Category: Museum Musings

These articles have also appeared in the Whistler Question or Pique Newsmagazine in the Whistler Museum’s weekly column.

Getting Ready for the 1973/74 SeasonGetting Ready for the 1973/74 Season


It’s not unusual, as we approach the reopening of the lifts each November, to hear conversations about the coming winter – what to expect, what will be new, and what will be different. In their Fall 1973 issue, Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN), the publication put out by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., tried to anticipate such questions and provide some answers. So, what could could skiers (it would be another sixteen years before snowboarders were welcomed on Whistler) expect of Whistler Mountain fifty years ago?

GWN began with the announcement that all lift rates would remain the same as the previous season. This meant that an adult skier could expect to pay $155 for an annual pass (just over $1,000 when adjusted for inflation), while day rates ranged from $5 half to $7 weekend days. Annual passes could be purchased by cheque if accompanied by two passport size photographs or in person at the ticket office, where photographs for passes were taken free of charge. With this pass, skiers could access over twenty runs and eight lifts.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News was used to promote the ski area to potential skiers by sharing the good news and offerings of Whistler Mountain. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973

Skiers who were familiar with the terrain on Whistler Mountain would notice changes to some of the runs after a major summer works program. On Upper and Lower Franz’s, $10,000 had been spent widening over 2km from 15m to 45m. Blasting on the Downhill run had completed the leveling and grooming of certain pitches. Around the Green Chair, the lift line had been widened in anticipation of installing another parallel lift for the 1974/75 season. The lift company had also enlarged and upgraded the kitchen facilities at the Roundhouse, as well as installing a concrete floor.

For skiers who were new to the Whistler Mountain area, GWN provided a guide on “How to Handle a Big Mountain.” According to the guide, “Whistler is a huge, friendly, thoroughly enjoyable ski mountain, but for some skiers, seeing it for the first time, it’s overpowering,” and so they provided “hints” and tips to make it more approachable.

The view of the top of Whistler Mountain, sure to encourage skiers to visit. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973.

According to GWN, the first thing to do was to check the weather conditions on the weatherboard located next to the ticket office. Then, it was recommended that skiers familiarize themselves with the international trail marking signs to indicate the difficulty level of a run (the same green circle, blue square and black diamond that you’ll see today) before heading up the Gondola or Olive Chair to the Red or Orange Chairs. GWN suggested Whiskey Jack, Ego Bowl, Pony Trail, and Olympic Run as the first runs to try out, though those who headed down Olympic Run needed to check the bus schedules at the Information Booth to ensure they got a ride back to the lifts.

The guide also provided tips on where to eat lunch (the Roundhouse or L’Après, both owned by the lift company), where to find information on the mountain, and which runs to take at the end of the day. One piece of advice they included, which is often repeated today, was to “bear in mind that most ski accidents happen late in the day – so don’t take that last extra run when you’re tired.” While GWN didn’t instruct skiers to expect long lineups, bad traffic, or less than optimal conditions (not surprising in a publication intended to promote the ski area), experienced skiers would have known that those were possibilities.

Skiers in line to take the gondola up Whistler Mountain in the early 1970s. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Those who head up Whistler Mountain this winter will find that a lot has changed over the past fifty seasons, from opening new facilities to merging with Blackcomb Mountain to adapting to changing weather conditions, and might even find some changes since last winter.

Carter and the MundaysCarter and the Mundays


In 1923, prior to his September expedition with Charles Townsend, Neal Carter spent the summer in the midst of a waterpower survey covering the area from Brandywine Falls to Green Lake. Though this work used up most of his time, Carter took every chance he could to take in his surroundings and note what peaks he was interested in climbing.

As a result, Carter wrote to his friends Don and Phyllis Munday, two experienced mountaineers living on the North Shore. In his letter, he described all the mountaineering possibilities of the local mountains, convincing them to make the trek up. While here, the couple made the first recorded ascent of Blackcomb Mountain, as well as Overlord Mountain. Though Carter could not join them for these climbs due to his work, they shared their findings, which contributed to Carter’s research of the area and, subsequently, his 1924 map of Garibaldi Park.

A photograph taken by Neal Carter of Charles Townsend, returning from the summit of Overlord Mountain on September 18, 1923. Carter Collection

The Mundays were well known and heavily involved in the mountaineering community by this time. Both were members of the BC Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC).

