A Look Back – Early Days of Skiing in Lake LouisePosted: December 10, 2009
As was mentioned in a post near the end of last season, the Lake Louise ski patrol saw the retirement of Peter Spear from patrolling, as he prepared to have knee surgery after an incredible career spanning more than fifty years. Since the operation last spring, Peter has been collecting his thoughts from his time here and putting them to paper, and has been kind enough to provide them for posting here.
I find it easy to assume that the Lake Louise Ski Area has always more or less been similar to what it is today, at least in available terrain if not facilities. That is however far from the case, and Peter’s descriptions of traveling to and skiing at Lake Louise (originally Temple Ski Area) provide a fascinating glimpse of what is was like in the days before the Trans-Canada Highway even existed.
Following is the first installment of Peter’s personal history of skiing at Lake Louise.
The Early Days of Skiing at Lake Louise.
These are my recollections of the early days of skiing at Lake Louise starting in the late 1950’s. I have skied in the Lake Louise area for over 52 years, and some readers can relate to my adventures, and others marvel at our patience and fortitude with gritting it out under less than favorable conditions in the pioneer years.
A trip to ski at Temple for a weekend in 1957, began usually for me on a Friday night around 6 PM in Calgary when a Canadian Youth Hostel member would pick me and others up about 6 PM for the 3 ½ – 4 hour drive to get to the Lake Louise Youth Hostel.
The route led northwest in the city and out what is now Highway # 1A, to Cochrane, around Ghost Dam, through the old Banff Park gates near the Kananaskis lime plant,, then Exshaw, over the Gap Lake Hill and into Canmore. Then west the road led to the old Anthracite coal slag heaps (still visible today) just east of the Cascade power plant.
Here there was a t-junction, with the right turn leading to Lake Minnewanka, but we turned left, crossed the CPR mainline, and then traversed under the base of the Hoodoos, and then the road led steeply up the Anthracite Hill to present-day Tunnel Mountain Drive before dropping down the hill to the area of the Indian Grounds (near the present-day Rocky Mountain Resort). Then it was into Banff town site, and then past the CPR train station, and across the CPR line. The road then wound around what is now the Vermillion Lakes Drive with the constant threat of sliding into the lakes on the narrow blasted road, onto the present day 1A, across the hillsdale flats, past Johnson Canyon, and to Castle Junction and turnoff to Radium.
Almost there! The road meandered to Baker Creek, crossed Corral Creek and then headed west to the Bow River, where the CPR was crossed again (this is where there is a present-day emergency exit for the campground area). The road led past the Temple View Bungalow camp and Texaco station and recrossed the CPR. A bridge over the Pipestone led to Boyles Grocery Store and the original Post Hotel, which was all there was at the townsite
To get to the hostel and the road leading to the Temple Ski Area, we re-crossed the Pipestone bridge, turned left, and then went to the present-day # 1 highway and turned off the Temple road to the Gondola Base area where the hostel was located, prior to the construction of the Gondola. The Lake Louise Hostel was a series of three buildings that had been at Morley as part of the conscientious objectors camp and had been moved in the early 50’s as part of the hostel “chain”. At -30 degrees, a dorm was hard to heat up before we crawled into our sleeping bags for rest and the prospect of skiing at Temple.
A Day of Skiing at Temple Lodge.
Most of the skiers at Temple stayed in Banff, as the original Post Hotel had few rooms. That meant that there was at least a one hour drive from Banff.
My morning began early, as often we had breakfast and skied across the flats, crossed an ice bridge on the Pipestone River, and tried to get to the Post Hotel to make the first transport to Temple Lodge. We bought one-way tickets ($.50) or round trip tickets in the lobby of the Post Hotel, sold by Alpha Legace, a local legend along with her husband Ray Legace, an original outfitter.
The transport to the hill started at 8:30 AM with a Dodge PowerWagon, fitted with a cab that held 12 jammed skiers. It was followed later by a chained-up school bus carrying some 30 passengers for the exciting ride to Temple, particularly the ascent of Ford Hill. Once at Temple, one went inside to purchase the $3.50 lift tickets.
Temple Lodge, Skoki and Halfway Hut were owned by Sir Norman Watson, an English absentee owner, and the company was the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies. The original lodge was located 75 metres beyond the present “Temple garage”, by the cutoff from Larch to the present lodge. It was a two story log building with a high peak and several rooms that could be rented for the winter weekends. Noted renters were the family of John Worrall, later to become a long time area employee and manager.
The lift was an original Poma, with the mechanical release pulled by an attendant. Tripods supported the pulley and cable as one ascended to the top unload, which is the present flat spot where Lookout, Larch and Marmot diverge. This is about 100 metres below the present quad top.
Larch was a curvaceous run about 15 metres wide and wound its way down the hill. Once one reached the present lower steep pitch, where skiers/boarders often stop to rest, the slope was cleared to almost its present width. One could show off their skills to the waiting line-up. The present Larch was cleared in the summer of 1965.
If one made the early Power Wagon or school bus, one could have a great series of runs before the next load of passengers arrived. At day’s end, one could ride back to the Post Hotel or take the ski out which was an arduous adventure .The descent took Lookout, then through the present closed area that leads to the treacherous Ford Hill. There it ran parallel to the access road on a narrow un-groomed trail till it crossed the present road near Fish Creek parking lot. Here the trail went to the left, and reached the base of a steep hill which had to be ascended. It crossed the present paved road to Whiskey Jack near the Texas gate, and then continued to climb the steep bank. One was lucky to survive the descent to the Hostel (now the old gondola base), cross the flats, and then the ice bridge to the Post hotel.
With no groomed slopes, low stumps on the runs, bushes, and narrow trails it was challenging skiing in leather single boots, with wooden skies and long-thong bindings with no release features. We wore woolen knickers, cotton undergarments, woolen mittens and Egyptian cotton anoraks. Still it was fun and I look back on the experience with fondness over half a century later.
In addition to patrolling at Lake Louise, Peter also spent a season doing the same at Pigeon Mountain, the remains of which can still be seen from the Trans-Canada Highway as you drive eastbound by Dead Man’s Flats. I’d always assumed it was a ski hill which had never finished being built. In fact, it operated as a ski area from the 1960’s to 1974, and then again from 1981-83.
Even with some of the earliest snowmaking in this area, the ski season at Pigeon ran only from mid-January to mid-March. If a skier had to be taken to Calgary due to injury, they would be driven to the city in the back of the company station wagon belonging to the Rothman’s cigarette salesman.
In the 1980’s, a new electric motor was installed to drive the snowmaking system. The wiring was reversed, and it blew and damaged the Bow Valley power grid. It was rewired for the following season, and when it again blew and damaged the grid, that was it for Pigeon Mountain, and it never recovered. The lifts were scavenged for parts, most of which ended up at the Canyon Ski Area in Red Deer.