Whistler Museum and Archives Society From the Archives,Mountain Culture,Museum Musings The Rise and Fall of the Varsity Outdoor Club’s Whistler Cabin.

The Rise and Fall of the Varsity Outdoor Club’s Whistler Cabin.

The Whistler Club Cabin nearing completion, Karl Ricker Collection.

Established in 1917, the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) set about climbing, hiking and skiing the many mountain ranges surrounding Vancouver. It was only a matter of time before the VOC’s quest for adventure led them onto the slopes of Whistler and the surrounding region. 

Prior to the proposal of a new cabin near Whistler, VOC members were already traveling to the Whistler region. During the mid-1950’s the VOC’s infamous “long-hike” , a mandatory trek that initiated new members into the club’s ranks, began to be held in the Garibaldi region. Garibaldi Provincial Park was also becoming increasingly popular among VOC members, for its (then) remote location. In 1964 the first successful recorded ascent of the Spearhead Traverse was completed by VOC members. Also in that year the VOC declared their intention to build the new club cabin only a short distance away from Whistler Mountain. The new location promised to compensate for the inadequacies of the VOC’s Mt Seymor cabin, namely, overcrowding and minimal ski development. Additionally, club members would often return to Vancouver after a day of skiing at Mt Seymor rather than use the cabin overnight, which the VOC executives cited as diminishing club spirit. Cabin construction began in 1964 and was completed by Christmas 1965; for a detailed account of the building process, see previous Whistorical articles “Constructing a Cabin” and “Origins – UBC VOC Lodge.” 

Unfortunately the Whistler cabin developed similar problems that had plagued the older Seymor cabin. Rapid commercial development of Whistler in the early 1970s alienated many members of the VOC, who felt that the location now ran contrary to the club’s ethos. The cabin, rather than being a focal point for VOC outings, was now divisive as the club’s more hardcore members and those who weren’t interested in downhill skiing saw little reason to utilize the facility. With club spirit divided and maintenance costs rising, something had to be done. 

In 1974, an early solution was found. The UBC Ski Club was formed from VOC members. The VOC’s executive team hoped to transfer the management costs of the cabin to the newly founded Ski Club, avoiding further financial hardship for the VOC  and maintaining club unity. By 1975, the Ski Club offered to purchase the cabin, a proposition viewed favourably by both clubs. This is when UBC’s student government, the Alma Mater Society (AMS), stepped in to block the sale, claiming legal ownership of the cabin. The AMS was also unwilling to facilitate the arrangement between the Ski Club and the VOC. Another agreement was drawn up, only to be shot down by the AMS, on the grounds that it was too favourable for the VOC.

The growing animosity between the VOC and the AMS culminated in spring 1975. A final desperate arrangement, proposed by the VOC and Ski Club was promptly turned down by the AMS, who restated their claims of ownership to the cabin  and that any sale would happen on their  terms. In 1977, a legal battle ensued and the VOC took the AMS to student court. The court ruled that despite legal ownership, the AMS still had to compensate the VOC for the material and labor cost of the cabin, totalling $30,000. The AMS refused to pay, stating that the student court had exceeded its jurisdiction; the VOC responded in 1979 by threatening the AMS with legal action at the provincial level. Only then did the AMS agree to out-of-court negotiations and paid out the $30,000.

Despite a legal victory, the VOC lost its taste for club cabins and the Whistler Cabin was the last of its kind. With their hard-earned assets, the VOC instead invested in three new mountaineering huts. The Whistler Cabin remained with the AMS until 2014, when the AMS sold the cabin. The Cabin now serves as the Whistler Lodge Hostel.

One thought on “The Rise and Fall of the Varsity Outdoor Club’s Whistler Cabin.”

  1. I was a member of VOC 1969-71 and have fond memories of the hikes, the cabin and skiing in the earlier days of Whistler.
    I recall there was a difference between the hard-core mountaineering crowd and the skiers. I remember working on improving the original Singing Pass trail as part of our VOC obligations and really enjoying it. I also remember listening to the Beatles loud in the big living room, huddled around the fireplace to keep warm. The sleeping Hut connected to the lodge was unheated and memorable as well! Kinda sad to see it go but as George Harrison said in song: “All things must pass”.

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