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Heroes of the Harnessed Hickory


On a clear day in the late Fall, snowshoers climb towards Hollyburn Peak. Along the way they ascend a steep hill called Romstads Run. During the 1920’s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s, some of Vancouver’s finest skiers sped down these same slopes.

A. The First Generation of Skiers – Hollyburn Mountain

In the years following World War I, it was not uncommon for hikers to reach the top of Hollyburn Ridge by following trails cut by loggers. Teenage boys were particularly interested in the logging flumes that had been used to carry shingle bolts to the sea. They used boards salvaged from these flumes to construct some of the first cabins on the Ridge. 

A favourite stopping place was Nasmyth Mill, which had been abandoned in the early 1920’s. Rudolph Verne, a Swedish immigrant and a skilled winter sportsman, saw possibilities in the empty mill buildings. Verne, along with Eilif Haxthow and other Scandinavians, spent the Fall of 1924 fixing up the former cookhouse and a bunkhouse at the mill. The new ski camp served its first customers in early January, 1925.

Recognizing that few native Vancouverites knew anything about skiing, Verne organized informal lessons. During the next two years, he introduced a number of young people to the fine art of skiing on the snow slopes of Hollyburn Mountain. In 1928, Daily Province writer Pollough Pogue described Verne, “as a ski-runner (who) is a model of style, a graceful figure on long thin blades. He is an enthusiastic ski sportsman who insists on the nice points of the game. He knows every punctilio of the art, and is an exacting judge of style.”

After two years of relatively poor snow conditions, Verne decided to move the ski camp higher up the mountain. Oscar Pearson and his cousins, Ole Anderson and Anders Israel, were hired to dismantle the cookhouse at the mill site and rebuild it on the west side of First Lake, where it still stands today. In January, 1927, Verne, Oscar and his cousins, and Axel Sneis were ready to welcome visitors to the Hollyburn Ski Camp.

B. The Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club

Anticipating that winter sports competitions would attract visitors to the new ski camp, Verne formed the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club in March, 1927. A few weeks later, on April 15, CASA, the Canadian Amateur Ski Association, officially recognized Hollyburn Pacific as the first organized ski club with a mountain headquarters on the Pacific Coast of North America. Chris Johnson, the Hollyburn Pacific captain, and Uno Hillstrom taught, club members how to ski and take leaps off a small jump at First Lake  In 1927, ‘28, and ’29, a number of young men and women with varying degrees of skill and ability competed in cross-country races organized by the club executive. Races started in front of the ski camp lodge. From there, competitors followed unpacked snow trails to the snow post near Sixth Lake where they turned and made a quick descent to the ski camp.

Bill Hansen won the first race, in March, 1927. Axel Sneis won the races in ‘28 and ‘29. Finn Fladmark also placed well in these contests. In later races, skiers had to climb above the shoulder to Hollyburn Peak before making the return trip to First Lake.

The first cross-country race for women was held in April, 1928. The eleven competitors raced around a fairly difficult two-mile course. Doris Parkes won in a time of 22 minutes 43 seconds. Daisy Bourdon, who later won many ski races on the North Shore Mountains and around the province, was a close second. Buddy Barker, like some others in the race, was new to skiing in 1928. She finished ten minutes behind the winner. A month later, Buddy attended the Annual Banquet of the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club that was held in the dining room of David Spencer’s Department Store. During the evening, Buddy collected many signatures from those attending the event, creating a unique record of Hollyburn Pacific’s membership in the early days. During the next decade, the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club continued to organize races for its members.

C. The Vancouver Ski Club

In 1930, another ski club with headquarters on Hollyburn Mountain was formed, a result of a rift between members in the Hollyburn Pacific club. The Vancouver Ski Club was soon drawing many new skiers to Hollyburn. The first clubhouse was a relatively small cabin located about 100 metres north of the ski camp. In 1938, the club moved into more luxurious headquarters located on the east side of First Lake. The main clubhouse was situated between the Women’s Quarters and the Men’s Dormitory. VISKI Lodge provided a comfortable place for members and their guests to mingle during cold winter evenings.

