The Whistler Museum’s new exhibit “The Evolution of Skiing” has been open now for almost a month. Part of the exhibit relates to skiing in Whistler before Whistler Mountain was built.
One of my favourite artifacts on display seems like a strange thing to have in a museum — a rusty, old pulley — but this particular pulley is from the first ever ski lift in Whistler. No, it was not on Whistler Mountain — it was actually set up on the other side of the valley, near where the Point Artist Run Centre and the Whistler Sailing Club are located today.
The ski lift was a rope tow set up under the power lines above what was then Cypress Lodge. It was a mighty 850-foot-long lift, powered by a Ford V8 motor that drew the haul rope through four pulleys mounted on four towers. It was built in 1960, a full five years before the first lift was opened on Whistler Mountain and it could tow up to four people at a time. Downhill skiing had arrived in the valley!
Before that, people had to make their own way up the mountains — though this was not a very popular activity with residents of the valley. Yes, the few year-round residents would use cross-country skis to get around in the winter, but it seems like their use was for practical reasons rather than recreational.
One exception was Pip Brock, whose family owned a cabin on Alta Lake. In 1933, at the age of 19, Pip purchased a new set of skis from Woodward’s department store (he later described them as “terrible”), climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and then proceeded to ski back down. Locals and visitors to Rainbow Lodge had been hiking to nearby summits like Whistler for some time, but this was the first ski ascent and descent of Whistler Mountain. Locals didn’t believe the brash teenager’s claim until Pip pointed out his ski tracks through a set of binoculars.
Strangely, the typical Whistler local’s attitude was better exemplified by the reaction of prospector Harry Horstman, who, when he saw Pip Brock skiing near his mining claim up on Sproatt Mountain, yelled: “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!”
How things have changed.