Skiing is essential to Calgary’s culture and connects us to indigenous peoples who thrive in winter climates. Beginning in the 1700s, marching European troops organized ski races. With the advent of train travel in the 19th-century, mountains became more accessible and the first downhill ski areas were established.
Sport skiing arrived in the Rocky Mountains from Scandinavian Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers and Swiss and Austrian mountaineers. In 1926, Swedish skier Gus Johnson and colleagues from Banff Ski Club sought the best slopes for a dedicated area to learn skiing. They chose Mt. Norquay, the Rockies’ first ski resort.
Built in 1928, Norquay’s cabin burnt down in 1938 and was replaced with the North American Lodge in 1940, still standing today. Its first rope tow was installed in 1941, followed by the “Big Chair” lift in 1948.
Other ski areas quickly followed. A CPR cabin near today’s Sunshine Village was used as a lodge starting in 1928. In 1929, Mt. Assiniboine Lodge became North America’s first backcountry ski lodge. And in 1938, Temple Lodge was built on Whitehorn Mountain, the beginnings of Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Banff arrived on skiing’s mainstage after hosting the Dominion Ski Championships in 1937, 1940 and again in 1948, when Dee Read became Ladies Champion. She later coached the University of Calgary women’s alpine ski team and helped Calgary win its fourth attempt to host the Olympics. According to a former Canadian alpine racer, “She was the mom to all the ski racers.”
For the 1988 XV Winter Olympic Games, Paskapoo Ski Hill (built circa 1960) was renovated for $200 million and renamed Canada Olympic Park. It hosted bobsleigh, luge and ski jumping. Canmore Nordic Centre was built for cross-country skiing and biathlon while Nakiska was constructed for alpine events.
Skiing remains a popular winter activity. The value of Alberta’s ski areas was $428 million in 2018-19. Our region also hosts skiing sport excellence. Calgary is home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and WinSport, the Canadian Winter Sport Institute, both preserves our Olympic heritage (the sliding track needs refurbishment) and nurtures tomorrow’s Olympians.
– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC