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The Heritage of Hollyburn - Holmenkolllen (Cabin 225)

Background:  In September 2008 the Tapp family was contacted by the editors' of Cottage Magazine, who expressed their interest in doing a story on the Tapp's family cabin "Holmenkollen". Shortly thereafter Jocelyn Cooper visited the mountain for the day and listened to a few stories....

It's a chilly, dismal September morning in North Vancouver, BC, the grey sky mirrored in the choppy waters of the Pacific. I'm riding shotgun in a Jeep Cherokee with Peter Tapp and his daughter, Reid, on our way up to their family cabin on Hollyburn Ridge.

As we wind our way to and through West Vancouver and then up the foggy mountainside, Peter tells me how in the 1920S and '30S, the avid skiers that settled this flatter part of Hollyburn Mountain, known as "the Ridge," would hike from the West Vancouver ferry up to the old ski camp at an elevation of 762 metres (2,500 feet), He tells how during the Great Depression, they built some 300 cabins along the Ridge, carrying all materials and supplies on their backs, and how a man called George Fanning set the record for the heaviest load, making the trek with a 198-pound pack. His stories are punctuated with Reid's excited reminders of details she wants to be sure he won't forget, and the two paint a picture of a mountain community rich with history still alive today thanks to its dedicated residents.

All of a sudden we're above the clouds and surrounded by blue skies, sunshine and evergreens. We pull into a parking lot where the road ends and ski trails begin. Meeting us there are Peter's sister, Karen, her husband, Ken McNamara and daughter, Tess, along with Peter and Karen's brother, Dave, and his daughter, Riley. As everyone pulls on their jackets and hiking boots amid conversation and laughter, I get the sense of a very close family, lucky enough to be regularly brought together by this special place. We set off up one of the trails toward their cabin, and with the scent of pine trees and fresh dirt thick in the air, I can hardly believe I was in the city a mere 30 minutes ago. The adults begin to give me a brief history of the mountain and how their family found a niche there.

In 1925, a group of young Scandinavian skiers turned several abandoned lumber mill buildings found at what Hollyburners now refer to as the "old mill" site-an area a little more than halfway up the mountain-into a ski camp, where hikers could rent skis, buy coffee and sandwiches, or spend the night. (There was actually so little snowfall at the old mill site over the first two winters that the camp buildings were dismantled and moved up a muddy, slippery trail to an elevation of 930 metres (3050 ft.) by four young men and a team of horses in 1926. They assembled what they called the Hollyburn Ski Camp-later renamed the Hollyburn Ski Lodge-with what they salvaged from their trek at its new, snowier site beside First Lake, where it still stands today.)

Soon, hundreds of youth were hiking up Hollyburn to try their hand (and legs) at skiing, which was a relatively new sport at that time, among them being 13-year-old Bob Tapp, Peter, Karen and Dave's father. Their mother, Greta, made her way up the mountain a few years later, and together, the two have been visiting the area for more than 60 years. 

Just before we pass first Lake and the ski lodge, Reid, Riley and Tess insist on showing me the newt pond just off the trail, where they, along with Reid's brother, Jake, spend much of their summers catching and releasing newts. Their excitement is infectious, and I feel honoured to visit a place so significant to them.

After that, we pass the bright red ski lodge and cross the bridge over First Lake, to which the Hollyburn Heritage Society has added railings featuring historic photos of the area, and though I've never visited the Ridge before, I'm filled with a feeling of nostalgia for a place that obviously has so many memories for so many people.

Eventually we turn onto a tiny narrow path through the trees and two minutes later are greeted with the sight of a very small cabin less than 200 sq. ft.-raised about 20 ft, off the ground; Karen tells me it's because of the huge amount of snow they see in the winter, at which time the cabin actually appears to be sitting on the snowy ground.

As we approach, one of the girls yelps. "Grandpa Don!" and a lanky man looks down from the deck where two other people are sitting, and ambles over. Karen smiles and tells me he's not actually a relative. Don Nelson, a.k.a. "Nelly" or "Grandpa Don" to the kids, has his own cabin nearby and spends a great deal of time on the mountain. He introduces himself to me as Grandpa Don, and when Peter tells him I'm here from the city, he tells me to watch out for bears before heading back to his place. 

We all climb the steep wooden steps to where Bob and Greta Tapp are seated on the deck, and now, with 10 people (and two dogs) in the little space, which is less than half that of the cabin itself, it's a bit chaotic. But even in the whirlwind of hugs, introductions and pitter-patter of little feet (kids' and dogs'), I can't be distracted from the cabin itself. Built of yellow cedar logs in 1933, it's in amazing condition. Two skis form an arch over the entrance where a carved wooden sign dubs the cabin "Holmenkollen," which Dave explains is the name of the biggest ski jump in Norway. "You have to go by invitation from the king;' adds Bob.

Inside is a little indoor porch, half-filled with chopped wood, and beyond that is the cabin's only-and very cozy-room. An old, ornate woodstove takes up one corner, a sink another, and the rest is filled with a table, two couches, boots, jackets and whatever else will fit. The bare log walls are lined with old photos and memorabilia about the cabin and the mountain, and two bunks hang close to the ceiling on chains in a very efficient use of space.

"When we were kids sleeping here, there was a double bunk up top, and two singles on the side;' says Dave. 

''And we put the two kids that fought the least in the double;' Greta chimes in, "which were Karen and our eldest, Dan."

