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Turns out he's living on the shores of Heffley Lake just south of Sun Peaks. Say what? Whistler's ultimate local has left the valley? A guy who held this place closer to his heart than anybody I know? Who marked his passage here with timeless characters and insightful observations? "Yep," says the 54-year-old with just a hint of irony, "I cashed out. Couldn't handle the bullshit anymore. I'd been thinking about leaving for a long time so when I quit working for the mountain in 2003 I decided it was time."
His real name is Gord Harder (get it? Rox Harder? Ha-ha). Whatever - the youngest of four boys, Gord grew up in New Westminster. One day his dad, Dr. Fred Harder, arrived home and announced to the family that he'd just acquired three mountain-lots sight unseen. "He bought them off a map," explains Gord. And laughs. "Paid $800 each, I think. They were in Alta Vista just across the road from the lake, and the only reason he didn't buy lakefront is that he was told it was all swampy there..." The year was 1964.
Those familiar with Whistler history know that the installation of mountain lifts was still a year away. It was Alta Lake that appealed to adventurous travellers in those days. And just getting there was a major achievement. "I remember the first time we went up," says Gord. "My dad thought they'd go for the day. But it took the whole weekend just to make it there and back!"
The Coast Mountains were a far more rugged challenge to transportation back then. Although the Vancouver-Squamish highway was paved, there were still some nasty spots to negotiate along the way. Still, it was once you left Howe Sound that the going got really rough. "It was pretty much single-track logging roads all the way to Alta Lake," laughs Gord. "And I would puke the whole way there."
But the family took to its new surroundings with alacrity and Dr. Fred and the boys had soon built a little cedar A-frame cabin on their lot.
As for skiing, it had always been part of the Harder clan's activities. "I'm so impressed," says Gord, "how my parents managed to get us all on skis by the time we were five." Before Whistler Mountain opened, the family would head south to Mt. Baker or maybe east to the Interior. But from the moment the lifts were in place above the lake, the Harders were in. "Fred was one of the first on-mountain doctors on Whistler," recounts his son proudly. And smiles at the memory. "I still remember him wearing those early Garibaldi Lifts coats with the doctors' red armband..."