IT IS odd to see a young man packing a pair of skis over his shoulders on a mild drizzly day through the streets of Vancouver, but glance across the harbor to North Vancouver and there, just behind the city across the water, rearing its head 4,200 feet above sea level midst a score of other towering peaks, you will see snow-coated Grouse Mountain. From Vancouver the upper half of the mountain presents a greyish-white color, but take a twenty-minute ferry trip across the harbor, then a twenty-minute car ride through North Vancouver to the lower slopes of the mountain, and then start up the trail. There you will find the purest of white snow, as deep as eight feet. Go on up the trail for an hour and a half, and you will come to the Grouse Mountain Ski Club headquarters.
If you are a city individual unaccustomed to the great outdoors this will be a hard climb for you, but on a Saturday afternoon the trail will be fairly congested with young men and girls hiking up the four-thousand-foot mountain. To them this first climb is part of the fun; it gives them their second wind after a week in the stuffy city offices. For the lazier and wealthier enthusiasts there is a good, well-kept road to the top.
The balmy slopes of the Pacific possess possibly the youngest ski club in the Dominion. It was formed three years ago by a group of young skiers who had dared the stares and giggles of the uninitiated along the city streets, and carried their skis up the mountain for a few hours sport in the snow. Last year the club had eighty members, and this year applications bring the total to 150. In addition there are about 300 unattached skiers who go up Grouse almost every week-end, and, note you, skiing on Vancouver’s mountain is available from early December until late May. The club numbers more than two dozen lady members and some noted Scandinavian runners and jumpers. Last year’s president was Olav Tollefsen, who made a place on the Olympic team the year before last, but did not go to the contests.
The club members have built two great cabins on top of the mountain and these provide sleeping quarters for the stay over Saturday night. One cabin is set aside for the ladies and the other for the men. The members carry up their own blankets and their own grub for the week-ends. The camp is not a hotel. It is merely a forest shelter where you can have your meals, get warmed, and secure a bunk with a mattress of fir boughs. There’s always a fire in the big fireplace and a welcome from this crowd.
Throughout Saturday afternoon skiers are arriving at the camp, and there is good time for some exhilarating runs before dark. There is a jolly social evening after supper, but early to bed is the order, for the keen mountain air produces a sleepiness, and besides, the best of the week-end jaunt starts well before dawn on Sunday. Parties will then be setting off for Hollyburn peak (4,760 feet), getting there in time to watch the sun rise. When you arrive at the top the great city of Vancouver at your feet is twinkling like a huge dark grey carpet studded with small lights. The sun creeps up and the figures of the skiers throw elongated shadows across the pure white snow. Owing to your elevation you are watching the sun some fifteen minutes before it is visible in the city, even if it can penetrate and disperse the fog and haze. The sight from Hollyburn peak has truly been worth the wrench from the warm blankets into the snappy air.
Back to a steaming hot breakfast, and then fun for the rest of the day on the 175-foot jump, and up and down the ski runs round about the camp. Sunday evening sees the returning skiers with ruddy faces and swinging stride, vitality recharged by two days sport outdoors, ready for another week’s work, waiting for another week-end.
IN THE interior of British Columbia is Revelstoke, the little city of the Selkirks, designated “The Capital of Canada’s Alps” and “The Mountain Paradise,” older than Vancouver in skiing history. For years and years Revelstoke was merely a city of heavy snowfall, but just before the war someone suggested a ski club and the idea caught the popular imagination. A small hill was constructed and a few pairs of skis imported. But enthusiasm grew so fast that there was a great clamor for skis, and whole carloads had to be shipped to the city. Every backyard had its little skiing knoll where youngsters with diminutive skis tied to their shoes slid and tumbled down.
The first ski tournament was held in 1914, and it marked the turning point, or starting point, in Revelstoke’s history. On the day of the contests a huge parade was formed on Main Street and, headed by the town band, up the hill went the great crowd. The event was a great success, and it continued to grow, even during the war, and soon the tournament became of international importance. Skiers from all over Canada and the United States were attracted.
Then in 1924 a local boy, one of the young pioneers of skiing in Revelstoke, Nels Nelson, jumped 240 feet to capture the world’s jumping record. On the same day Miss Isobel Coursier, also of Revelstoke, acquired the world’s title for ladies by jumping 149 feet. In 1926 Miss Coursier was a student at McGill University and competed at Montreal and Quebec. Nelson also went east and jumped at all the principal cities there. His younger brother is skiing instructor at the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec, while Nels is a trainman on the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The annual Revelstoke tournament has now grown into an outdoor winter carnival lasting a week.
J. S. Shaw, an old Montreal boy, headed the ski club committee which worked on a still further development—a project by which Revelstoke would provide enough attraction each winter to make it a winter sports centre rivalling anything to be found in Switzerland. From Montreal Mr. Shaw went to Kingston, and as a young man he used to spend his evenings skating up and down the long expanse of Lake Ontario at Kingston between the penitentiary and the Royal Military College.
Thus is Revelstoke capitalizing its great annual snowfall.
Banff’s Skiing Pioneer
E W. E. ROUND
THE introduction of the “ski-bug” in Banff is a story in itself—that of a humble immigrant laborer who left “his footprint on the sands of time” so indelibly that the years will never efface it; rather will their work be that of enhancement.
It is a far cry from a small town in Sweden to Banff, Alberta; yet Gus Johnson, the father of skiing in Banff, was born in that far-off country. In his native land, a country where skiing has important utilitarian applications, where it is as great a part of the life of the people as motoring is becoming in this country, Gus became a skier of repute.
In 1918 he emigrated to Canada and settled for a short time near Camrose, Alberta, where live many famous skiers, among them J. Nordmoe, the Western Canada All-Round Ski Champion. After a short residence in the northern section of the province he moved to Banff, where he found occupation as a teamster and later as a truck driver.
