"Love is a friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowance for human weakness."
- Ann Landers
They were both Austrian immigrants. She was a young widow with two toddlers. He was a fortysomething bachelor. She volunteered her time at the local community centre taking kids on mountain hikes around the Lower Mainland. He was a founding member of the legendary Tyrol Club, a ski instructor at Mt. Seymour and an accomplished mountaineer. It was a match made in alpine heaven. Still, they had to meet first. And when that finally happened at the Vancouver social club they both belonged to... well, let's just say it didn't take long for the two strangers to find common ground.
"I was working in the kitchen," recounts Erika Durlacher. "That's what you did in a small club like ours — everyone pitched in and helped." She stops. Gathers her thoughts. "So yes, I was in the kitchen that evening. And the band was playing and I loved to dance, and Peter loved to dance too. We had a great time..." She let's the end of the sentence drift a little. Smiles. "He was older than me, of course," she continues. "But I didn't really think about that. We were just having fun."
So much fun, in fact, that Erika made a fateful decision that evening. "I said to him: I'm taking some local families on a mountain hike tomorrow. If you want to come and guide us, you're welcome to do so." Another pause. "And he took me up on my offer. And, of course, he was a hit with everyone there — the ultimate sportsman, you know, the kind gentleman who takes care of all the kiddies."
It was August of 1977. Erika was barely into her thirties at that point — vivacious, attractive, smart... and leading a totally independent life as a single mum. It's not like she needed another husband; she was doing just fine on her own. But men like Peter Durlacher, she quickly realized, didn't come around all that often. And the friendship flourished.
"I remember one day," she says, "when my son asked Peter to attend one of his soccer games. 'I need a daddy,' he said. 'Will you be my daddy?'" A few beats go by. She takes a trembly breath. And another. But she doesn't cry. "That was so touching," she says, her voice steady now. "And Peter was so good with the kids. And we all got along so nicely together. And, well... that's how it all started."
Peter and Erika were married in May of '78. "We've been together ever since," she adds. "And he's been a wonderful husband and father. Peter, you see, always had a quiet and gentle manner. And he still has a quiet, gentle manner." Her tone changes, becomes darker. "But the doctors... they tell me I can't even count on that anymore..."
Everyone knows the Durlacher Hof. Located just off the highway on Nesters Road, the Inn's distinctive Tyrolean lines and impeccably maintained grounds have become something of a Whistler landmark. Owned and operated by Peter and Erika for the last quarter-century — "we bought the land just after Expo '86," Erika tells me, "and with the help of friends in the trades we built the actual chalet in less than six months!" — the success of Durlacher Hof was predicated on an old school idea: providing friendly, mountain-style hospitality with a personal flair.
And it worked. It was never easy, says Erika. And the workload took up an inordinate amount of their time. Still, it allowed the couple to lead the kind of outdoor lifestyle that both enjoyed. That is, until Peter fell ill in 2006. Then it became a chore. "I still host a few guests," says Erika. "But now it's mostly to fulfill contracts with longtime associates. It's just too big a job to do by myself. And with Peter needing more and more attention...." She sighs. "Sometimes it's embarrassing, you know. It's hard in public when other people don't really understand what's going on with him. But I've gotten over that." She shrugs. Sighs. "People need to understand — life doesn't always turn out the way you want it to."