First Lake was also a popular place during the summer. From the verandah of VISKI Lodge, members could watch divers and swimmers enjoy the decidedly cool lake waters fed by mountain streams.

D. Inter-Club Competitions

Considering that they shared the same mountain terrain, it was only natural that the Vancouver Ski Club and the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club organized ski races involving competitors from both organizations. Skiers from other clubs emerging on the North Shore mountains and elsewhere also competed in these races.

E. The First Generation of Skiers – Grouse Mountain

People have been climbing Grouse Mountain since the early 1900’s, lured by its alpine trails and sweeping views of the Lower Mainland. Around 1910, the BC Mountaineering Club built a clubhouse on the lower slopes of Grouse. After spending Saturday night at the clubhouse, groups of like-minded friends would rise early and hike to Goat, Little Goat, or Crown Mountain. A striking rock formation known as the Camel adjacent to Crown Peak was a magnet for rock climbing enthusiasts.

During winter, Vancouverites would hike up Grouse Mountain to play in the snow and ride toboggans down the steep slopes immediately below the peak. After World War 1, skiers began to appear on Grouse. When the Grouse Mountain Highway and Chalet were opened in the Fall of 1926, growing numbers of novice skiers gathered on the Grouse Mountain plateau. More experienced skiers ventured as far as Dam Mountain and Thunderbird Ridge.

Motivated, perhaps, by the formation of the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club on a neighbouring mountain, skiers with a preference for Grouse formed the Grouse Mountain Ski Club in November, 1927. A clubhouse was built on the east side of the Grouse Mountain plateau. On sunny days members could enjoy a comfortable picnic lunch in front of the clubhouse or an afternoon nap on the snow with friends. 

During the Easter weekend in 1931, Grouse hosted the Vancouver City Ski Championships.  Ski racers athletes large and not so large representing several ski clubs participated. Some competitors, like Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club member ‘Irish’ Beaumont, made the trip up the mountain by car. Before the race, athletes posed with their supporters. After assembling near the starting line, competitors began the race one at a time. In the mid-1930’s. the Noseeum Kandahar became the most important downhill race on Grouse Mountain racing calendar.

F. Hollyburn’s Ski Racing Champions – Early 1930’s

In the early 1930’s, Axel Sneis and Finn Fladmark continued to do well in cross-country ski races. New champions were appearing in the top ranks during this time as well.

One of the new stars was Harald Smejda, who was the Canadian Combined champion in 1931, a competition that involved ski racing and ski jumping. In a photo taken by Hollyburn ski jumping judge, Ommund Ommundsen, Smejda seems somewhat bemused by Axel Sneis’s questionable attire. Sneis’s straw boater and underpants were certainly an exception and not the norm for skiers in those days.

Daisy Bourdon and Bertha Haigh won many ski races during the ‘30’s. Haigh’s specialty was cross-country while Daisy did well in all ski racing disciplines; cross-country, downhill, and slalom.

Peggy Harlin was another strong ski racer. The placement of the Vancouver Ski Club patch on Peggy’s ski pants is interesting to say the least. Perhaps she was making a statement to those skiers who were trying to catch up to her during races. 

In 1936, somebody managed to catch her. A newspaper reporting that Peggy Harlin had been crowned Canadian Women’s Ski Queen also noted that someone named Tom Mobraaten had won the Sparling Trophy. To cop this trophy, Tom had raced from the peak of Hollyburn to the bottom of Romstad’s in 45 seconds. The inclusion of the two articles on the same page in Brownie Morris’ scrapbook was prophetic. Peggy and Tom were married later that year.

