Whistler remembers the beginner ski hill of its past 

Museum event reflects on Rainbow Ski Hill

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - Fond Memories  Tom Jarvis, Tommy Thompson, and John Lee (pictured left to right) spoke of old memories of the Rainbow Ski Hill at an event on Jan. 26
  • Photo by Joel Barde
  • Fond Memories Tom Jarvis, Tommy Thompson, and John Lee (pictured left to right) spoke of old memories of the Rainbow Ski Hill at an event on Jan. 26

In the late 1960s and 1970s Whistler was a very different place. In addition to the town's dump being situated in what is now Whistler Village, the community boasted its very own beginner-friendly ski area.

On Jan. 26, Whistlerites filled the Whistler Museum in order to hear tales of the storied Rainbow Ski Hill. Many held personal memories of the hill — known simply as "Rainbow" — and reminisced about the old times with the featured speakers.

Opened in the winter of 1969-70 with one 422-metre tow-lift, Rainbow served as an alternative to Whistler Mountain and quickly developed a set of locals of its own.

Night skiing and reasonable rates — an adult pass for day and evening was $3, while a child's was $1.50 — made Rainbow a great place to learn to ski.

The evening kicked off with a short talk from John Lee, who took a job as a cook at the hill's daylodge. About a dozen people threw up their hands enthusiastically when he asked the crowd who had skied at the hill

"People always ask, was it better?" said Lee. "It was really different back then. Loggers and hippies were one degree apart, and it was an entrepreneur's playground!"

During his talk, Lee — who went on to have a long career cooking at the Rimrock Cafe — drew a picture of a family friendly ski hill that introduced many to the sport.

To ski Whistler, you had to be tough," he recalled, adding that the moguls on the ski-out were the size of Volkswagens. "At the end of the day you were dead," he noted.

One of Rainbow's defining elements was its 30-metre ski jump, which allowed the mountain to become a stop on the B.C. ski-jump circuit. The only problem with it was its run out — or lack there of.

"Basically you had to do a quick snowplow, and throw (your skis) sideways, and then you'd try not to hit the bank," recalled Tommy Thompson, a jumper who learned on the hill and went on to compete on the World Cup circuit.

One time, he went right over the bank, and cartwheeled down to the creek. His mom came running towards him. "I went 'mom, how far did I jump?'"

Rainbow was a fun place to be, recalled Thompson. Even his dad, an inexperienced skier, would venture on to the slopes. "Everybody could have an amazing time at Rainbow because it was a beginner's area."

The evening concluded with a talk from Tom Jarvis, who purchased the operation from Norm Paterson of Capilano Highlands Ltd. and ran it from 1978 to 1981. Located between Alpine and Emerald, Jarvis figured he could develop the area, creating housing.

Municipal council, however, was focused on developing the town centre and his grand idea got "lost in the dust." That said, Jarvis — whose presentation was made up of a series of funny anecdotes — doesn't hold any ill will. "That's OK — we had a great time there," he said.

During his time at Rainbow, Jarvis opened and operated Beau's Restaurant, which quickly became a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, boasting quality food prepared by French chefs. One night, a representative for Margaret Trudeau — wife of the then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau — wanted to squeeze in a reservation.

"We had to tell the representative that they couldn't do it," said Jarvis. "To make a long story short, we had to turn them down."

Despite the good times, eventually Jarvis was forced to close the ski hill and restaurant. Business-wise, it was no longer viable.

Said Jarvis: "We finally had to walk away from it. But the years that it did exist were great."

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