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Museum Musings: Whistler’s early ski swaps

'When looking into the stories behind the photographs, we often find connections to other images...'
Dave Murray saws through an old wooden ski at the opening of Skyline Sports in Kerrisdale.

In 2018, we began a weekly post on our Whistorical blog featuring a selection of photographs and captions taken during that week from each year that was represented in the collection of negatives from the Whistler Question Collection. “This Week In Photos” has become a useful starting point to learn more about what was happening in Whistler at any given time (between 1978 and 1985).

When looking into the stories behind the photographs, we often find connections to other images. Some of these connections are unexpected, such as crowds of cars outside the Myrtle Philip School in November and ski racer Dave Murray sawing through a ski at the opening of a sports store in Vancouver in August.

The photograph of a crowd of cars was captured at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club’s (WMSC) fourth annual Ski Swap in 1979. The first Annual Ski Swap in Whistler was held on November 13, 1976, when skiers of all levels were encouraged to bring in their extra or outgrown equipment and clothing to sell or trade. A percentage of the proceeds made from the sales went to support the WMSC junior racing program.

The gear brought in by local skiers was supplemented by leftover articles from the Vancouver Ski Swap and, with prices ranging from $2 for some of the clothing to $200 for boots, the WMSC was able to raise about $500. According to WMSC spokesperson Hugh McLennan, the sale “was an overall success, with very little theft of the merchandise on display.”

The Ski Swap continued to be a successful fundraiser for the WMSC, as well as a great place to find a deal on equipment. By 1979, the event drew hundreds of people to Myrtle Philip School, their cars filling the school parking lot and spilling over onto the street. Like in previous years, the equipment and clothing brought by skiers was added to by wholesalers, such as a Vancouver company that brought boxes of incorrectly-sized wool sweaters to sell at greatly discounted prices, and by store owners such as Casey Niewerth of Skyline Sports, who brought in any stock left from the previous winter.

Niewerth founded Skyline Sports in North Vancouver in the 1950s as Vancouver’s second ski shop. He began by selling the sample skis wholesalers would bring to show department stores, ordering another pair once the first one was sold, and by the 1960s had expanded to include other sports and activities in a larger space, including a workshop for setting, repairing, and putting edges on skis.

In early 1966, when Whistler Mountain officially opened for skiing, Niewerth and his young family began skiing in the area, buying a lot in Alta Vista in the spring and moving into their newly completed cabin less than a week before Christmas that year. Like most stores at the time, Skyline Sports was closed on Sundays, and during the ski season the family would drive up late Saturday evening in order to be at the base of the mountain for ski school on Sunday morning.

Niewerth built up a loyal clientele at Whistler Mountain, in particular by offering free binding adjustments behind the bullwheel of the Red Chair.

Just a few months before the 1979 Ski Swap, the Niewerths expanded Skyline Sports further by opening a new store in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. The opening of the 6,000-sq.-ft. space replaced the usual ribbon-cutting ceremony with Crazy Canuck Dave Murray sawing through a 25-year-old ski, an event captured and reproduced in the Whistler Question.

After the opening event, the new Skyline Sports location opened to the public with a “Super Ski Sale” where skiers could get the latest equipment ahead of the coming season. Like the Ski Swap raised money for the WMSC racing program, the Super Ski Sale was also a fundraiser for the Canadian National Ski Team, and any donations made to the team of more than $5 during the sale would be matched by the store.

There are many photos of Ski Swaps in the Whistler Question Collection, and even some more of events involving Skyline Sports. Though the retail locations of Skyline Sports closed in the 1990s, Niewerth remains an important part of the community, and the WMSC Annual Ski Swap continues to raise money for the club and its racing programs each fall.