Opinion » Alta States

Renate Bareham – Being Stefan Ples' Daughter



"Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more."

- Writer Robin Hobb

She grew up In Vancouver's West End – in a classic fin-de-siècle Victorian rooming house run by her parents. English Bay was a stone's throw away. The beach was virtually in her backyard and she played there almost every day. As for the rambling old house, it was mostly filled with ex-pats referred by the Austrian consulate. The place, she says, happily exuded the gemutlichkeit of her father's birth-country.

In other words, life was pretty darn good for the young fourteen-year old when her dad announced they were picking up stakes and moving to the family's mountain cabin. Say what?

The year was 1966. A new ski hill was about to open just across the lake from the weekend getaway her dad had bought a few years before. It was called Whistler Mountain; her dad was actually helping to design and cut the runs there. People said the monster ski hill with the flashy silver gondolas was going to be a game changer. She didn't know anything about that. All she knew was that her own life was about to change... in a big way.

Indeed. Imagine leaving downtown Vancouver (as provincial as it still was in those days) for the wilds of Alta Lake. Highway 99 had just been built and was barely passable... on a good day. There were few amenities in the valley yet: grocery shopping, banking, medical or dental issues — even attending school — meant a long and harrowing road trip down to Squamish. It was as close to edge-of-the-world living as you could get.

And for a young teenager in the mid 1960s, moving to Alta Lake must have felt a bit like being sent into exile. No?

Renate Bareham doesn't answer right away. Instead she smiles. "Just like my dad, I was in love with skiing," she says. "So I was really excited to move up full time. Now, I'd be able to ski every weekend. And that was just fine by me."

Nobody talks about Stefan Ples much anymore. Like so many of Whistler's early pioneers, his story has slowly begun to fade from view. But back in the old days — back before Whistler went, dare I say, mainstream — Stefan Ples embodied the heart and soul of this new mountain community.

You see, long before the Garibaldi Olympic Development Committee was formed, long before Franz Wilhelmsen alighted on the peak of London Mountain in a rented helicopter, Stefan Ples had already hiked and skied all over these peaks.