Tag Archives: Whistler Museum

A dream job you probably didn’t know existed

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line.

It’s a stormy January evening in 1987. At the top of the Red Chair (also known as Tower 18), an empty chair swings around the bull wheel, its weight rocking it back and forth before propelling it back down the mountain. It disappears quickly into the blinding snowstorm. 23-year-old Janet Love Morrison picks up the phone, and calls the mid-station: “Last chair arrived, number 62, we’re clear.” She hits the red button and steps out of the shack. It’s 5:30 p.m., pitch dark. Now that the last person has downloaded, she zips up her coat a little higher, steps off the ramp and heads for the Roundhouse. She locks the front doors up for the night, questioning the necessity. By day the restaurants are filled with thousands of skiers; by night the high plateau belongs to the packer drivers, her, Gordy Rox Harder and a few ravens.

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the late 1980s, Janet and Gordy lived as alpine caretakers on top of Whistler Mountain for almost two years. Clearing the Red Chair lift was one part of their unique and – as one can imagine – very coveted job. Gordy earned his salary as a carpenter and Janet got paid eight dollars an hour, free rent, hydro, and ski passes. Priceless, of course, are the moments when they were the only souls in their mountain kingdom, enjoying V.I.P. seats in front of the afterglow scenery while the whole valley was in the shadow yet. They also had the best opportunities to ski fresh powder. Janet remembers that she sometimes would ski to the valley as soon as it was light: “The valley gondola opened at 7 a.m. to upload staff and I would get in a couple of alpine to valley runs in complete aloneness.”

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home on top of Whistler Mountain: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Janet and Gordy remember that getting groceries was always an interesting affair. In between them and the grocery store in the village, there was a 45-minute trip up the four lifts from the village to the top of the mountain. “We never wasted a trip, every time we were in the valley we’d bring something up” they recall. If they had been done a big shop in Squamish everything was loaded onto the Creekside Gondola, and then offloaded at mid-station and reloaded onto the Red Chair. “One of us would go ahead on the Red Chair, while the other loaded numerous milk crates full of our groceries. Who ever got off at the top would unload the crates. Then we would ski them over to our apartment.”

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. In 1987/88, there were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (2,100m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Express Lift was installed from the village to the alpine, and the position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.

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A hard winter’s baby boom

Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.

Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler's famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler's book "Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town"

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie's truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie’s truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…

Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?

Pro Patrol at Whistler Film Festival 2014

Whistler Film Festival and Whistler Museum are excited to present a screening of Pro Patrol followed by a talk by Roger McCarthy about the early days of ski patrol. The event is on December 7th from 4pm to 6pm at Whistler Museum.

Pro Patrol is a 1980 film that was the first of director Curtis Petersen’s career. The film is a short documentary on Ski Patrol on Whistler Mountain, filmed in 1979. It won several international awards for the budding film maker and became an iconic film of early days on Whistler Mountain.

Petersen went on to work on numerous film projects from documentaries to music videos, and has over 150 feature films under his belt.

Roger McCarthy is one of the stars of the film and was on Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol from 1974-1990. His talk will give insights into working on ski patrol and how the world of mountain safety has evolved over the years.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

Amazingly, in the early days of Whistler Mountain there were only a handful of paid ski patrollers. In 1968 there were just five! On the weekends, when the mountain became much busier, a dedicated team of volunteers, known as First Aid Ski Patrol (FASP), also worked as patrollers. The existence of two patrols–FASP and the Whistler Mountain employees–led to the term “Pro-Patrol” being used to describe the paid staff.  It was only in May 1979 that FASP was disbanded.

Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased through Whistler Film Festival.

Suitcase Race (Part Two)

The suitcase race discussed in last week’s blog post was co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987. The organizer of this event, Bruce Portner, stated in the article Hundreds pull together for publicity event by Larry McCallum, that many celebrity events do not succeed which is why “the two and one half days will have to be packed with eye-catching, unusual activities to appeal both to the celebrities and the media”. Flinging yourself down a ski hill on top of a suitcase certainly fits into that category. CP Air sponsored the suitcase race and the Star dinner event raised $30,000 for helping to immunize children against polio.

Many stars attended this event including Richard Roundtree who played John Shaft in the Shaft movies, and TV series. He also made appearances on shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Heros. Olivia Barash known for her roles in Fame (1987), Out of the Blue (1979), and Patty Hearst (1988) also attended the events.

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Richard Roundtree getting ready for the race. Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988 

The next year (1988), the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational Act II took place in the middle of April. The Black Tie Ball promised “A full Hollywood-style variety show” with Dynasty’s own Emma Samms as host, and performances by Platinum Blonde and Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

The Pepsi Celebrity Act III took place on April 13th to the 16th, 1989. On April 13th, 1989 the Whistler Question published an article stating that the goal of this year’s Suitcase Race, which was sponsored by American Airlines, was for two teams of two racers to sit in a suitcase and “speed down the slope above the Solar Coaster quad chair.” The object was not only to be the first across the finish line but also to “make it down the slope without falling out or flipping over the plastic luggage case.”

