By Francois Lepine
Thirty years ago this week (Jan. 15
Mountain closed and remained closed for a month.
The 1976-77 ski season had started normally enough but in
December a pineapple express came through and it rained heavily to 10,000 feet,
then it turned clear and cold.
Whistler had no snowmaking of any kind. Up until then the mere
mention of snowmaking usually brought chuckles to all who knew the mountain. In
its 10 year history a lack of snow had never been a problem for “The powder
snow capital of Canada”, as the young resort liked to bill itself. In fact the
reverse was true. Snowstorms of epic proportions routinely closed the road to
Squamish and often delayed lift openings for several hours or even a whole day.
The mountain tried valiantly to retain staff for the upcoming
Christmas season but operated on a limited basis. Having a job did not
necessarily mean that you had a paycheque. When snow did not materialize
layoffs began and the crew got smaller and smaller.
Skiing was limited to the Green Chair and even then the bottom
half was only kept open by fencing off the runs down the middle and moving all
available snow from one side to the other, most of it by hand shoveling. Ski
patrollers were all issued hockey sticks and told to ski around looking for
“floaters” (loose rocks in the thin snow pack) and fire them off into the bush.
The only access back to midstation for the download to the
valley each day was the Pony Trail, and keeping the bypass section of that run
skiable was a challenge. Every night the cat crew hauled snow in trailers from
the alpine and spent the entire night rebuilding it. Every afternoon after
ski-out it looked like a rock garden.
To preserve this skiing surface for its crucial afternoon use,
the Pony Trail was closed, fenced off and guarded every day until 2:30 p.m. The
skiing conditions were rugged, to say the least. If you did not own a pair of
“rock skis” you had one in a couple of days. Because of this, Diamond Jim was
doing a booming business in the rental shop, but his brand new equipment was
being destroyed at a furious rate. He could be seen at the top of the bypass
everyday when it opened and would hail people on rental skis and tell them in
no uncertain terms to take their/his skis off and walk down the rockiest