There were many European entrepreneurs who pioneered a new way to enjoying mountain life in Canada. We recognize three men who were instrumental in paving the path.
BY: Gordie Bowles
FRANZ WILHELMSEN – DRIVING FORCE BEHIND WHISTLER
If you haven’t tried Franz’s run on Whistler Mountain, you’re missing out. The run’s namesake, Franz Wilhelmsen, widely considered the founding father of Whistler, was like the trail: deep, complex, and following a winding path.
The Norwegian business man who immigrated to Canada in 1941 – with his original goal to develop Fisherman’s Cove in Vancouver – made his mark when he hosted International Ski Federation pros in 1960 to search for a suitable area to host the 1968 Winter Olympics. In the following years, Franz and The Garibaldi Lift Company quickly galvanized Vancouverites when it opened the gates to the now mega-resort in February 1966. The buzz took ahold immediately, with flocks of people coming to take in the area’s rugged fishing, wilderness and, of course, skiing, in its Whistler abundance, rivaling its European counterparts like Zermatt, Val d’Isère and St. Anton. Although Wilhelmsen passed away in 1998 from cancer, his vision inspired today’s Whistler that is enjoyed by millions each year.
JOZO WEIDER – FOUNDER OF BLUE MOUNTAIN
When Jozo Weider came to the Niagara Escarpment from Czechoslovakia in 1941, he had a dream to turn the slopes above farmland into a world-class ski resort. The dream was ambitious and many thought unrealistic, but today Blue Mountain hosts over 750,000 skier visits a year, making it the third most visited (Whistler and Tremblant sit one and two) in Canada.
Today’s village, built on what was once Weider’s hayfield, is covered with upscale cafés, restaurants and boutique shops. And the ski lift system, which began as two sleds drawn by a cable and powered by an old truck engine, now boasts 16 chairlifts that service 42 runs. By 1948, Weider cemented the arrangement by signing a three-way agreement with the Toronto Ski Club and the Blue Mountain Ski Club.
The barn on the Weiders’ land was turned into “The Ski Barn”, and became the hill’s primary day lodge, drawing the centre of the hill to the south, and in 1959 the “Old South Chair” opened at the extreme south end of the hill, connecting the now four-kilometre frontage the hill still has to this day. The Weider family sold off 50 percent of their interest to Intrawest in 1999 along with a 20-hectare parcel of land, where Intrawest would build the village, and sold the remaining 50% just this year (September 2014) to Intrawest.
HANS GMOSER – FOUNDER OF CMH
Widely considered the father of modern mountaineering in Canada, Johann Wolfgang “Hans” Gmoser’s ambitious nature and outdoor adventures transformed skiing, and the ski-service industry.
The Austrian import’s first love was ascending mountains. Conquering many peaks in the 1950s and 60s, such as Mount Alberta, Mount Blackburn and Mount McKinley, Gmoser also served as a model of safety and proper mountaineering technique. In 1963, he became a founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.
But where Gmoser left his most lasting mark was on heliskiing. He founded Rocky Mountain Guides in 1957, which eventually became Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), the largest mountain adventure operation in the world, and the catalyst for the heliskiing market that is enjoyed by thousands today.