In those days skiing was not new to Banff. Many exhibitions of ski-jumping, professional and amateur, had been seen at the annual Banff Winter Sports Carnivals. The sport and recreation of skiing, however, had no adherents among the local people.
During the first winter of his residence in Banff, Gus gathered around him young lads of ’teen age, and started instructing them in the art that he loved so dearly. As their education progressed he saw them pass through the various grades, or classes, of ski-jumping, from class E, the lowest, to A, the highest. When they became proficient in cross-country skiing he took them on long trips through the high mountain valleys and over the passes.
For two or three winters Gus and the boys thus enjoyed themselves. Then to the man—humble laborer as he was,—a vision was given. He foresaw the day when Banff and the Canadian Rockies would be a national, if not an international, centre for winter sports; and under the spell of, and with faith in, the vision, he began laying the foundation for that day.
A thousand feet above Banff, yet only a forty minutes walk for a novice and less for a mountaineer, lies a valley that is
full of winter sports facilities. On one side are the gullied slopes of majestic Mount Norquay, and on the other the pine-clothed Stony Squaw Mountain raises its head. The valley is narrow and extends for several miles into the silent places.
The slopes of the greater mountain provide innumerable lengthy natural ski runs of varying gradients, suitable for the use of skiers of all classes from beginners to experts. Up there, the snow falls early and stays late. Storms that are responsible for but a few inches of snow in the Bow Valley in which Banff lies, leave from one to two feet in the small upper valley. Many times during the winter when the heavens are merely overcast at Banff, snow can be seen falling in the higher altitudes; the first fall rains in Banff are snowstorms up there.
Early in December and sometimes in November, skiing conditions in the little valley are ideal, even though farther down there is as yet no snow. Long after winter has released its icy grip on the Bow River, for weeks after the pussy willows and early mountain flowers have bloomed, even for weeks after tennis, golf and other summer sports have commenced in Banff, skiing and snowshoeing are not only possible but enjoyable in that higher altitude.
A Dream Come True
ALL this Guy saw and later confided his ideas to his boys. In the little valley he showed them the site he had chosen for a cabin, and also where the greatest ski-jump in the country could be built without great expense. Even skating, he pointed out, could be provided there with but very little outlay.
His enthusiasm animated the boys; with Gus they began building the first of the slides. Then—skidding truck-wheels —a terrific impact—weeks of lingering illness, and the soul of the dreamer passed to the Great Beyond; but his work livea on, and his visions are becoming realities.
Lacking a leader, the boys drifted aimlessly for a season; then, headed by three of Gus’s most enthusiastic pupils, the White brothers, Clifford and “Jack,” and Cyril Paris, they erected the Mount Norquay Ski Camp on the site chosen by their beloved tutor.
Facing the camp are the slopes of Mount Norquay, and down these they built many ski-runs, all converging on the camp. A toboggan slide, as an added
attraction, was also made. The slide, the building of which was interrupted by death, they have named the Johnson Slide in honor of Gus, and some day ere long, at its head will stand a monument to his memory.
At the outset the boys announced that the Ski Camp would not be commercialized; it has not been nor will it be. Sufficient revenue to meet expenses is all that is asked and all that will ever be asked.
During last winter, the camp’s first season, visitors from many lands enjoyed days of health-giving, rejuvenating recreation there, and, before saying goodby, many requested the privilege of being allowed to purchase life memberships in the Banff Ski Club, the organization that operates the ski-camp. Such requests were undoubtedly prompted by a feeling that the small sum of twenty-five cents per day, charged for ski-hire and camp privileges, and without taking into consideration the free instruction they received, was inadequate remuneration for the pleasures they had enjoyed.
Although what little publicity had been given the camp had only been of a local nature, yet stories of the wonders of it spread beyond belief. Officials of the Lake Placid Sports Club, one of the most influential winter-sports organizations on this continent, were visitors last winter at the Mount Norquay Ski Camp; they thoroughly investigated the facilities there and spent several days skiing at the camp and around Banff. Before leaving Banff, one of them—Dr. Wabasse— stated candidly: “In winter sports facilities, reliable climate, and in fact in everything but one item you have us beaten. We have the organization—you have not.” Surely a great tribute to come from one of the leaders of what might be termed “an opposition camp.”
Another statement made by the same gentleman was “Lake Placid has praccically been assured of the Olympic Winter Sports Games of 1932. I, however, am going to recommend Banff as the second-choice place.” By secondchoice place he meant the place to which the Winter Sports Games can be moved without delay, should weather conditions at the first-choice place become unfavorable to continuance of the games. This situation can almost be classed as a fifty-fifty probability at Lake Placid. In such an event, then, Western Canada would have the envied honor of having the Olympic Winter Sports Games held at Banff.
Toronto and the Prairies
THEN there is Toronto. Down on the lake levels the snow is rarely of prime skiing quality; so Toronto gets out a few miles to the north, and there discovers, 700 feet above the city, a paradise of bush trails, over which the 500 or more members of the Toronto Ski Club may be seen disporting themselves in Ontario’s brilliant winter weather. In the city itself, on golf courses and in the numerous parks, beginners go in large numbers through the antics inseparable from novicehood in this most graceful of sports, despite the fact that the city season is a short one, owing to the proximity of the lake.
On the prairies, too, although on the levels far from the mountains there is not that depth of perfect snow which makes the skiers paradise, the sport has taken hold. Years ago in Winnipeg the Holly Snowshoe Club, a band of enthusiasts for snowshoe running, were experimenting with skis along the valley of the Red River; and Edmonton and Calgary both have groups of experts; in fact, the latter city has a jump erected, and a few years since meets were held there regularly.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.