Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club - Great People, Great Racers since 1929

A History of the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club

Recognized today as one of Canada’s longest running ski clubs and the largest of its kind in B.C., the award-winning Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club has a rich history. It dates back to a time when mountain enthusiasts ascended on foot what is now known as The Peak of Vancouver to enjoy their favourite pastime, be it hiking, ski touring or alpine skiing. The club was officially formed through the mid-1950’s merger of two older clubs: the Grouse Mt. Ski Club and the Tyee Ski Runners.

Seeking the Peak

Grouse Mt. Ski Club members 1928

The Grouse Mt. Ski Club started in the early 20th century as a rally point for serious mountaineers. Members would gather at the base of what is now the Peak Chair, where the current club cabin still sits.

A typical weekend would begin on Saturday morning, with members hiking from the top of the street car at the corner of Windsor and Lonsdale in North Vancouver, up the eastern face of Grouse Mt. and along The Cut to the club cabin. That trek would take most of the day, so members stayed the night in one of the cabin’s upstairs bedrooms after having spent the remaining hours hanging out and refueling in preparation for the next day’s adventures.

Sleeping in wasn’t an option for these diehards, who’d get up early enough to go hiking or make a few turns on the ski slopes before heading back down to the street car on Sunday afternoon. Without the luxury of mechanical lifts, it took some stamina, willpower and hefty meals just to attempt to get in a couple of thousand vertical feet of skiing—Grouse skiers would have to wait until 1949 to enjoy the world’s first double chairlift, which virtually eliminated the need for the two to three-hour hike to the top of the mountain.

Grouse Mt. Ski Club members in front of their cabin, 1934

The members of the Grouse Mt. Ski Club were certainly passionate about their outdoor pursuits, but they weren’t the only ones who regularly felt the tug of the mountain’s peak. Each day they made their way up to the mountain, these skiers would walk past the original Grouse Mt. Village, right at the bottom of The Cut, where several hundred cabins were clustered in a one-kilometer radius centered round the Village Inn (it eventually became the Cadet Camp Cabin).

The cabin owners were of a slightly different breed and they enjoyed socializing just as much as they liked to ski. They also felt most at ease in the warmth of their own chalets. They preferred to hang out there after an invigorating day on the slopes, instead of at the mountaintop cabin. That’s why in 1935, following the refusal of the Grouse Mt. Ski Club to move its headquarters down to the village despite hardships that included dwindling membership, dried-up funds and indebtedness to the Grouse Mountain Chalet, the cabin owners decided to form their own club, the Tyee Ski Runners, with the original ski village as their base.

The Origin of the Tyee Ski Runners Club

The Tyee Ski Runners club was the brainchild of Basil Daines, a builder and promoter of the Ski Village on Grouse. The club held its first meeting on September 27, 1935 at the home of A. Matilla, 2522 Gravely Street in Vancouver.

While the official inauguration occurred in 1935, the lower village club idea had a champion as early as 1927. Lindsay Loutit was credited for starting the ball rolling by renting a cabin from Grouse Mountain Resorts, forming a ski club and appointing Bill Grant as its first president. Perhaps that’s why the Tyee club is believed to have begun in earnest in 1929.

Another early developer of skiing on Grouse Mt. was Joe Wepsala, whose daughters Gertie Beaton, Sylvia Hunter and Elmie Hebron went on to become outstanding skiers before their own children continued the legacy. Among them was Elmie’s son, Roddy, who was a member of the Canadian National Ski Team in the 1960’s.

The Tyee Ski Runners club cabin

During the 1930s and 1940s, before Vancouver slowly began developing its entertainment and leisure offering, the Tyee Ski Runners club gave its members the socializing opportunities they longed for and a place to enjoy them. Besides indulging members’ love of skiing, the club had its own hockey team and a bowling team that competed with clubs from Hollyburn and Seymour. There were also summer picnics, complete with tug of war games, the Tyee Runners Klondike Night on the mountain each November and an annual children’s Christmas party.

Cabin owners, like the members of the Grouse Mountain Ski Club, would haul their stoves, beds and makeshift bathtubs on their backs up the mountain before the village chair began operating. Since the late 1800s, hiking up the mountain had become the norm for those seeking the thrills of skiing. The first man-made trails were only broken in 1910, and it was routine for Grouse ski racers to tramp their own courses because there were no tows or groomers to do it for them. What’s more, those who wanted to ski at night had only their head lanterns to light the way.

Recovering from some of the parties was just as big a challenge, as former member Syd Burgess once found out. He survived being run over by a snow cat after one of those lively evenings.

