t include any ski lifts.

The lodge under construction

The lodge under construction. Frank Grundig Photo.

The Tyrol Club envisioned their cabin according to the traditional ski lodges of their Alpine motherland. It was simply to provide a comfortable if modest base from which club members and their guests could explore the surrounding mountains on foot and on skis.

While outdoor play was an obvious draw, maintaining a vibrant social life was just as important. Long-term Whistlerite Trudy Alder worked as the Lodge’s caretaker, along with her first husband Helmut, from 1968 to 1970. At the time, she considered entertaining lodge guests with spirited après-ski full to be as important a duty as clean linens and stacked firewood. What the lodge lacked in luxury, it made up with rustic charm and a sense of community.

The festive Tyrolean spirit was, and remains today, a defining characteristic of the Tyrol Club.

The festive Tyrolean spirit was, and remains today, a defining characteristic of the Tyrol Club. Frank Grundig Photo.

To this day there is no television in the lodge to distract from socialization. In fact, once on the Tyrol Lodge grounds, there is very little to indicate that you haven’t been warped back to the 1960s. Strategic upgrades like energy-efficient windows were deemed higher priority upgrades than video games and trendy décor. Perhaps counter-intuitively, bucking the trends of the modern ski industry seems to have been a winning strategy.

The Games Room, today. Very little has changed over the years. Jeff Slack photo.

The Games Room, today. Very little has changed over the years. Jeff Slack photo.

Today, the Tyrol Club continues to boast a sizeable and cohesive membership, with many young families joining who sought a departure from the typical ski-in, ski-out experience. Those involved with Tyrol Lodge all cite the club’s strong camaraderie and its devotion to its founding values as reasons why it has survived, even thrived for so long, as most other ski clubs and cabins have long-since ceased.

This Saturday, August 3rd, from 1-4pm, the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club will be welcoming the community to Tyrol Lodge to celebrate the property’s 50th anniversary. There will be a bbq, historical displays, and other fun activities for all ages. The event offers the perfect opportunity to tour the beautiful grounds, experience the Tyrol Club’s renowned hospitality, and experience firsthand some of our community’s living heritage, no time machine required.

The Lodge, today. Jeff Slack photo.

Tyrol Lodge, today. Jeff Slack photo.

A Visit with the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club

This past week the Museum had the pleasure to head down to the North Vancouver home of Rolf and Lotti Frowein to discuss the history of the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club with the Froweins and fellow Tyrolians Jim Brown and Walter and John Preissl.

The Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club was formed in 1952 by a small group of Vancouver skiing and hiking enthusiasts, most of whom were recent immigrants from German-speaking Europe. From the start, the Tyrol Club’s main purpose was to encourage people to get outside and take advantage of the beautiful mountains surrounding Vancouver. Many were North Shore ski instructors, and they were big promoters of the sport during the post-WW2 boom days of skiing.

Even though the Tyrol club’s membership has always been centered in Vancouver their Whistler roots run deep, and the club and its members have played a surprisingly important role in Whistler’s rise as a ski resort. Rolf Frowein, along with a group of Tyrolians, first came up to Alta Lake in 1959 and instantly began exploring the surrounding mountains, winter and summer.

Walter Preissl, Al Preissl and Erwin Kasiol ski down towards Glacier Bowl on Whistler Mountain, early 1960s. The days of skiing in shorts will soon be upon us again, too! Photo: Frank Grundig.

A few years later the club bought some land near Nita Lake and by 1966 construction was complete on Tyrol Lodge, which stands on that spot to this day.

A recently completed Tyrol Lodge, winter 1967. Photo: Frank Grundig.

That first winter after building the lodge the Tyrol Club decided to move their annual ski race, the Tyrol GS, from Seymour to Whistler. It was the first organized ski race ever held on Whistler Mountain. The race became a Whistler institution, running every winter until 1995.

Onlookers watch an early Tyrol GS race on Whistler Mountain, late 1960s. Photo: Frank Grundig.

Countless “ski-racer brats,”(to use John Preissl’s term) came up through the Tyrol Club’s racing league. Here is John’s brother Andy competing on Whistler Mountain in the late 1970s. Photo: Frank Grundig.

In addition to taking the time to talk to us about the Tyrol Club’s history, the Preissl’s have generously donated an impressive collection of documents relating to the Tyrol Club and skiing history generally, and hundreds of photos from their personal collection. Most of these were taken by their family friend  Frank Grundig, a professional photographer and ski journalist, so the images are of  consistently high quality.

Norwegian hot-shot Dag Aabye jumping off the roof of the Cheakamus Inn, 1967. Photo: Walt Preissl.

When club member’s like John Planinsic (pictured here) hiked up Whistler Mountain in the early 1960s, they looked down upon a very different valley than today. Photo: Frank Grundig.

Tyrol Club members conquer an “iceberg” in Lake Lovely Water, in the Tantalus Range. Mid-1970s. Photo: Frank Grundig.

Their large collection of photos leaves one with the impression that the more the valley has changed, the more the people stay the same!

We’ve only acquired a small portion of the photos so far, but already we’ve got some great shots that will help us to tell the history of our local mountains in greater detail, both inside and beyond the ski resort. Look forward to more stories from the Tyrol Club collection in the weeks and months to come.

Coincidentally, this evening the Tyrol Club celebrates their 60th anniversary in Richmond. We are excited to be partnering with such a great group of people, and we feel a congratulations are in order!