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Heroes of the Harnessed Hickory
PART 3  

A. Hollyburn’s Historic Ski Run – First Lake to Hollyburn Peak

By 1930, Hollyburn’s premiere ski run was well established. It would remain essentially unchanged for the next forty years and was used by cross-country skiers, downhill racers, and slalom enthusiasts. 

Skiers leaving the Hollyburn Ski Camp for Hollyburn Peak would cross First Lake and then climb the Popfly hill. Turning left near the ski jump, they would make a brief descent and then head up a long section called Wells Gray, so named because of efforts of the Honourable Arthur Wellsley Gray, Minister of Lands for British Columbia from 1933 to 1941, to protect the forests on Hollyburn Mountain. 

Near Fourth Lake the gradient eased and then steepened again. After a series of bumps and turns, skiers reached the Hollyburn plateau.

After a relatively long, flat section followed by a rising slope, they arrived at the bottom of Romstad’s Run. Romstad’s was where many skiers spent most of their time on the slopes. In those days there were no machine-groomed runs and no rope tows or chairlifts so skiers had to climb up Romstad’s before making a run down the hill. Above Romstads the gradient eased and then increased again. Those heading for the peak would continue up the slope to the Hollyburn shoulder, a perfect place to stop for a lunch break. After a tour of the undulating terrain on the shoulder, skiers headed up the final steep slopes to Hollyburn Peak.

B. The Viski Classic

During what many ski pioneers consider the ‘golden age’ on Hollyburn, the ‘Viski Classic’ was the most important downhill race. Competitors would start at the peak and make a steep descent to the shoulder. They would then continue down Romstad’s, cross the Hollyburn Plateau and make a final run down Wells Gray to First Lake. 

On race day, spectators held their breath as their favourite competitors careened down the mountain.

In the early 1930’s, Romstads was also used as a slalom course. As we shall see, by the end of the decade, competitors were descending a steeper, more challenging slalom run on the southeast side of the shoulder.

C. Dominion Championships – Banff, 1937

Ten years after Bill Hansen won the first organized ski race on Hollyburn in April, 1927, a sizeable contingent of competitors and supporters from several North Shore ski clubs mingled at the train station in Field, BC. They were heading for Banff, Alberta, to take part in the first Dominion Ski Championships. The downhill, ski jumping, and slalom events were held on Mount Norquay. Athletes from around BC, including Tom and Peggy Mobraaten, Daisy Bourden, Nordal Kaldahl, Henry Sotvedt, and Irish Beaumont faced stiff competition from Eastern Canadian, American, and European champions.

Extreme, icy conditions throughout the four-day competition resulted in a number of mishaps for Vancouver skiers. Peggy Mobraaten injured her shoulder in a practice run and was unable to compete. Daisy Bourden and Gertie Wepsala fell in the early going of the women’s downhill and were unable to make up the lost time. In the women’s slalom, Daisy took a bad spill in her second run and  Gertie Wepsala lost a ski. In the men’s downhill, Irish Beaumont lost a pole and later crashed into trees a short distance from the finish line. 

Vancouver ski jumpers also had mishaps. Veteran jumper Fred Finkenhagen cracked up after a leap of 174 feet. Chris Engh, another veteran from Vancouver, suffered severe abrasions to his face when he tumbled upon landing. Tom Mobraaten fared the best among the Canadians, coming in a very respectable third. Sverre Kolterud, from Norway, came second.

The Swiss men’s team dominated the slalom and downhill races. Pierre Francioli, described by Vancouver Sun sports writer Pat Slattery as “the daredevil skier from the Alps of Switzerland” walked off with the combined downhill and slalom championship of Canada. Fellow countryman Walter Prager was right behind Francioli in the same events. The skiers from Vancouver had performed courageously in Banff under difficult conditions but did not yet have the skills or experience to beat the European and American champions.