Life member Isabella Owen fondly recalled those early days of weekends spent in the cabin in her 2003 letter to the Tyee club secretary, requesting that she be kept up to date on club affairs even she was, by her own account, too old to work on races anymore.

Judging by this excerpt from the March 1949 edition of Powwow, the official publication of the Tyee Ski Runners, socializing and partying, as much as outdoor resilience, have been long-standing traditions of the club. The excerpt provided some of the highlights from the Spring Commodore Dance:

“Ross Young spent a small part of the evening under certain tables, passing up empty bottles to his cohorts in crime, Sandy Martin, Lobhead and Lloyd Harper.…By the way, Lob, did the Tyee get credit for you being there, even though it’s rumored you came in the back door with the aid of the Vancouver Police Dept.?”

And another:

“Poor Reg Shaw can’t get used to these ‘dry’ Vancouver laws. He was under the impression that he could buy his liquid refreshment there, so consequently he spent a quiet evening.”

In those early days, cabin-hopping was a popular pastime on Saturday nights, giving Tyee Ski Runners a chance to plan their next ski trips and share a meal—or a little club gossip.

Despite a strong focus on producing enjoyment for its own members, the Tyee Ski Runners club never existed in a vacuum. It has always been firmly rooted in its community, supporting local causes whenever the chance arose—among the events the club has supported in the past has been the First Aid Ski Patrol Benefit Dance.

For all their socializing, members of the Tyee Ski Runners also grew a fondness for ski-racing in their club’s formative years. It enriched the mountain experience for younger adult members and their children. The formula initially worked well , but the club eventually began to face some challenges.

Grouse Mountain advertisement, circa 1955

The Merger: A Meeting of Minds and Spirit

By the mid-1950s, the Tyee Ski Runners and the Grouse Mountain Ski Club joined to form the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club, mostly out of necessity. With finances tight on both sides and evident synergies between the two clubs—the Tyee Ski Runners had socializing and ski-racing dialed, while the Grouse Mt. Ski Club boasted a premium cabin with a perfect location to act as ski racing headquarters—the merger made sense.

The club’s official mission was to “establish and operate a club for persons desirous of skiing and engaging in other winter, mountain and outdoor sports; and to purchase, lease or otherwise acquire and provide grounds and clubhouses for the purpose of engaging in said sports.”

The new club offered a broad range of experiences. Yet that didn’t prevent members from adhering to their old habits, with cabin owners hanging out in the village and partying at the old Tyee A frame, just north of the Village Inn, or going skiing together while their children trained on the top of the mountain out of the original Grouse Mt. Ski Club cabin. Still, with an increasing number of activities taking place on top of the mountain, the heyday of socializing in the lower village would soon end.

The old village really started to fade in 1966, when the original Grouse Mt. Sky Ride began operating. The lift made it easier for Tyee members to stay at home during the week and commute to the hill on weekends to ski. That, in turn, led to the decline of the village, with the rustic cabins becoming increasingly neglected and eventually falling victim to fire, damage from heavy snow years and vandalism. Eventually, the club would come to operate solely from the mountaintop.

The lower village’s two-story cabin ended up being moved to the top of the mountain and added onto the upper club cabin. It’s the A frame part of the current cabin, where Tyee racers now have lunch on weekends.

“I was president of the club around 1980, holding the position for two terms, and coordinated the construction of the A frame addition to the cabin in 1987,” recalled Frank Willis.
“These were tough times and we got a grant from Unemployment Insurance (now EI) to hire unemployed labourers and purchase materials.”

When he wasn’t looking over building plans, Willis coached children enrolled in the Nancy Greene Ski League (NGSL) program and also managed the Bantam program for the Lower Mainland. Now a life member of the club, Willis still has fond memories of those challenging days, as well as all the other years that he and his wife Mary Anna spent on the slopes of Grouse Mountain.

“The appeal of the club was family skiing and the racing component. The social atmosphere was fabulous. We have three girls and two of them, Julie and Sally, went through the complete racing program with Tyee. Sally raced for UBC, Julie then instructed on Grouse, Whistler and in Switzerland,” Willis said.
“We skied every weekend and also took lessons from Markus Pichler one night a week. My favorite ski run was and still is Centennial. The club did a lot of work on that run, clearing brush, trees and widening it to make it suitable for our races.”

Building a Ski Racing Legacy

With easier access to the hill, the Grouse Mt. Tyee Ski Club’s appeal began to grow beyond diehard mountaineers and former cabin “socialites.” The club could now attract a higher number of families and new potential racers. With a greater pool of talent, the club’s principal mission changed from socializing to racing.

