By Geertje Ihde, Whistler Museum.
Even if gondola riders have only pitying glances for them, there is a rising number of ski tourers who enjoy earning their turns. The rush into the backcountry nowadays is the product of better equipment and marketing for powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders. But there were days when ski touring wasn’t fancy in Whistler – it was the only way to get around in the Alta Lake Valley.
Myrtle Philip (proprietor of Whistler’s first resort lodge, Rainbow Lodge) and resort guests first used skis in Whistler in the winter of 1916. At that time there was no ski lift, and people had to make their own way up the mountains. This was not a very popular activity with residents of the valley. And the few year-round residents who used cross-country skis to get around in the winter were doing so for practical rather than recreational reasons.
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. 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!”
Since then millions have visited Whistler for its downhill thrills, and it has become globally renowned as a skier’s and snowboarder’s paradise – with chair lifts or without.