Museum Musings: Winter on Alta Lake

Winters at Alta Lake were a quiet season for the small community without the crowds of summer visitors.  

Whistler Mountain did not open for skiing until 1966 and downhill skiing in the valley was uncommon. Instead winter sports centered on and around Alta Lake. In addition to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, activities that took place on the frozen lake itself were popular within the small community.

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With the right conditions skating was a common pastime that could quickly become a community gathering with a bonfire and marshmallows.

In 1924 Sewall Tapley built an iceboat for his daughter Myrtle after she injured her leg. He used a few boards, old skate blades and a sail and thus introduced a new activity to Alta Lake. With a good wind the iceboat could easily outpace the skaters.  

While the iceboat did have a tiller attached, it was not an effective means of steering.  Instead, Myrtle recalled, “we’d crash into the snow bank on the other side of the lake, get out and turn it around to get home.”

In the 1980s a new generation tried sailing on Alta Lake, this time using “windskiers,” which hopefully had much better steering capabilities.

The lake continued to be a community gathering spot for Alta Lake residents through the 1950s and into the ‘60s. In the Jan. 5, 1960 edition of the Alta Lake Echo, the weekly newsletter put out by the Alta Lake Community Club under various names from January 1958 until June 1961, it was noted that, “a good crowd turned out Friday night to skate and spectate at Rainbow Rink. Cabin 8 was cozy and warm for the less hardy types and those whose feet would not fit the available skates.”  

The evening ended with hot dogs and hot chocolate provided by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, then owners of Rainbow Lodge.

The same newsletter also reported on the annual New Year’s hockey game that was postponed “due to poor player condition after New Year’s Eve. Rescheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 2, game commenced promptly at 3:30.”  

On the side of the Alta Lake Amatoors were Frantic Fairhurst (forward, front and centre) and Non Stop Crankshaft, Capricious Croaker, Gummed Up Gow and Fearless Ferguson (all playing defense). The Rainbow Rockets lineup featured Sky Scraper Skip (“centre, right and left, fore and back,”) Spud Murphy (“goal defense and generally against Alta Lake making a goal,”) Gallopping Greenwood and GoGetter Gordon.

Despite having fewer players, Rainbow took an early lead that they kept for a final score of 7-1, though the accuracy of the score is questionable. According to the sports report, “before the first half of the first quarter was over the judges retired to the warmth of Cabin 8 and the score was rather hard to keep track of.”  

Clearly the residents treated this game with the utmost professionalism.

The opening of Whistler Mountain shifted the focus of winter sports away from Alta Lake, though it took only one winter with very little snow to return people to the lakes.  According to the Whistler Question, in January 1977, Whistler Mountain closed due to “adverse weather conditions.”

Instead skating, hockey, and even ice stock sliding kept the community busy.

Today, if the lakes have a safe layer of ice, ice skating and hockey games can still be seen on lakes throughout the valley.

Music for Midwinter

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate the season, the Whistler Museum will be hosting Music for Midwinter on Thursday (Dec. 28) at 5 p.m. Featuring local musicians on flute, oboe, harp and voice, this chamber music performance is by donation to the museum.

© Copyright Whistler Question

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