History of the club
The Tyrol Club started at Hollyburn, the center of skiing of the Lower Mainland in the late nineteen forties and early fifties. Hollyburn had a chairlift with wooden towers, rope tows, a ski jump and Hans Brunner’s ski school. Off the slopes ski school instructors Stefan Ples, Norbert Kamnig, Fips Broda and Erhard Franks used to meet in Café Seabreeze in the West End, where in the fall of 1952 they and 30 others attended the first AGM for the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club. Club activities switched to Seymour soon after, where the club rented a cabin from the Parks Board. By 1953, when the club was officially incorporated, there were financial troubles and the cabin had to be given up. The club reorganised in 1954, new directors were assigned, and newly arrived Herman Gersel, who came to Vancouver on the strength of a postcard of the North Shore Mountains and club director Stefan Ples’ address, found himself cycling the city collecting annual dues of $2 from members.
In 1955 the club had the opportunity purchase a $1,000 cabin on Seymour, where there was a newly installed a new poma-lift, along with two rope tows. Member John Hecht, the Austrian consul, arranged a loan of $500, and the rest was collected from members. The cabin was ideally placed at the foot of one of the rope tows, and it was popular – perhaps because it was the cheapest place in town to stay. A night’s stay cost a mere twenty-five cents. The guest book, contains many familiar names: Ples, Frowein, Gersel, Sieber, Planinsic and Pichler, along with names from other contexts. The signature of Dr. Kurt Waldheim, then of the Austrian diplomatic corps but more recently of the United Nations, bears witness to the fact that Secretaries General ski too.
The debt was paid off in a year and a half, and over the next seventeen years the club held dances, Christmas and New Years’ parties in the cabin. There were also regular trips to Mt Baker, and dances, parties and bi-weekly get-togethers in town.
Before that, around 1960, Stephan Ples became enthused with the Whistler area after a chance meeting with an old prospector and Whistler resident in a Robsontrasse cobbler’s shop. Stefan, along with Herman, Frank Sieber, and Rolf Frowein took the train up to Alta Lake, and liked what they saw. Afterward, club members came up to Whistler for ski touring, for there were no lifts at the time. They explored the mountain and became convinced that Whistler was the place for the club to go. Skiing those days at Whistler was not for the lazy. There were no lifts so it was all ski touring, unless you got up early and were lucky enough to be able to hitch a jeep ride with a ranger up to the microwave tower.
When a property came on the market for $800, the club bought it with bank loans personally guaranteed by the members, and then a second lot six months later for $1200. The club’s principal funding was thrice-yearly dances; one especially big bash cleared $600, which went a long way towards repaying the loans. Then in 1961 Mr. Gebhard, who had a five-acre parcel of land, offered it to the club, which, along with another club, the Sons of Norway, bought it in 1962 for $5,000. In 1964/65 the small hut behind the current caretaker’s house was built, but still the dream of another cabin seemed remote.
The main problem was financing. However, at this time government regulations allowed any club to charter an airplane to Europe, selling seats to members for half or less the cost of a commercial fare, while still making money. While only club members of longer than six months were allowed on the flights, the system was open to abuses. The Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club and many other clubs used the charter flights to make some money and give members an affordable way to visit Europe. There were three flights in 1965, five in 1966, and in all the club organized nearly twenty flights between 1965 and 1969 realizing $60 to $70,000, and three-quarters financing construction of the lodge, known now as the Tyrol.
Construction of the Tyrol began in 1966. It was designed by member Lloyd House, who took the design from a sixteenth century Scottish farmhouse. Members did most of the work, though professionals did the interior and the framework. Of the latter, Herman says, “They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. We paid them $3,000, and we calculated later that they couldn’t have made more than $2 – $3 an hour.” Indeed it was an immense project. The foundations looked small – but once the frame was up, the true size of the task became apparent. After seeing the completed frame, Herman related that, “It was so gigantic I was really scared.” Nobody in the club knew much about building something that big. A few out-of-town carpenters came up for the fun of working on it. The club would pay them a couple of dollars per hour for their time. Passers-by would occasionally help, required beforehand to pay a $5 to join the club.
The club kept its cabin on Seymour until 1972 when the Parks Board razed it and all the other Seymour cabins. But it is clear in retrospect that once built, the Tyrol determined the future course of the club. The focus of activities inevitably moved from Vancouver to Whistler where the developing downhill facilities, its excellent touring, back country possibilities and, more recently, cross-country trails moved the club’s aim from supporting skiing to simply enjoying it. The early development of skiing on the Lower Mainland owes much to the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club which supported an extensive instructional and junior racing program. The club once sponsored a “Tyrol Jump” and the Tyrol Giant Slalom, which, after being held for years on Seymour, was moved to Whistler in 1967. But other activities were less easily switched and have withered. The junior racing program was absorbed into the Nancy Greene League.
The club’s principal – or at least most visible – activity remains downhill skiing. The Tyrol is full each winter weekend, with members taking advantage of the excellent skiing on their doorstep. Summer activities, while less popular, include hiking and cycling. The record shows that the club played and won a soccer game against a Hungarian club, and that we held a fishing derby on Nita Lake. Unfortunately, the record also shows that only one person showed up. But then, we’ve never been a fishing club.
The club organises a wide range of popular events each year: socials both high-toned and low-down (depending on how close you stand to the bar), hikes and excursions to other mountains. But some of the most appreciated events are impromptu, decided on the spur of the moment or over an evening’s repast at the Tyrol. This is one of the most rewarding features of belonging to a club of strong individuals with similar interests: someone always has a good idea to try tomorrow.
– By Joke and John Walsh