The Tyee racing programs really took off in the 1960s, with Ron Williams joining the club in 1967 as its first professional coach. He was a true local, who even chose to get married in the original Grouse Mt. gondola, just over the parking lot, as Tyee racers looked on from below.

During that period, Tyee kids would train on Blazes and Haites, occasionally using slalom poles made from cedar boughs and young pine trees. Then, over the years, the racing system evolved from one of A, B, and C classes to J1, K1 and K2 for juvenile racers, who dedicated themselves to midweek night training and weekend club days, for either training or racing.

In 1969, the Nancy Green Ski League was established on Grouse Mountain. Frank Atkinson, aka Franky Racer, who was a class A racer from the 1950’s and had his own children in the club, ran the NGSL program for the club.

With so much attention and efforts being devoted to the kids, Tyee member Marie Pierce suggested that there should be something for adult members as well and that’s how the Adult Clinic was born in 1974. It continued to be offered on and off after that.

Looking Ahead

Today, the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club remains focused on its racers and on ensuring their development on and off the slopes, while providing a social atmosphere that’s enjoyable for all members, young and older.

Headed by a dedicated Board of Directors, the club continues to be member-driven and supported, and it relies heavily on volunteers to run its committees, maintain its facilities and continue to improve its programs.

Ski racing is what attracts new members, but it’s the club’s spirit that truly keeps it going after all these years. As the case has been over the past five decades, the future of the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club rests entirely in the hands of its own members.

With such alumni as national team development group member Sam Mulligan and Olympian Georgia Simmerling inspiring youngsters, the Tyee club will undoubtedly continue to produce highly skilled skiers who are eager and ready to compete.

On any given weekend, young Tyee skiers can still be seen racing down The Peak, taking air off the lip of their favourite trail or enjoying a free run on a steep slope. Not too far behind, their parents make a few turns of their own before heading inside the club cabin to meet their kids, help out in the kitchen or simply do what Tyee parents do best—socialize.

“I raced Masters until I was 70 and, for the past 10 years, I’ve been skiing fwith my friends,” said Frank Willis, who’s been a member since 1966. “I still get a thrill when it’s smooth and fast!”

Despite the faster skis, high-tech lifts and enduring dependance on Mother Nature to grant members snow, things haven’t changed all that much since the beginnings of the Grouse Mt. Tyee Ski Club. There's still a place where outdoor enthusiasts and their families can gather to share a lifelong passion.

Written by club member Myriam Beaugé
Member Sylvia Drugge and Sylvia Binkley, who co-wrote the original club history, some of whose contents are included in this piece
Daien Ide, Reference Historian, North Vancouver Museum and Archives

Photo credits:
North Vancouver Museum and Archives

 Did You Know?…

Hamish Davidson, powder hound and ski manufacturer

• Among Grouse Mountain's fervent adepts was Hamish Davidson, a ski manufacturer whose business was based on W. Georgia Street in Vancouver. He made laminated skis, hockey sticks and archery equipment. In the late 1930s, you could buy a pair of skis for $10 to $25, while ski repairs set you back $2.50. If you were a beginner, you were counseled to choose skis that measured no more than 3.5 inches at their widest point.

• Downhillers used to wear baggy clothes and used skis that were approximately seven feet long. Their bindings were known as bear traps (because they didnʼt release!) and there was no safety netting on the course.

• Early Tyee races were held on The Kandahar, a narrow run on The Cut. Decades later, Grouse Mt. Resorts found that old trail, widened it and reopened it under the Paper Trail name. The tree-lined, serpentine trail remains a favourite with young skiers.

• On September 2nd, 1929, Sir Winston Churchill was among the A-list guests who dined in the original chalet atop Grouse Mountain. As Englandʼs Chancellor of the Exchequer, he hadnʼt earned his noble title yet nor his reputation as one of Britainʼs greatest statesmen. He was actually in Vancouver to open New Westminsterʼs exhibition, but he took time to visit the mountain with his son Randolph, brother Jack and Nephew. While the VIP visit drew 40,000 people and made front-page news, another event that occurred that year would leave its own indelible mark on the city and its mountain community: the Tyee Ski Runners Club was born.

• The Tyee Ski Runners Club used to have a formal governing structure that included a mayor, a dog catcher and a fire inspector.

• Tyee alumni include such notable racers as Gerry Rinaldi (National Team member who skied on the World Cup circuit), Gar Robinson (member of the Olympic Team in Squaw Valley and past racer for UBC, along with Gordie Cowan and Doug Fraser) and Bob Styan (National Team member who skied on the World Cup circuit).