The couple found their passion for climbing mountains prior to meeting each other in 1918. Don moved to Vancouver in 1909 and started his mountaineering career soon after, joining the BCMC in 1910. However, mountaineering was put on pause when the First World War broke out and he enlisted in the Canadian Forces. After serving for almost two years, Don suffered an injury and eventually made his way back to Vancouver. Soon after, he met Phyllis and resumed his climbing ventures.

During this time, Phyllis joined the Girl Guides and climbed the local Vancouver with her troop or on her own. She joined the BCMC in 1915 and continued to be involved with Girl Guides for more than 60 years.

Neal Carter beside a cairn on the summit of Wedge Mountain, September 10, 1923. Carter Collection

Together, the Mundays surveyed and climbed more than 150 mountains in British Columbia and Alberta, even taking their daughter Edith with them when she was just eleven weeks old.

Like Carter, the Mundays had an impact on the early development of Garibaldi Park, and the Coast Mountains more generally. Most notably, they spent nearly a decade exploring Mount Waddington (the highest peak in the Coast Mountains) and the surrounding region. Though unsuccessful in ascending what they dubbed “Mystery Mountain,” they climbed many surrounding peaks, and their meticulous surveying opened it up more for others to make their own attempts.

Carter was one of those mountaineers. In 1934, he, along with representatives from both the BCMC and ACC, started a journey that was unfortunately cut short due to tragedy. The mountain was eventually ascended two years later by Fritz Wiessney and Bill House, two American mountaineers.

According to Phyllis, “We didn’t go into the Waddington country just to climb one mountain and run out… we went into the Waddington country to find out all we possibly could about glaciers and mountains and animals and nature and everything about that particular area.”

Charles Townsend on the summit of Mt. James Turner, September 12, 1923, demonstrating the possible risks of mountaineering. Carter Collection

As mentioned in an earlier article, these mountaineers had a strong purpose to map the regions they explored and share their knowledge. Though there is a risk to this activity, the passion for outdoors exhibited by Carter, the Mundays, and many more was unwavering.

Mapping the Mountains, our temporary exhibit showcasing photographs and stories from the 1923 Carter/Townsend expedition, is on at the Whistler Museum until November 14.

Need a lift?Need a lift?


When Whistler Mountain opened for skiing during the winter of 1965/66, it had four lifts (one gondola, one chairlift, and two T-bars), all supplied by GMD Mueller of Switzerland. The company of Gerhard Mueller also won the contract to install the gondola and chairlift and two of his employees arrived in the area in the early summer of 1965. This past spring, Ed Schum, one of those two employees, came into the Whistler Museum and sat down with Cliff Jennings and our director Brad Nichols to share his memories of constructing Whistler Mountain’s first gondola and Red Chair.

Ed had already been planning to come to Canada with a friend when he saw an ad in a newspaper for technicians who would go to Canada to install ski lifts. He and fifteen other people were hired by Mueller, who hadn’t officially received the contract to install the lifts at Whistler yet. They worked for Mueller for about a year and a half before four were chosen to go to Canada. Ed and another man named Walter were sent to Whistler Mountain while two others were sent to install a gondola in Quebec.

The original gondola on Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

According to Ed, he and Walter arrived in Vancouver in mid-June and were flown up to the Whistler area by Quadra Construction, who built the foundations for the lifts. Ed fell in love with the area during that flight and predicted that he wouldn’t be going back to Switzerland after the job was done. Upon arriving at Alta Lake, they found the Whistler Mountain site was pretty much as it had been described to them by Mueller: a nice parking lot where the gondola station would go and then, up the mountain a little bit, “it gets really rough.” The pair went back to Vancouver to buy a truck and some tools, met with Franz Wilhelmsen and a couple of other directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., and then drove back up the “highway” to start work while staying at Cypress Lodge.

There were pieces of tower all over the parking lot that they started assembling. They quickly discovered that the Swiss way of raising the towers wouldn’t work with the rough terrain and limited vehicle access (Ed estimated that it would take about eighteen months to put in the towers that way) and so Quadra Construction put them in touch with a pilot named Buzz at Okanagan Helicopters who had helped with the construction of the tower foundations. Together, they worked out the rigging needed and Buzz flew in the towers of the gondola and Red Chair. It took a day or two, a dozen sets of rigging, and “crews all over the place” to install over thirty towers for the two lifts, and Ed remembered that all of the flying was completed by his 24th birthday in early October.