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Emma Samms returned to Whistler for the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational of 1989. The proceeds of the weekend were once again donated to the Starlight Foundation,  founded in 1982 by Samms and her cousin Peter Samuelson, which grants wishes to chronically ill children.

The 1989 event boasts stories of Tommy Lee of Motley Crue getting a Ski Esprit instructor to help find gloves that he dropped from the chairlift, as well as Lee nearly taking out the race shack at the bottom of the Orange race course on Whistler Mountain. Another story from the event describes Gil Gerard (who played Buck Rogers in the Buck Rogers TV show) accidentally stabbing Sean Vancour with his ski pole.

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The Whistler Question April 20th, 1989

After Act III had concluded there was a lot of talk about the event not continuing. As far as I can find, from digging through the Whistler Question archive, there were no more Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational’s or suitcase races held on Blackcomb Mountain.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Suitcase Race (Part One)

For those of us at the Museum who have not worked, or lived, in Whistler for long, it is always great when people who had lived around Alta Lake in the early days drop in and say hello. It is wonderful to get firsthand experiences of Whistler’s history and to take our eyes out of the archives. This is what happened last week when a couple came in to see if the Museum had a book they were looking for. Through our discussion they told me about a suitcase race that was held on Blackcomb Mountain in the 1980s. This peaked my interest, as anyone traveling down a ski hill in a suitcase sounds amazing. I went to the Whistler Library to dig through old copies of The Whistler Question to see what I could find. There was surprisingly little information to be found about what I assumed would be a hilarious event to bring athletics and non-athletics together.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

 

It seems that the first one took place on March 10th, 1984 and was called the Samsonite Media Celebrity Race. The event description in the Whistler Question went as following:

To be held on Blackcomb Mountain, possibly the downhill of the decade ­– a definite “photo opportunity.” Celebrities and press alike compete on a treacherous two-part course. The course is a downhill designed for racers piloting the latest in Samsonite’s Nagahide bobsled. Only Samsonite could take this beating. Definitely a spectator’s event. Free admission, refreshments available.

My favorite part of this is that there are very little clues as to what is going to take place but that “Only Samsonite could take this beating.” On March 15th, 1984 there is a small mention of how the event went in The Whistler Question’s Notes from All Over section. Stating that the MC of the event, Greg Lee, did a great job announcing the race in both French and English and that Dennis Waddingham’s racing helmet was a good idea.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

A year later, on March 14th, 1985, an article was published in The Whistler Question about the event now called the Chillers Suitcase Slalom.

Sliding down a mountain on pieces of metal and fiberglass is one thing. But how about doing that in a suitcase? For a slightly different downhill experience, the Chillers Suitcase Slalom on Blackcomb is the prefect solution. Organizers are calling it a soapbox derby on snow. The jury’s still out on what the competitors will call it. The suitcase slalom will take place on a specially prepared 100 m course on Chair 2 Sunday March 31 at 2 p.m. Teams of two with each participant sitting in one half of an open suitcase race head-to-head against another team. Blackcomb provides the suitcases. The race is designed for anyone working for a Whistler business…“It will be the best laugh of the spring,” say organizers.

In the April 4th 1986 The Sports Column by Mike Youds, Youds pokes fun at the National Ski team stating that the team “ought to bypass summer training camps and enlist team members in hotel and restaurant jobs to get them in shape.” He goes on to report that the teams in the hospitality trades performed much better than any profession or trade in the race. “Even the airline industry, with two of the Murray brothers on the team (no on could boast as much air time as these guys have) couldn’t catch up with the likes of the Creek House Canines and the Highland Highballs.”

This event was then co-opted by the Pepsi Celebrity Ski Invitational in 1987, which I will discuss in Part two of the Suitcase Race Blog next week.

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Photograph by Greg Griffith. Griffith Collection. 1988

Tales of Whistler’s Early Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities

This year I spent thanksgiving with a group of new friends. As tradition goes, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. This has got to be one of the most beautiful holiday rituals, as the room generally goes from silly and sarcastic to completely genuine as soon as the first person says their thanks. This sincerity and gratefulness got me thinking about Whistler’s early days when there was a bit less to be thankful for in terms of amenities–more specifically, regarding Whistler’s water supply and sanitation facilities.

Whistler’s early settlers had to locate their homes near rivers, creeks or lakes in order to have access to water. Rainbow Lodge and Hillcrest Lodge had holding tanks of water pumped from Rainbow Creek and Alta Lake, respectively; however, most properties weren’t so fortunate. Some residents used flumes to direct water from the source to their property, though this method was quite unreliable.

Betsy DeBeck recalls her and her father constructing a flume for her brother and sister in-law, Denis and Dorothy DeBeck. Denis and Dorothy had recently built a house on the shores of Green Lake, and Betsy and her father figured they could ‘help’ the new homeowners by providing a more convenient water supply system. The two got to work, building a V flume that reached approximately 100 yards up the slope from Green Lake, right into Denis and Dorothy’s backyard. This would prevent them from having to go down the stream to retrieve buckets of water. While great in theory, during the winter months the flume and all the water in it froze and they were left with this ‘huge big iceberg,’ as Dorothy describes. Dorothy quickly grew to curse the flume.

