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Tyrol Lodge at 50

Ski club looks to the future with a foot firmly planted in the past



Look around Whistler these days and there's plenty of change afoot. But there's a rustic cabin tucked away on the west side of Nita Lake that has resisted the glitz and glam of the modern ski resort built around it, preserving a piece of Whistler's past that has gone largely unchanged since it first opened its doors in 1966: the Tyrol Ski Lodge.

The home of the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club, which now counts around 400 members, the lodge was modelled after the traditional ski lodges of Europe. Its immigrant founders were also sure to bring the culture of their homelands to the slopes of Whistler, creating a communal atmosphere that's still an essential part of the club's DNA. You won't find any TVs or hot tubs here. The kitchen and washrooms are shared. The rooms are cramped and the walls are thin — I'm told you can hear the snores of fellow guests from three doors down.

But what you will find is a community of outdoor lovers and ardent skiers spanning three generations who have grown to become more than that; they are family.

And like any family, they've seen their fair share of ups and downs, but at the end of it all, as countless other local institutions have come and gone, the Tyrol Lodge remains, defiant as ever. So, with the lodge celebrating its 50th anniversary last Saturday, Aug. 27, Pique caught up with former club president Jim Brown.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

PIQUE: What makes this place so special to you and the club's members?

JIM BROWN: I came to the lodge (in 1985) and fell in love with it right away. I thought, 'This is skiing.' Of course skiing with European skiers, I learned that the Canadian way didn't really cut it. I became a pretty good skier, but it was the social aspect after that was so good. You started making friends. I had high-stress jobs and on Friday nights you packed the kids in the car and by Monday morning I had no idea what was so important on Friday.

PIQUE: How has the club resisted the pressure to modernize?

JB: We have done some changes over the years ... but it's the members that want to keep it as it is. There have been members that have said we better get a hot tub, we should do this or do that. Well, that takes money, that takes maintenance. We're here to ski.

People live very complex lives these days. This is a place that's very simple. We don't want to make it complex. It's really worked well for us. For instance, we don't have TV. There were a lot of members who wanted TV. We did bring in a big-screen once and that was just for the Olympics.

PIQUE: It sounds like club members have made the choice to sacrifice creature comforts for the social atmosphere here.

JB: If you get this place full on a weekend, there'll be 50 people here. So how do you all get along? Well, you learn consideration and respect. You learn patience, because you may want to cook your meal, but the stoves are busy. So you learn to get along.

This is not for everybody. But the people who like it, love it.

PIQUE: What do you attribute the club's staying power to?

JB: There used to be 14, 15 lodges operating just like this (in Whistler) and we're the only one left. Why? Because of the people that care about it. They make things happen. We've had challenges in the past, we've overcome them. We have current challenges and we'll overcome those, and we'll have future challenges. But if the members really want to keep this place, then they'll step up to the plate.