During the 1934 Vancouver City Ski Championships held on Hollyburn, Tom Mobraaten, his future wife, Peggy Harlin, and Daisy Bourden, with her future husband, Gus Johnson, took time out of a busy race day schedule to pose for amateur photographer, Kayo Park. Tom, Peggy, Daisy and Tom were all ski racing champions. As we shall see, Tom Mobraaten was better known as one of Canada’s strongest ski jumpers.


A. Hollyburn Ski Jumps and Ski Jumpers – Late 1920’s

Hollyburn pioneers remember Harry Burfield as, in their words, a beautiful skier. Like many of his generation, Harry was a very good ski jumper as well. When the Hollyburn Ski Camp opened in January, 1927, skiers were already taking practice leaps off a small jumping hill located on the east side of First Lake. To Rudolph Verne and his partners, ski jumping was an integral part of the sport of skiing. This jump was used for Hollyburn’s first ski jumping tournament in March, 1927.

During the summer of 1928, a larger jump was built near the same site. From the top of the trestle, one could get a good view of the ski camp across the frozen lake below. HPSC Captain Chris Johnson coached club members as they prepared for the first tournament on the new hill. Amateur photographer Gord Park was one of 700 spectators who watched jumpers compete in the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club tournament on March 17, 1929. The winner was Axel Sneis who had also come first in the cross-country race on Hollyburn held the previous weekend.

B. Hollyburn Ski Jumps and Ski Jumpers – Early 1930’s

The Ski Camp owners, no doubt encouraged by the public response to the 1929 tournament, increased the height of the trestle during the following summer. The view from the top had changed considerably since the previous year. The Scandinavians had built several rental cabins for growing numbers of visitors who were seeking overnight accommodation The impressive new hill stood for more than a decade and was the site of many memorable tournaments, including a major competition held during the Easter weekend in 1930.

Daily Province writer Pollough Pogue, in his article “Wooden Wings,” describes what spectators might have seen that day:

Several ski jumpers climb to the top of the tower with jumping skis on their shoulders. These are not ordinary skis. They are longer, wider, heavier. . . . The top of the tower is flat, with a railing around three sides. Half a dozen men are standing there. One of them bends to put on his skis. Give sharp attention now or you may miss something.

Having adjusted his bindings he stands erect, a tall Canadian. . . . In a moment he has started and with the velocity of a bullet swoops down the runway. He crouches slightly to minimize wind resistance.

At the take-off he snaps upright again. With long lean body tense but pliant, arms upraised and fluttering wing-like, he soars from the take-off. 

For a second or two he appears to hover in the air. You hold your breath. The crowd stands rigid with tense interest.

"Beautiful style," observes a man near you. . . . The jumper has covered a considerable distance before he lands, his skis thudding heavily on the packed snow, though he appears to land lightly enough. With the speed of a rocket he rushes up the slight slope from the lake. and makes in a blur of spray-like snow a long, infinitely graceful Telemark turn.

C. Hollyburn’s Ski Jumping Champions - 1930’s

Finn Fladmark, a strong cross-country racer and ski jumper, was the winner of the 1930 Easter tournament on Hollyburn in 1930. Harald Smejda, placed well in tournaments on Grouse and Hollyburn in 1931.

The same year, Nordal Kaldahl, a recent arrival from Kongsberg, Norway, joined the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club and began winning a number of tournaments. Impressed by what he had seen and experienced in Vancouver, Kaldahl wrote to his Norwegian friends, Tom Mobraaten and Henry Sotvedt, and encouraged them to emigrate to Canada, which they soon did.

During one summer, Tom, Nordal, and Henry worked together at the Ocean Falls pulp mill, joined the local soccer team, and received attention from a number of spots. Inevitably, the trio became known as the “Three Musketeers”. However, unlike Nordal, who wore Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club colours, Tom and Henry competed as members of the Vancouver Ski Club. During the 1930’s, these three, exceptional athletes won many ski races and ski jumping tournaments.

Bill “4 Story” Hansen, Druce Cooke, referred to as “Cookie” by his friends, and Noel ‘Irish’ Beaumont, were also strong competitors during this period.

