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Standing the test of time

Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club celebrates 60th Anniversary
retro-active Walter Preissl (left) and two Tyrol Ski Club members at the Diamond Head Ski Area in 1960. Photo suBmitted

In a transient town with people and businesses constantly coming and going, one club has stood the test of time. The Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club has celebrated its 60th anniversary at the Austrian Club in Richmond.

"We've kept a pretty low profile over the years," said Jim Brown, Tyrol Club President since 1989.

"It's only now because we've been here so long that people are starting to recognize that there's maybe some historical significance here. The interest started to build after our 40th anniversary for the lodge."

The roots of the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club trace back to the north shore mountain of Hollyburn, the epicentre of skiing in the Lower Mainland during the '40s and '50s. A group of Swiss, German and Austrian friends were either working at the ski school at Hollyburn or skiing there in the winter and decided to form their own ski club.

The first AGM was held at the Café Seabreeze in Vancouver's West End in the fall of 1952 with around 30 attendees. The original name for the organization was "The Austrian Ski and Mountain Club," however, given that World War II had ended just seven years earlier the less controversial name of "The Tyrol Club" was finally chosen instead. Tyrol is a province in western Austria that encompasses famous ski destinations such as Innsbruck and Kitzbühel.

While the aims of the club were to promote "skiing, hiking, touring and love of the mountains," social gatherings became as much a part of the club culture as did the outings. A little cabin at the base of Mount Seymour was purchased in 1955 and became a hotspot on the weekends, usually filling up during the week thanks to the attractive rate of 25 cents a night. Many Christmas and New Year's parties (as well as regular dances) went down at that cabin and it stood for 17 years before the Parks Board decided to try and clear the park of cabins in 1972.

In the late '50s Seymour was beginning to get crowded and the club was looking for a change. Founding member Stefan Ples had met a prospector in a shoemaker shop on Robson Street and the aging man agreed to let Tyrol members use his property to explore the mountains around Alta Lake. The prospector sadly died that year so his property on the shores of Alta Lake came up for sale. It was quickly purchased by the club. The land sat for a couple of years while keen Tyrol members ski toured in the surrounding mountains, which lead to Ples meeting Franz Wilhelmsen (soon to be president of the Garibaldi Lift Co.) and together they shared visions of developing a ski area at the base of London Mountain (now Creekside).

In 1962 Tyrol president Rolf Frowein landed an opportunity to buy five acres of land next to Nita Lake, where the current Tyrol Lodge sits. The cost was $5,000, far beyond what the club could afford, but through a joint purchase with the social club Sons of Norway, Tyrol was able to claim three of those five acres. A small hut was built initially (which still stands above the caretaker's house) for members to use as a base for ski touring and work on the member's lodge began in 1966, just in time for the opening of the newly named Whistler Mountain.

Today the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club has 366 members, mainly from the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Washington State. While the club has evolved over its lifetime, the process of attaining membership has not changed over the last 60 years.

"We have a lot of traditions that still are in place," said Brown.

"If someone wants to become a member they have to be referred by two (other members) and they have to come up on a work weekend and help us fix up the lodge. That way we can get to know them and they can get to know us. We fully expect that members will pitch in and repair the lodge as well."

But the traditions don't just revolve around membership, Tyrol has always been family friendly. Back in the '60s and '70s when Whistler was more of a recreational frontier than a resort town, many lodges such as the Tyrol existed. Over the years as more single family homes and complexes were built, many of the affordable, family-oriented lodges were lost.

"(The lodges) were a mainstay in those days, before all these gigantic hotels, condos, cabins and mansions," said local author Stephen Vogler, whose family lived in the caretaker's building during his teenage years in the '70s.

"To see places like that being used is nice because it keeps some of our history alive in the valley."

The history that Vogler speaks of tells the story of a lodge full of like-minded people, sharing facilities with respect and consideration for each other and letting the children play together in the games room while the adults chat and socialize in the lounge. There are few accommodations in Whistler today that can provide that experience at a competitive price, and even fewer that would go as far as banning TV. The Tyrol Lodge allows no TVs, DVDs or any kind of movie watching facilities at the lodge, following a policy of, "connect with people, not technology!"

By preserving its deeply-rooted European traditions and receiving the undying support of its members this unique piece of Whistler history has certainly stood the test of time.

"I think that because of the type of club we have, we're quite unique," said Brown.

"It's a venue for people to make very good friends. Skiing and snowboarding is a passion for a lot of people and the club offers a way for people of the same interest to get together. I see no reason why it couldn't continue for another 60 years, providing that those values don't change. There's people out there that really appreciate that and they're the people we attract."