Once the towers were installed, the gondola still required a cable and cars. A splicer came from a cable company in Vancouver to oversee the splicing of the Swiss cable, a process that required at least six people and very careful oversight. Both Ed and Cliff remembered an unexpected mishap when the heavy cable, still on its spool, broke the floor of the midstation, but the cable itself was unharmed. Additional workers were also hired to assemble the gondola cars, which were cheaper to transport in pieces.

The gondola still in use in December 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Ed recalled that Walter went home once the lifts were running while he stayed to ensure that they continued to run smoothly. After the first season, it was decided that the gondola was too low in some places and some of the towers needed to be raised, which Ed took part in. When Mueller opened an office in British Columbia, Ed went to work there but would occasionally return to Whistler Mountain for maintenance work, where he worked closely with Doug Mansell who was in charge of the lift operations. As he predicted on that first flight, Ed ended up staying in the province, although the place and occupation changed over the years. The lifts he built remained on Whistler Mountain until 1992, when both the gondola and the original Red Chair were replaced.

A-frames About TownA-frames About Town


When Whistler Mountain was first being developed as a ski resort in the 1960s, A-frames were a popular design choice, whether building a ski cabin or a Skiers’ Chapel. A-frames could soon be found throughout the valley, partly because of their relatively simple construction and the availability of kits that could quickly be assembled.

In 1996, an inventory of A-frames in the Alta Vista neighbourhood was compiled by Rosemary Malaher, a volunteer for the Whistler Museum. Each A-frame structure that was still standing in Alta Vista at the time was photographed and, where possible, additional information about the building was gathered from its owners, such as when it was built or by whom. Malaher also noted unique or unusual features, such as a stained glass window in the front door, a metal roof with skylights, or modifications and additions. While some of these structures stand today, others have been redeveloped or torn down and replaced over the last few decades.

BJ Godson’s miniature A-frame on Nesters Road. Photo courtesy of BJ Godson.

BJ Godson moved to the Whistler area in 1974 and lived for a time in an A-frame on Alta lake Road. Around 1977, she moved into another A-frame, this one located where Nesters Market it today. In a recent interview, she described this A-frame as a “little hobbit house” with a bathroom at the back that was on “a bit of slant” and said that everything inside was miniature, including the woodstove. Despite the woodstove, BJ recalled that the house wasn’t intended to be a winter cabin and the pipes weren’t insulated underneath the building. This meant that she often had to go under the A-frame with a torch to warm up the pipes, though this turned out to be a good way to save money. When she first moved in, BJ paid $157/month; she remembered that one day, her landlord Rudy Hoffmann (of nearby Rudy’s Steak House) came by and told her, “Ok, your rent is now lowered to $75 a month and I don’t want to hear about frozen pipes. You’re on your own.”

BJ lived in the little A-frame for about four years. When her partner moved in, however, it proved too small for the two of them, their cat, and the guitar, and they moved down to the Garibaldi townsite.

Another A-frame that we have heard stories about was supposedly the smallest house in Whistler in 1988. After sharing a photo of the A-frame, we received more information about it from Rich Miller, who lived in the building in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This A-frame was once a show home located in Vancouver before moving north to Alpine Meadows. Whistler Museum Collection.

Miller remembered that the A-frame had been used as a display home at the end of Denman St. in Vancouver by Capilano Highlands Ltd. to promote their new Alpine Meadows development in the later 1960s. It was later moved to the corner of Alpine Way and Highway 99 before being moved further into Alpine, where it stood aorund 1978 when Miller was looking for a place to live. He had been renting a basement suite for $125/month, which was a good deal, until his landlord raised his rent to what Miller remembered was the going rate of $450/month. Over a beer with Jack Bright and Peter Soros, Bright suggested that he buy the A-frame and the lot it was on. After figuring out the financing and completing the $6,000 worth of work for Soros for the down payment, Miller was able to call the little A-frame home.

Miller later decided to build a “real” house behind the A-frame and had to come up with a creative solution to keep the A-frame. Bylaws at the time did not allow for two separate dwellings on one lot, but they allow for a workshop. According to Miller, “you were allowed a bathroom in a shop and a sink for cleaning up and storage, but no cooking facilities… so I disconnected the stove and ‘put it in storage’.” The stove would sometimes come out of storage when making a meal and then be returned. Eventually, the A-frame was allowed to stay.

If you’d like to share the story of your favourite A-frame (or other kind of structure), we’d love to hear it!