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Museum Musings: Summer and races featured at the Whistler Museum

For many, the month of May signals either the end of the ski season or the beginning of the summer season in Whistler, or possibly both.
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Dag Aabye runs downhill with his skis during the Great Snow Earth Water Race.

For many, the month of May signals either the end of the ski season or the beginning of the summer season in Whistler, or possibly both. In the 1950s and early 1960s, this change of season was marked by the first dance of the season at the Alta Lake Community Hall. As the area began to be known for skiing rather than its summer activities, other kinds of events became more common such as races and competitions.

In May of 1975, Bryan Walhovd organized a race that would become a long-running springtime staple in Whistler: the Great Snow Earth Water Race. When it began, the four stages of the relay race were skiing, cycling, canoeing and running. The teams of five were required to have at least one woman on each team. The race started on Whistler Mountain, where skiers raced to the end of the snow and then had to make their way down to the gondola base in today’s Creekside, ensuring that they still had their skis and boots with them. From there, the baton was passed to a cyclist who rode around Alta Lake to pass the baton to the two canoeists. Canoes then travelled to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams before passing the baton to the team’s runner for the final leg of the race back to the gondola base.

Whenever conversations turn to the Great Snow Earth Water Race, those who have participated invariably describe how much they enjoyed the experience. The first years of the race did not have many rules, leading to inventive ways of getting around the course and memorable stories featuring motorcycles, trucks, and even downloading in the gondola with varying degrees of success. It would appear that the race made a lasting impression on those who attended whether they were running down Whistler Mountain with ski boots around their neck or watching the chaos of the canoes. 

To find out more about the race and those who raced in it, the Whistler Museum is adding an extra event to our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series on Tuesday, May 25. We’ll be speaking with Bryan Walhovd, Nancy Raine, Trudy Alder, and others to learn more about this race that is remembered so fondly.

While this will be the last event of our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series (we will be hosting April’s postponed event on freestyle skiing at a later yet-to-be-determined date), we are busy at the museum preparing for an exciting summer. Our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour will run daily through July and August, with the same precautions and restrictions that we introduced last year. Crafts in the Park, a partner program with the Whistler Public Library, will also return this summer in a remote format. Thanks to Young Canada Works, we’ll have help with our programs and museum operations in the form of two student employees.

You can find out more about upcoming programs and events and the latest museum updates at whistlermuseum.org.