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The Outsider: Whistler Bowl, 60 years later

Summer skiing is somewhat of a novelty. Those who partake in the niche activity of seeking snow during the hottest months of the year tend to fall into two camps.
Summer skiing conditions in Whistler have changed drastically over the past six decades.

Summer skiing is somewhat of a novelty. Those who partake in the niche activity of seeking snow during the hottest months of the year tend to fall into two camps.

There are the one-and-doners, who are initially reluctant to get involved in a full day of walking for not very much skiing, but are convinced by a friend that it’ll be “totally worth it.” After returning home with a sunburn, some photos and a few more core shots, the one-and-doners consider the box checked and move forward, letting skiing reside in the winter months where it belongs.

Then there are the summer skiing lifers. They spend their winters sliding on snow, but also monitor the snowpack and backcountry conditions for prime summer skiing missions. Some go as far as needing to ski every month of the year, however dismal the conditions. The feeling of sliding on snow in the mountains is something these folks are unable to replicate with other activities, hence the obsessive planning and execution of their (arguably necessary) summer backcountry ski days.

I recently had a Pique reader reach out about a story of skiing in August, before skiing in August was ever really a thing. Bob Calladine skied Whistler Bowl (well before it was named Whistler Bowl) in the summer of 1963. To those who aren’t versed in our local history, this was a full three years before the resort existed.

Calladine had teamed up with his cousin, fellow Canadian National Ski Team member Karen Vagelatos (who went on to be a two-time Olympian) and their ski coach Lorne O’Connor. They were tasked with hiking up from near the base of the mountain (now Creekside) to capture some film footage for Franz Wilhelmsen, who was seeking investment in the Garibaldi Lift Company to kick-start the ski area. Those old film reels were recently unearthed in a Whistler attic, and have been handed to the Whistler Museum, so we may soon get to watch one of our town’s earliest ski movies.

“We drove up from Vancouver in a van, and everything north of Squamish was a logging road,” recalls Vagelatos. “We camped at (what is now) the timing flats and then began hiking up Whistler Creek the next morning. There were no lift lines or ski runs cut yet. There was logging up to the timing flats, but everything after that was slogging uphill without a trail, over and under fallen trees. It was difficult. It was the first time I’d done anything like this. I was 16 years old.”

Calladine remembers the frustration of carrying their skis up to the snowline more vividly.

“It was an experience,” he says. “The skis were over two metres long and when hitched to your pack they would catch all the tree branches, then if you lowered them they would hit the back of your boots when you’re hiking up a slope as steep as Franz’ Run. We were all skiing in laced leather boots—buckles had barely been invented yet.”

The trip was successful. The trio managed to reach what is now named Whistler Bowl, capture some photos and film footage, hike back down to Creekside then drive all the way back to Vancouver. Back in August of this year, Calladine, Vagelatos and some friends decided to return to the site of their summer skiing mission 60 years later, this time with the assistance of the Whistler Village Gondola and—given the state of the summer snowpack—without skis. While a commemorative occasion for these
lifetime locals, the state of this glacier in 2023 was, for lack of a better word, sad.

“In the film footage of us skiing Whistler Bowl in ’63, there was so much snow in August you could have jumped right off Liftie’s Leap,” says Calladine. “Glacier Bowl (below what is now The Saddle) stretched about 20 metres below where the T-bar starts. Before COVID, these glaciers had already receded quite a lot, but I think they’ve whittled down to almost nothing just in the last four years or so.”

After more than six decades of skiing Whistler Mountain, Vagelatos has an equally hard time recognizing its alpine slopes in the summer.

“Basically, there’s nothing left,” she says. “For quite a long time there was good coverage when you look up Whistler Bowl in the summertime. It’s more over the last 10 years or so that it really began to disappear.”

I’ve been skiing Whistler Bowl since the winter of 2004, and like all the locals here, I’ve said goodbye to some of its iconic ski entrances, Liftie’s Leap being one of them. What was a steep chute that you could confidently drop into on a winter pow day is now more or less an unskiable cliff. Like most alpine slopes in our corner of the Coast Mountains, summer skiing is gone from Whistler Bowl. With the temperature trends we’ve had in recent years, it won’t be long before skiing in August will be a concept viewed in history books.

Best get it checked off your list sooner rather than later.

Vince Shuley is more of a spring skier than a summer skier. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider, email or Instagram @whis_vince.