D. A New Generation of Skiers

During the winter of 1938, a number of the skiers who had competed in Banff gathered on top of Mount Strachan. In the group were some of Hollyburn’s rising stars, including Bud MacInnes and his future wife, Naomi Wilson. By the end of the decade, Ruth Larson and Les May were also attracting attention in competitions, as were Einar Ellingrud, Harry Burfield, Jack Pratt and Bud James. Harry, Jack, and Bud were on hand to greet Olav Ulland when he visited the mountain in November, 1938. Three years earlier, Ulland had been the first to break the 100-meter ski jumping barrier. 

E. Hollyburn Mountain’s ‘New’ Slalom Run

In 1939, a competition was held on the new slalom hill located on southeast side of Hollyburn, From the top of the run, skiers had a good view of the Capilano Valley, which would be flooded a decade later. New skiers and seasoned skiers, the talented and the determined were seen on the steep hill that day, each one trying to focus on the next gate. Within a year, many of them would be in the armed services, preparing to fight in another world war.


A. The War Years:  1939 -1945

By the early 1940’s, a number of Hollyburners were in uniform, including Naomi and Bud MacInnes, Hugh “Torchy” Aikens, and Herb Woods, who, apparently, was reluctant to take off his skis during training back east. Back home, the Hollyburn Rangers patrolled the mountain slopes overlooking Yew Lake. Vic Wills, Jack Pratt, Les ‘Mildew’ Mays, ‘Olive’ Johansen, and Bud James appeared in stylish women’s clothing during Red Cross fund-raising tournament at First Lake. Hollyburners traveled by train to Revelstoke to take part in wartime competitions. On January 20th, 1942, many of Hollyburn’s old guard enjoyed an evening out at the Cave Supper Club. Among those attending were Henry and Anne Sotvedt, Peggy and Tom Sotvedt, Les and Leila May, and several members of the Larsen clan.

Brian Creer won several races on Hollyburn including the Viski Classic. before he joined the armed services and headed east. Jack Pratt was the 1940 North American Four-way Champion which involved competitions in downhill, slalom, cross-country, and jumping. Jack was to win the Viski Classic more times than anyone else. Jack Wood was a strong competitor during the 1940’s and early ‘50’s.

Around 1942, the First Lake ski jump trestle collapsed. A smaller trestle was built and used for a short time. By December, 1943, another section had been added to increase the height of the trestle and create an upper and lower starting point for ski jumpers. Jack Roocroft and Paddy Wing were two people who used the improved jump on January 9, 1944. Other skiers competing that day included Henry Sotvedt, Jack Wood, Ole Johannsen, and Otto Brandvold. This jump was used until the end of the war.

In late 1945, long-awaited telegrams were being sent by soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to let loved ones know they would soon be arriving back home.

B. Post – War Years on Hollyburn Mountain: 1945 - 1949

The new First Lake jump, which was been built on top of the Popfly hill around 1946, stood for ten years before it was dismantled to make room for a post-war generation of skiers who had little interest in or appreciation of the fine sport of ski jumping. Before its day was done, the First Lake jump was the site of a number of exciting tournaments that attracted sizeable crowds. 

Brownie Morris, as she had been many times in the past, was in the crowd to record the distance and style marks for competitors like Jack Pratt and Jack Roocroft. 

Roocroft was a major force in ski jumping circles during the 1940’s and early fifties. He won tournaments on ski jumps around BC, including the Suicide Hill in Revelstoke.  It was only natural to include Jack Roocroft in the same group as Tom Mobraaten, Jack Pratt, and Henry Sotvedt. 

Gar Robinson, arguably the strongest skier on the UBC ski team after the war, was featured in a April, 1945 Vancouver Sun article along with Daisy Bourdon, Henry Sotvedt,  Jack Roocroft, Bob Stevens, Dot Gladstone, Nan Roberts, and Marg Lewis, names that were to appear many times on the local sports pages.

The Burfield family purchased the Hollyburn Ski Camp from the Swedish owners in 1946. A year later, Norm Deacon installed ropes tows on the Popfly and Mobraaten runs, at West Lake, and on the Suicide and Graveyard runs near Westlake Lodge, the first of many changes to come in recreational skiing.