By 1925, the town installed a water line from Scotia Creek in order to service new subdivisions on the west shore of Alta Lake. It operated on the gravitation principle, by which water flows downward from a large wooden holding tank built up on a hill. In 1954, Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge received the rights to Scotia Creek and took over the system.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers' convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers’ convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Early sanitation systems were nothing to write home about either (because people write home about their plumbing all the time). Whistler’s early sanitation systems consisted of outhouses and, in later years, septic tanks. Surprisingly, the outhouses were considered quite the establishments and are remembered fondly by many of the first skiers to live in the valley.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen's old outhouse, 1968.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen’s old outhouse, 1968.

These outhouses brought many tales of hilarity. One in particular is the sizzling story of Charlie Chandler. Charlie Chandler, a local trapper, had been given a small amount of high-grade aircraft fuel by a kindly visiting floatplane pilot, which he used to clean some of his exceedingly grimy overalls. When finished cleaning his clothes, Charlie felt that the best way to dispose of the remaining fuel was to chuck it down the ‘biffy.’ He went on with his day as usual, and when it came time for his next visit to the outhouse he sat down and lit his pipe, as was his habit. The explosion was heard from miles away. Charlie’s nearest neighbour, Phil Tapley, rushed to the scene where he found a singed but otherwise unscathed Charlie with his pants around his ankles, wondering what had occurred.

Discovering Alex Philip (Part One)

As a person coming from an Anthropological background, I am drawn to the narratives surrounding ones life. Outside of this I am also very interested in Canadian fiction; therefore, I was fascinated to hear that Alex Philip was not just the co-founder of Whistler’s first resort, Rainbow Lodge, but was also an author (for more information on Alex’s books, visit our previous blog post here). This intrigued me to dig further into the life of Alex Philip, as being both pioneer and author seems like an odd combination of attributes. As J. Butterfield said in his column “The Common Round” in the Daily Province, Vancouver “…when you found a man who ran a tough restaurant all day and sat up to write poetry at night, you simply had to take notice.”

Alex Philip on the boardwalk in front of Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1920. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip on the boardwalk in front of Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1920. Philip Collection.

While doing this research I have read and heard many stories about the kind of man Alex was, but I will keep this blog post to two news articles talking about Alex’s public life. The first is an announcement of his leaving Bangor, Maine in 1906 for Vancouver. The second is an article announcing his return to Bangor for the first time in 50 years.

In the 1906 article, published by the Bangor Daily News, the author refers to Alex Philip as Alec, as that is how he was known during the five years he worked as a night man at Frey’s Central street restaurant. A patron of Frey’s, who happened to be a journalist with the Bangor Daily News, published this article as a farewell present to Alec. It is a very flattering portrayal of Alec, stating, “He was the acknowledged super-superba, past-master, expert extraordinary lunch-bar man of Bangor. He was in a class all by himself. He got all the votes.” The article goes on to say, “Nothing phased Alex. He made no mistakes, no false motions and never lost his grip on the situation…Maine never sent out a brighter, cleaner more honest young man, who can be depended upon to make good wherever he goes–the kind which makes friends and keeps them.”

Alex Philip and friends in Maine. The annotation on the reverse reads "Alex Philip in his 20s, Bluehill Maine, 2nd from left, about 1906." Philip Collection.

Alex Philip and friends in Maine. The annotation on the reverse reads “Alex Philip in his 20s, Bluehill Maine, 2nd from left, about 1906.” Philip Collection.

Flash forward 50 years to the Bangor Daily News article dated August 30th, 1956, on Alex’s return to Bangor for the first time since he departed for British Columbia. In this article we learn that Alex carried the 1906 article with him for the 50 years and the clipping was one of his prized possessions. He even used the 1906 article to help him get a job at the Horseshoe Café in 1907. “He still carried the NEWS clipping, yellowed and tattered after a half-century of travelling. He hadn’t discovered gold, he said, but, proudly explained how that same newspaper article had been his ticket to a successful career as a resort owner and author.”

Alex Philip, Blue Hill native, popular Bangor counterman and successful British Columbia resort owner, is shown looking over a Bangor Daily News clipping which detailed his departure from Bangor in 1906.  Mr. Philips returned to visit Bangor in August 1956. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY SPIKE WEBB

Alex Philip, Blue Hill native, popular Bangor counterman and successful British Columbia resort owner, is shown looking over a Bangor Daily News clipping which detailed his departure from Bangor in 1906. Mr. Philips returned to visit Bangor in August 1956. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY SPIKE WEBB

It was in the Horseshoe Café that Alex met trapper John Millar, who described Alta Lake (at the time called Summit Lake) to Alex, convincing him and his wife Myrtle to travel north and see the area. This trip inspired both Alex and Myrtle, and soon after this first trip they settled in the Alta Lake area to begin construction on Rainbow Lodge.