People enjoyed many outdoor pursuits in Whistler long before the rise of skiing drew crowds to the valley. Rainbow Lodge on Alta Lake was originally built to cater to keen fishermen during the summer months but the owners, Alex and Myrtle Philip, eventually catered to all kinds of activities. Horse riding, sightseeing, swimming and hiking around the mountains and lakes also became popular, providing recreational development for the new tourist industry that emerged at Alta Lake during the early 1900s.
The stableman Douglas Barlow of Rainbow Lodge describes his morning routine before leading groups on horseback rides to Green River for a picnic breakfast, it demonstrating the high level of service provided:
I would take a pack horse the day before the ride with all the grub and dishes for our early breakfast at the river. The call to get up would be at 4 am. So you would have all the horses saddled and ready to go. They [Lodge staff] would have to go to all the cabins to wake the guests; and then somebody would say: “Sorry, I don’t feel good this morning so I won’t be going” – so I would go back and unsaddle their horses and let them go in the barnyard and they would roll and get all dirty. So then here comes a girl yelling that she would like to go after all. Then you had to go and get the horse cleaned up and saddled so she can go. Real hard on the nerves! [i]
During the evenings and weekends, dances and movie nights were the norm. As more lodges gradually surrounded the lake such as Hillcrest Lodge on the Southeast side there was always at least one function being held. With a friendly camaraderie existing between lodges, hosts took turns to hold various functions.
Several activities within the area, including skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting and canoeing to name a few, had originally emerged out of necessity rather than pleasure. In particular, skis were a convenient way of accessing the area around Alta Lake at a far quicker pace than trudging through the deep snow, which led to an increase in popularity for cross country skiing. The practicalities and enjoyment gained out of sliding down the mountain on wooden planks emerged at Whistler during the 1920s and along with other sliding sports soon became popular with both residents and visitors alike. Visitors were arriving at the area, not to fish during the summer but to explore the mountain with skis during the winter. Pip Brock was a regular visitor during the 1930s and here he describes how traditionalist mountaineers took to the new sport:
I had joined the B.C. Mountaineering Club and the Alpine Club of Canada and in the thirties most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent. But after a few of us being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring…By 1935 I was using skis to travel in the mountains. [ii]
Another entertaining story of the new sport demonstrates the traditional spirit of some of the residents. When Brock went to visit Harry Horstman at his hut on the Sproat Mountain, he said to him “what the hell you got them planks fur? I can get around twice as fast on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin boards!” [iii]
Snow sports brought a whole new meaning to tourism at Alta Lake, the original summer resorts soon gained interest as winter retreats. Here the Alta Lake’s Community Sunset Weekly tells us of the activity during the 1950s: “Winter sports at Alta Lake have mushroomed into a major baggage problem for the P.G.E and all of us concerned with local transportation of same. No one is complaining though, I suppose because it all seems to be so much fun.” [iv] Richard Fairhurst created a rope tow at Whistler, an early form of ski lift. Prior to this, Myrtle’s workhorse, Bob was known to have dragged skiers and skaters behind him across the frozen Alta Lake. The winter also enabled people to go ice-skating, play hockey, ice-boat or cross country ski, there was always something exciting to do.
Cabins were more commonly known for skiing than summer recreation from the 60s onwards with skiers believing it was their turn to explore the Garibaldi Mountain ranges majestic peaks. Standing at 7, 118 feet tall, Whistler has a myriad of slopes, pitches and exposures offering unlimited bliss. Snowboarding rose to fame at Whistler; initially boarders were not permitted to ride the chair lifts alongside skiers and up until 1988 boarders had hiked to reach the top of the mountain. It was seen as reckless sport, ironically by many of those who had paved the way for skiing against the traditionalist mountaineers in the 1930s. Whistler eventually embraced the winter sport. A superpipe and five huge terrain parks are currently open at Whistler Blackcomb accommodating boarder’s freestyle skills which have also paved the way for the up and coming freestyle skiers.
[i] Peterson (1995) 18
[ii] Peterson (1995) 25
[iii] Petersen (1995) 25
[iv] Vogler (2007) 29