SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here? - Cliff White and the Mighty Quay

In 2018 visitors to Banff National Park have the great privilege to ski at three world-class resorts: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay. Skibums and boarders alike can pick their favourite or try all three while staying in the beautiful Banff and Lake Louise area. But how did we get here? Who first skied these mountains? What did it take to carve the runs into the mountainside? Who built the first cabins and started the first ski clubs?

The following series of blog posts entitled SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here?, will feature one key ski pioneer who made the difference in the early days of each (or multiple) of our beloved SkiBig3 resorts.

Cliff White and The Mighty Quay

V683/1/C/2/b-PA139-112, Cliff White at Mount Norquay

Clifford White Sr. was born in Banff on February 13th, 1902 to Dave and Annie White. Along with his brother Peter, Cliff White was among the first in Banff to pursue skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Thanks to the well-known and well-celebrated Austrian climbing guide Conrad Kain, Cliff and other Banff youngsters of the 1920's were able to give ski jumping a try on the jump Kain built down the side of Tunnel Mountain. 

Around this same time, Cliff, Pete, and their friends Fulton Dunsmore and Cyril Paris began exploring the slopes of Mount Norquay. A Scandinavian man Gus Johnson, who had learned to ski in his native Sweden, was also active on Mount Norquay and keen to pass on his knowledge of skiing. Prior to 1926, perhaps with the help of locals like the White boys, Paris and Dunsmore, Johnson slashed the first downhill ski run out of stubborn fire after-growth on Norquay. 

In 1928 Cliff and his friends formed the Mount Norquay Ski Club and built a cabin at the bottom of a cleared slope. The cabin was officially opened on February 3rd, 1929 and quickly became the place to party for the ski community. Members would eat together, work on the cabin and light lamps so they could ski till midnight. Their apres ski of choice involved a phonograph and the banjos of Cliff White and local musician Louis Trono.

V681/A/2/PA-63, Cliff White, 1921, Grizzly St. Hill,
Dave White (family) fonds

As the popularity of downhill skiing overtook that of cross country in the Bow Valley Mount Norquay was used more and more. The Calgary Ski Club was incorporated in 1935, the same year that a road was built up to the cabin on Mount Norquay. Calgary skiers would carpool, bus or take the train to Banff to ski at Norquay on the weekends. 

Cliff White had found his life's work in promoting and developing skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Even during the Great Depression, when financial times were especially hard and Cliff had a family to provide for, Cliff continued to promote the Rockies as a ski destination through photography and making ski films, while also working with his father and brothers at the family store on Banff Avenue. He was involved in numerous ski adventures including skiing 300 km from Jasper to Lake Louise with Joe Weiss and Russell Bennett, and traversing the Waddington Range as a member of Sir Norman Watson’s expedition in 1934. Using photographs and film from his adventures, Cliff toured eastern North America, Britain and Europe to promote skiing in the Canadian Rockies.

One of Cliff's biggest adventures was, arguably, the development of Skoki Lodge in the backcountry of Lake Louise. Cliff, along with Cyril Paris, Fulton Dunsmore and Tex Woods hiked through Ptarmigan Valley to the top of Deception Pass and then down into Skoki Valley where they found the perfect spot for a back country lodge. They met a slight hiccup in their plans when Park Commissioner J.B. Harkin refused Cliff White's initial application to build the cabin. It wasn't until Cliff attained permission from his fellow Mount Norquay Ski Club members to apply as the Mount Norquay Ski Club that permission was granted. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here?, where we will explore Lake Louise and the legacy of Skoki Lodge.

V263/NA-805, Byron Harmon fonds, Skiing at Skoki, [1932?]
Russell Bennett (fourth from left), Vic Kutschera (fifth from left), Peter and Catharine Whyte (right)


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