Back outside on the deck, I'm invited to sit down on Dan Tapp's memorial bench. A beautifully finished yellow cedar bench featuring two photos of the oldest Tapp son sits along the far end of the deck. Dan passed away from cancer in May 2005, and the bench was erected in his honour as the cabin was one of his favourite places to go. (He and his friends actually hiked up the trails from school when they were in grade four or five in their shorts and running shoes before the paved road was there.)

"Why don't you tell Jocelyn some stories, Dad?" Peter says to Bob as I take my seat. "Oh no!" Reid groans. "We're going to be here for hours!" Everyone laughs. 

"When I first came here, there were about 4,000 people," Bob begins. "Now, there's 40,000." (In 1997, the all-encompassing name "Cypress Mountain" was given to Hollyburn, along with Mount Strachan and Black Mountain, which form Cypress Bowl, to market the popular skiing area. The once nearly secret world on the mountain is now a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders, and is even a venue for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.)

"We literally get thousands of people every day to ski," says Peter. “Gone are the days when it was necessary to hike a good hour or so up the trails from West Vancouver with your belongings on your back.”

"We used to make it in an hour and a quarter," says Bob. "Cabin life up here was much different when I first started hiking up. No one really knew what skiing was and we all learned together. We had traditions; we'd meet on the ferry coming over, sit at the back and Sing, and ~e had an annual ball and Saturday night dances. Now, we know about a third of the people up here."

"I think the community was stronger then;' says Karen. "By the old chairlift at one point, there was a pile of bricks and a sign that said, 'Take a brick for Norm, he's building his chimney.' Stuff like that was common. Everyone was up on the weekends. Now, there's so many time limitations, so there's not as much time to lend to one another."

Peter agrees. Though the cabin is only about an hour from his house, it takes a lot to get a window of time. "In the winter, somebody's here every month," he says. "But you have to push yourself away from your other commitments to do it."

Most of the people here are pretty dedicated, adds Ken. A few years ago, the municipality sent someone up to grade all the cabins-with an A, B or C-and anyone with a C grade had to fix their cabin up in order to keep it. All but three of the C grades put in the effort, and were able to keep their leases.

"People come up here, all excited to get one of these places, but don't realize how much work is involved in maintaining them," explains Peter. 

Karen nods vigorously. "You have to shovel into the cabins in the winter because there is so much snow," she says. "For a lot of older people, it's very difficult. With us three kids [Peter, Dave and herself] involved, it's a little easier-we all rotate on chores depending on who can do them." 

And the effort put in is well worth it. Though small, the cabin is a welcoming gathering place for friends and family wanting to get away from the city. When Jake was born, Peter's wife, Traci, and her friend who had twins born around the same time, would use Holmenkollen as a peaceful sanctuary for evenings away from the babies.

Peter also remembers the weekend he and Jake brought Peter's friend, Kim DeFaveri, and his l0-year-old son, Mitch, up to the cabin.

"The boys dug tunnels around the cabin, and were sliding their sleds from the peak of the roof into the deep snow of the side yard," says Peter. ''And when you're 10 years old, that's pretty spectacular. Afterward, Mitch says 'Dad, that was better than Disneyland!' And he had just been to Disneyland, so he knew what he was talking about. My own dad's retold that story several times-this place is pretty close to his heart."

Bob smiles proudly and then suggests Peter and Karen take me for a walk to see all the nearby cabins. As we're leaving, Reid and Riley have begun feeding the whiskey jacks they've affectionately named Swiper and Speedy that are swooping around the deck. First stop for us is Don's with some stew from Greta. His cabin is one of the few in the area built of lumber as opposed to log. It's quite a work of art that he has been adding to for years, and he invites us in to see the canoe he is building in the middle of his living room. We stay and chat for a bit, and as we take our leave, Don warns me bears especially like to eat blondes in blue jackets.

Peter, Karen and I begin walking along the old logging roads and ski trails through the woods, and it seems that every time I turn my head, I see another cabin hidden between the trees. Though there were once about 300 of them along the Ridge, many of them were what Bob describes as "tree forts"-a form of cheap housing during the Great Depression-which couldn't stand the test of time. There are about 100 now, each with an annual lease fee.

Peter explains. "We're on lease from the municipality. There's no real money in it. When cabins change hands, there is a value put to them, but I don't think any of us could ever leave it."

"We're caretakers of this living heritage," Karen adds. "We're helping to preserve this place for our generation and those to come."

The two start sharing stories about what it was like to come up here as teenagers. It was the perfect place for teenage recklessness in a safe environment. Peter laughs as he says he once slept 14 people in the tiny cabin-an impressive feat-but that Dan used to claim he got 32 in there. He says that all of the boys got noise complaints when they would host parties at Holmenkollen, as it was so close to the ranger station where a resident caretaker lived, and at age 16, he decided to do something about it. He was able to make an agreement with the owners of another cabin-one further from the ranger station-allowing him to use it when they weren't up there in exchange for labour. "Often the party didn't get started until we had closed all the bars in Vancouver, and this was the place to go where there was no last call!"

Karen's Hollyburn experience was so important to her, that as a teen, when any boys were in the picture, they had to "pass the test of being up here." She and Ken were actually married down by First Lake and spent their wedding night in the cabin. 

As we walk along the path back to the cabin, Peter says they will pass it on to the kids as Bob and Greta passed it on to them. It's a family place. It's so full of memories that it's practically alive. "Hopefully they can keep that going." 

I can see Reid and Riley climbing up and around the Holmenkollen sign above the cabin's doorway, shrieking and laughing, while Tess sits watching them on Dan's memorial bench, and I have no doubt that they can.

To see more photos of Holmenkollen click here and scroll down to the Cabin 225 photos.
For more information about Cottage magazine click on this link.