D. Tournaments in Cascadia

Shortly after Canada's first ski-jumping championship in Rossland, BC, in 1898, Revelstoke became Canada’s unofficial ski jumping capital and remained so until the 1950’s. Tournaments on Revelstoke’s infamous Suicide Hill, drew ski jumpers from around the world, including the three musketeers and their teammates on Hollyburn. 

During the 1930’s, it was a common sight to see skiers representing clubs from BC, Washington and Oregon driving to competitions in small towns like Princeton, Wells, Prince George and Leavenworth.

At Snoqualmie, even the bears came out to have a look. A crowd of 4000 came out to watch Tom Mobraaten win the ski jumping tournament. At Portland, Oregon, another large crowd watched Tom win again.

E. Grouse Mountain Ski Jump - 1930’s

When winter sports enthusiasts arrived at the top of Grouse in January, 1927, to inspect the newly opened Grouse Mountain Chalet, an impressive ski jump trestle awaited them as well. Built on the same slopes as the popular toboggan runs, the new jump was to be the site of many local, provincial, and international tournaments during the next three decades.

On Good Friday, April 14th, 1933, Grouse Mountain hosted the Northwest International Ski Tournament. Athletes from seventeen ski clubs were entered in the competition. Bob Lymbourne, who had established a world ski jumping on the Suicide Hill in Revelstoke a month before was favoured to win. 

A large crowd gathered to watch the competition. Hollyburn participants in Class A Jumping included Bill Hansen, Nordal Kaldahl, Tom Mobraaten and Henry Sotvedt. Rudolph Verne was there to cheer them on. Lymbourne, who performed better on bigger hills, was a disappointing 5th. Kaldahl, who had the longest leap of the day, was fourth. Tom Mobraaten won the tournament because of his high style points.

F. West Lake Ski Jump

In the Spring of 1933, a new ski camp opened on Hollyburn Ridge. West Lake Lodge was a brisk, twenty minute hike from the Hollyburn Ski Camp and further down the mountain.

Encouraged by the lodge manager, R.D. Brewis, members of the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club began planning the construction of a large ski jump on a hill near the north end of West Lake. Using a blueprint drawn by Finn Fladmark, “Irish” Beaumont and Mickey Pogue, seen here with Mickey’s father, Pollough Pogue, built the jump trestle. Others cleared the slopes beneath the trestle to create a landing hill and outrun. By the time winter snows covered West Lake Lodge, the new jump was finished, awaiting only the ski jumpers. 

After Mickey Pogue, Eric Twist, Irish Beaumont, and Ralph Morris took a few practice jumps, they gathered with friends and supporters at the bottom of the landing hill. 

West Lake was the site of the ski jumping tournament during the 1934 Vancouver City Ski Championships. On Sunday, March 11, 1934, a crowd of 2000 gathered at West Lake to watch the athletes compete. Impressive jumps were made from the new trestle. Nordal Kaldahl won the Class A event with a leap of 138 feet, the longest of the day. Irish Beaumont won the B Class competition. It was a busy day for the jumpers as many of them also competed in the A Class cross-country race which was won by Gus Johnson.

Tournaments continued to held on the ‘big hill’ at West Lake until the Spring of 1938, when the jump and the lodge were dismantled.

G. Mobraaten Ski Jump – Hollyburn Mountain

The Mobraaten Ski Jump was officially opened by the Vancouver Ski Club in 1936 to honor club member Tom Mobraaten who had competed in the 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Tom placed 14th in the competition on the big ski jump in spite of an ankle injury he had suffered in an earlier Nordic event. The Mobraaten Jump was used in April. 1939, for the Vancouver Ski Zone and City Ski Championships. Sometime during the next decade the jump was dismantled.

To open/download a pdf copy of the complete Heroes of the Harnessed Hickory script including selected photos, CLICK HERE.