Ski clubs, which had been so popular in the 1930’s, were losing members. In 1945, the Hollyburn Pacific and Vancouver Ski Clubs amalgamated and became the Cypress Ski Club. Within a couple of years, and after much debate, the group became the Vancouver Ski Club. once again. Former Hollyburn Pacific members continued to be part of this group. Viski supporters promoted their club by entering a float in the PNE parade.

C. Mount Seymour: 1935 - 1949

By the time Vancouver’s battered group of skiers returned home from the 1937 Dominion Championships in Banff, Alberta, Harold Enquist had opened the Seymour Ski Camp. Since the early 1930’s, skiers had been climbing the long trail to Mount Seymour to enjoy the varied terrain characteristic of the ski grounds there. 

After road and trail access were improved in the 1940’s, more and more skiers were drawn to the mountain. Enquist Lodge was opened after the war to provide services for the growing number of visitors. 

In his 1946 article, “A Look-See at Mt. Seymour”, Sam Taylor noted that six organized clubs had played a large part in the development of the mountain. The most prominent of these clubs was the Mount Seymour Ski Club. Under the leadership of Jim Berranson, the club sponsored a variety of social and sports events including the Northland Downhill. Competitors started at Mystery Lake and followed a mile and a quarter course to the alpine meadows, five hundred feet below. Walt MacMillan was one of many skiers who, over the years, captured top honours in the annual race. 

The Mount Seymour Ski Club also sponsored the annual Bernard Open Jump. In the 1940’s. Ole Johannsen was Seymour’s top ski jumper.

There was a dramatic turn-of-events in January, 1951, when a 16 year old Norwegian junior named Halvar Sellesback won the New Year’s tournament on Mount Seymour. Representing the Vancouver Ski Club, Sellesback was to win many tournaments during the next four years.

D. End of an Era: 1950 - 1967

At the beginning of the 1950’s, young ski jumpers on the Vancouver Ski Club team celebrated the success of one of its members. 

In October, 1950, Nordal Kaldal was coaching ski jumpers at the Templeton Junior High School. Al Menzies, Ted Hunt, Don Shore, Jack Gawthorne, George Jackson, Jerry Thompson, Johnnie Halstead, Len Rawluk, Len Thompson, Al Barry and Bob Clark had already logged time on the First Lake jump.

The previous March, volunteers had prepared the landing hill for the Vancouver City Championships that were held on Hollyburn. Those who were high in the standings that day included Harry Burfield, Jack Wood, Al Menzies, Jim Hennigar, and Ron Glover. Veteran Henry Sotvedt won the A class jumping tournament, although Vancouver Ski Club’s sensational young jumper, Halvar Sellesback, competing as a junior, was awarded a total of 213 points, .2 points ahead of Sotvedt. Al Menzies won the 15th annual running of the Viski Classic.

During the first half of the 1950’s, more tournaments were held on Grouse, Hollyburn and Seymour, but the era of ski jumping in BC was coming to a close. People raising the ‘baby boomer’ generation did not have the time or the inclination to attend ski club meetings. When the clubs faded away, there were not enough volunteers to run officially sanctioned tournaments and races. Funds that had been collected by the clubs to help pay the expenses of their champions were no longer available. Shortly after Harry Burfield took that leap off the First lake hill in the mid-1950’s, the jump was gone, and so was an era. 

More poignantly, two of Hollyburn’ best known ski champions passed away during the 1950’s. Daisy Bourdon Johnson had died on March 17, 1951 after a hard battle with cancer. In 1957, cancer also took Jack Pratt. To  honour him, the Vancouver Ski Club built the Jack Pratt Memorial Ski Jump, but only one tournament was ever held on the jump. Typhoon Frieda, in 1962, and heavy snowloads in subsequent years weakened the trestle. It finally collapsed in 1967, a relic of a bygone age.

Today, snowshoers slide down Romstad’s Run. Few of them know about the 'heroes of the harnessed hickory'.

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