Alta States 

The Generation That Started It All

My father-in-law passed away last week. A member of the original investment group that launched Whistler Mountain back in the mid-1960s, Tom Ladner was definitely of the old school. A celebrated war hero (with tales of valour that underscored just how different his generation was from mine), Tom loved the outdoors with a quiet passion that was best expressed by his favourite expression: "Remember your next astern!" And he took that dictum very seriously. He lived his life by example, and like so many of his generation, he gave more than he took.

Tom was the quintessential elder statesman – courteous, gracious and full of wisdom. And his Vancouver ski stories always made me smile.

"Skiing was definitely a big adventure in the old days," he would tell me. "We would leave our house at Granville and 25 th early in the morning, take the trolley car down to Burrard Inlet, board the ferry to West Vancouver (there was no bridge across the Inlet in those days), and once across, start climbing to Hollyburn." That part of the trip would take up most of the morning. If the day was a good one, Tom and his buddies might get one or two runs on top of the mountain before having to hit the trail for home again. "It really wasn’t about the number of runs you made in your day," he’d explain. "It was more about the people with whom you hiked and skied. It was as much a social affair as a physical one…"

Excuse me? A social affair? The walk up from tidewater to ski hut was roughly 4,000 vertical feet. There were no ski lifts yet built on the mountain – every moment of skiing pleasure was earned the hard way: by using climbing skins and muscle power. And given the North Shore’s notoriously fickle winter weather – and the permeability of that era’s ski clothing – chances were pretty good that Tom and his cohorts would reach the ferry mighty wet and cold at the end of the day. "I don’t remember people complaining much," Tom would respond in his typically understated manner. "But then it seems to me that people complained a lot less back then…."

Vancouver grew quickly during the post-war years. And with that growth came an increasing demand for recreational amenities. Back before Whistler Mountain was built, frustrated Vancouver skiers would head east to Banff for the Christmas holidays. Indeed – it became something of a pilgrimage for many of the city’s most prominent families. But it never sat right with Tom. "I always thought that our mountains were big enough and snowy enough to support a top-level ski area too," he’d tell me. "If they could do it in the Rockies, we certainly could in the Coast Range."

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