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Museum Musings: Whistler’s cross-country roots

In the winter months, the Alta Lake Sports Club was all about cross-country skiing
Competitors in the Labatt race cross the bridge on the Lost Lake Trail course in February 1980.

While the Alta Lake Sports Club (ALSC) was founded in 1975 to “organize and encourage participation in outdoor sports at all levels of ability in the Whistler area and beyond,” in the winter months, the ALSC was all about cross-country skiing. Members organized events in Whistler and competed in races with other clubs around the province, although they got off to a rocky start in 1976-77, when a particularly mild winter forced one event after another to be cancelled or moved to Manning Park. By 1980, however, the ALSC was consistently hosting multiple races each season, and the first few months of the year were busy ones for members.

In January 1980, members of the ALSC travelled to 100 Mile House to take part in the Cariboo Marathon, a 50-kilometre race with 1,500 competitors that took place in “extremely cold” and “frigid” temperatures, according to a report in the Whistler Question. The ALSC was well-represented in the women’s division of the Marathon, with members Joan McGrath, Loreen Barnett and Betty Ann Hopner taking first, second and fourth places, respectively. Catherine Gaarder and Jenny Busdon, both ALSC members, provided a picture-perfect finish after they met at the 15-km mark and crossed the finish line with their hands together after five hours and 10 minutes.

ALSC members did not fare so well in the men’s division, where the Finlandia Club from Vancouver swept the first five spots. Some members were out with injuries or working out of the country, while others ran into difficulties during the race. Al Fisher, the ALSC coach, ended up in the trees around the 20-km mark, was knocked unconscious, broke his nose, recovered… and made it to the finish line in 13th place. Both he and Nello Busdon ended up at the hospital with frostbite.

On Feb. 10, the ALSC and Labatt hosted their annual meet on the trails around Lost Lake with a 25-km course for racers and a 12-km course for tourers and “youngsters.” The ALSC was well-represented in both divisions this time, with McGrath again coming first in her category and Dan McDonald placing third in his, behind two members of the Finlandia Club.

Later that month, ALSC members competed at the BC Championship Cross-Country Ski meet held in Manning Park, where they came second in the 3x5-km relay (coming in just behind the Finlandia Club team).

The last big race that year for the ALSC was the 4th Annual Fischer Cup, again held around Lost Lake. The rain and warm weather before the race had some members wondering if the race would go ahead, but according to Jenny Busdon, “we are an optimistic bunch and one thing our club never does is give up!”

The race director, Jim Bishop, took three days off from his work in the city and spent two days shovelling with other members to build a new course that eliminated previous problem areas that caused “scenes of absolute bedlam” whenever one skier went down. In the end, the 15-km course was in “fantastic” condition for the race.

At this last race of the season, McDonald took first, finally coming ahead of the “seemingly unbeatable Finns.” The event also included an elementary-age race where new ALSC skiers, some of whom had only tried the sport a few times before, got a taste of competition over five km. The Fischer Cup was followed by a medals ceremony, prizes from Fischer, Labatt, Andres Wine, the Highland Lodge, and Molson, and a dance at the school, where the social aspects of belonging to a club took precedence over the competition.

Through the 1980s, the ALSC hosted fewer skiing events as the newly formed Whistler Nordic Ski Club grew. On Monday, Feb. 5, we’ll be joined at the Lost Lake PassivHaus by Tom Barratt, Keith Bennett and Stephanie Sloan to learn more about how Nordic skiing developed in the area, how the Whistler Nordic Ski Club came to be, and more at our first Speaker Series of 2024.

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