Ask an “old schooler” what they remember about Tod Mountain back in the ‘70s and the answers are as varied as the people themselves. Some recall the mountain as their personal playground where just about anything went. Others wax on about the endless parties and wild nightlife. All of them remember those early days as some of the best times of their lives.
“Back in the ‘70s, and I don’t think you’ll find anybody that would disagree, it was Utopia for anyone living here,” says former ski instructor, David Stelmock.
Stelmock, who back then, lived in his camper in the parking lot near the Burfield lift, remembers his buddies first turned him on to Tod Mountain.
“I was working back East and my buddies said, ‘If you want to go skiing, you’ve got to go to Tod Mountain,’” says Stelmock noting that the “‘Burf” delivered him to 3,100 vertical feet mere steps from where he slept.
Allan Watte, a former ski patroller, first arrived at Tod Mountain in 1970 after he and his ski buddies couldn’t find work in Lake Louise.
“The local cops figured that the hard core skiers were the cause of all the funny smelling smoke in town,” says Watte. “They circulated a list to all the employers and said, ‘You can’t hire these bums anymore.’”
It was Watte’s friends that steered him to the newly reopened Tod Mountain where he worked as a ski patroller and stayed for love of the mountain.
“It was the best hill I’d ever seen,” reflects Watte. “I came from the East and had only skied at Lake Louise, Norquay and Whistler, but Tod Mountain was it. Whistler might be better, but we get better snow.”
Ian McLaren, owner of McSporties ski shop was a ski instructor back then and remembers the ‘70s as a time, “When everybody was pretty free and easy with the ski bums around.”
With a mantra of “anything goes” ruling the mountain, McLaren says they used to build their own ski jumps, and have bum jump competitions, all culminating in yardarm contests at the Burfield Bier Stube.
“You could go out and pretty much do want you wanted on the hill,” he says. Stelmock agrees. “You’d go out after skiing and you’d be in the bar, and everyone would get talking then we’d go outside and start building big jumps.”
McLaren remembers, “We used to build a jump under the chair past mid-mountain by the Chief. It was made out of part of a tree and we’d pack snow under it and launch off,” admitting, “I actually broke my leg there, doing that!”
It was back in the ‘70s that Wonder Weekend was first created with dual slalom and crazy carpet races and a kid’s jousting contest. Then came the Labatt’s Freestyle Ski Team, putting on a show and a top to bottom race.
“We spent all our time at the Burfield and during the freestyle competitions we had races and jumps and everybody could see it from the bottom,” says Stelmock. “There’d be a big crowd, it was just a big party.”
The party generally continued into the night and, from what the old schoolers recall, the dress code for many of those events was “clothing optional.”
“Those were the days of the streakers,” notes McLaren, who’s backed up by Stelmock. “We’re all in the Bier Stube at night and a group from the ski patrol go running through with bandages on, but basically, they’re naked!”
According to McLaren, it didn’t end there.
“It was a full on naked dance party,” he says. “The older locals who were my dad’s age, were a little mortified at what they saw when they looked in the window.”
Watte, in a reflective moment of discretion says, “I couldn’t even tell you about some of the outrageous stuff that happened here!”
It was a different time with different economics, and none of the old schoolers got rich working at Tod Mountain.
“Back then, a beer cost 25 or 50 cents,” says Watte. “But when you only made $1.40 an hour (ski patrolling), that’s pretty dear!”
Danny Taylor has averaged 80 days a year skiing Tod Mountain since he first arrived back in 1974. He remembers the ‘70s as a time when he and his buddies had the mountain to themselves.
“My best memory of the ‘70s is how few people were actually skiing here,” he says, noting that, “If it snowed on a Sunday or Monday, you skied powder all week.”
Ultimately, it was the love of the mountain and the “Burf” that kept many of the old schoolers here. They worked maintenance and construction in the summer, building chairlifts and improving the road to the resort, just so they could ski all winter.
“I’ve been here since ’73,” says Stelmock. “When I’d get up in the morning I’d walk 100 feet and I’d be at the bottom of the longest chairlift in North America, with the most vertical feet. That’s why I came here. That’s why I stayed.”