Skiing the Canadian Rockies

Design Concept for Skiing in the Canadian Rockies

Listen to Michale Lang (Executive Director, Whyte Museum), discussing
the Early Skiing exhibition:


The story of early skiing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is just one of the several sections in the new Gateway to the Rockies exhibition being developed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. We want your input and feedback on this permanent (ten year life) exhibition that we are planning to open at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 2012. Tell us what you think of this and the other concepts and stories featured here. Let us know how you think we could make this exhibition more interesting. Please keep in mind that this is a draft of the storyline, not the finished product. As the stories develop, information will be updated.

When skiers first arrived in Banff to ski into the backcountry to Mount Assiniboine, the locals thought they were crazy. In the early 1900s, snowshoes were the preferred means of travel in the mountains. It didn’t take long for backcountry skiing to catch on, but we seek shelter from the storms of winter. From tents to backcountry lodges to architectural masterpieces, the places where we take refuge from the cold are made even more welcoming when they are shrouded in a mantle of snow. The flickering light in the window of a backcountry lodge draws us toward it as we ski down the final slope to warmth and welcome.


Skiing at Skoki, Byron Harmon fonds, (V263 / NA-0802), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Nowadays, Banff is almost synonymous with skiing. As early as 1920, the Banff Winter Carnival was well established. Events such as ski jumping, ski tramps, and ski-joring - skiers towed behind horses - were “growing on popular favor.” A booklet advertising Banff winter sports said, “All varieties of skiing sports are very fascinating, but it is left to the particular branch known as the Ski Jump to provide the spectacular stunts which are of a nature to strike terror into the hearts of the onlookers.”

In the early 1900s, snowshoes were the preferred means of travel in the mountains. So when skiers first arrived in Banff to ski into the backcountry to Mount Assiniboine in March, 1928, the locals thought they were crazy. It didn’t take long for backcountry skiing to catch on.

Skoki Lodge, built in 1930, was one of the first backcountry lodges that provided access to great ski slopes before mechanized lifts were invented. From 1931 to 1933, Peter and Catharine Whyte ran Skoki Lodge and documented Skoki winters in their paintings.

In 1929 Canadian Pacific Railway built another early backcountry lodges at Mount Assiniboine as a summer camp. Erling Strom, a Norwegian skier, saw the Mount Assiniboine area’s winter potential and began running it as a ski lodge in 1933. When skiing was first introduced in the Canadian Rockies, most locals preferred snowshoes as a means of winter travel and thought that skiers were crazy to use wooden boards travelling in the backcountry, but before long, skiing took off.

It was not too long before Jim Brewster deliberately invested in the Sunshine area to create a ski destination. Mount Norquay introduced a mechanized rope tow in 1938 and Sunshine Village did the same in 1942. By 1948, Norquay had a chair lift and many of the backcountry lodges declined until ski touring became popular in the latter part of the 20th century.

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