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A barrel full of history floating ever forward

One of Whistler’s oldest traditions, the Alta Lake Ice Break Up Raffle dates to the late 1950s–early 1960s.

On Easter weekend 2002 Stephen Vogler peered out of the dining room window in the cabin he shares with his family above the old Whistler Hostel on the shores of Alta Lake. His view that day contained a still frozen Alta Lake, a question of the past and a real opportunity for the future for the avid local historian and author.

"The lake was still covered in snow and something just popped into my head about this old Alta Lake tradition where a barrel used to be put on the lake and people tried to guess when the ice would break up and the barrel would float by Cypress Point. This was a raffle to raise funds for local initiatives," Vogler recalls. "Two days later I had rounded up a 45-gallon barrel and I had it in a canoe and was trying to deal with fairly rotten ice to get it out to the middle... I was late in the game that year and it was a bit hairy, but it all worked out."

With that slushy canoe ride, Vogler had connected his passion for history and the burgeoning Whistler Waldorf School with the Alta Lake Ice Break Up raffle and an old Alta Lake community tradition was reborn. Every year since, the Whistler Waldorf School has ran the raffle, giving cash and gift prizes to the top three best guesses and using raffle revenue to support the Whistler Waldorf School, an independent school this year celebrating its tenth birthday with over 80 students enrolled from preschool through Grade 8.

Participating in the raffle is simple; find someone with tickets to buy, and use whatever science, sorcery or serendipity you can conjure to deduce when the ice will break and the date and time the barrel floats past Cypress Point where the old Whistler Hostel stands guard over the lakeshore and the history of the town that came before Whistler -- Alta Lake.

Last year's winner, Frank "Garage Sale" Salter, pocketed the $250 first prize and got to put the prestigious Ice Break Up trophy up in his clandestine Creekside ski museum cave with a guess of March 27 at 4:30 p.m. Actual time the barrel floated past Cypress Point: 1:17 a.m., March 28, 2010.

"I would like to say I pored over stats from the last number of years, and added the science of global warming and weather forecasts for this spring," Salter says. "In fact, it was just a random guess... I'm reluctant to discuss my guessing methodology as I'm looking for a repeat."

One of Whistler's oldest traditions, the Alta Lake Ice Break Up Raffle dates to the late 1950s-early 1960s and was started by the Alta Lake Community Club to raise money for the valley's first Volunteer Fire Department. Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives, was the contests' first winner. This year, raffle proceeds will be used to build a new pre-school play structure at the Whistler Waldorf School in Spruce Grove Park

Vogler has many tales to tell about placing the barrel in the middle of Alta Lake, all of them involve inherent risk, some fun and a commitment to make sure Whistler never forgets our history. The canoe plays heavily in the barrel's placement and eventual retrieval. A Vogler tip: "Snowshoes are a liability if you think you may go for a swim in an icy lake."

"What I really like about the barrel raffle is that it's like a string that ties the old community of Alta Lake in this valley to the new community of Whistler," Vogler says after placing the barrel in early February this year. "I was going to go play hockey on Green Lake and I couldn't find my skates. I figured that was a good reason to go and get the barrel out there."

This year, it's anybody's guess. Tickets go on sale February 14, 2011 and are available from any Whistler Waldorf parent or student. Watch for the kids flogging tickets at Nesters Market over the coming weeks.

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