What started as a rope tow and a warming hut in front of a parking lot has developed into a mountain village where alpine enthusiasts are now spoiled with over 1,800 acres of snowy terrain.
Panorama first opened in the fall of 1962. While it lacked many amenities that are considered essential today, the grassroots founders of the hill were adamant about developing a location for people to participate in the increasingly popular sport of skiing.
The rich history to follow over the next 50 years was documented by Andy Stuart-Hill in his recently-updated book “A history of Panorama: the hill that became a mountain”. Speaking with The Echo, Stuart-Hill explained the reference about “the hill that became a mountain.”
“My wife suggested that [title] because the original was a little mom and pop ski hill: Panorama ski hill, we all knew it by that,” he said. “Then as the different companies took it over, it eventually became Panorama Mountain Village, and the word hill never ever appeared again.”
A History of Panorama: The hill that became a mountain was published in 2007 and is now in its fourth edition. It has sold 1,900 copies, and Stuart-Hill has ordered another 100 copies that are now being sold at Panorama and at the Book Bar in Invermere.
During a special presentation at the Windermere Valley Museum on February 15 (Friday), Stuart-Hill highlighted Panorama’s significant changes to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary.
He spoke about the gradual expansion of lifts before skiers could reach the summit, the additional attractions like heli-skiing and mountain biking, as well as condo and hotel development, all of which are detailed in his book.
During the early days, chilly skiers looking for refuge could take shelter in a small warming hut. Only a few years later, an A-frame building was constructed, connecting the first modern building with Panorama’s legacy. Along with proper washrooms and a better heater, the new building provided a communal hub for families.
“All the young mothers used to bring their kids there, and then the mothers would take turns to babysit the kids while they went out to ski – one mother stayed behind and looked after the kids and another would come in,” he said.
Stuart-Hill moved to Invermere in 1967, five years after Panorama’s first season. Having witnessed 90 per cent of the resort’s history firsthand, he noticed drastic changes. Comparing this ski season to the 1960s, Stuart-Hill noticed a big difference in weather.
“In those days, there was an awful lot more snow, there was lots of snow, but the equipment was very primitive and that made a big difference,” he said. “We struggled and battled because the [ski] bindings were really old-fashioned; you had to be so careful.”
“The equipment was really lacking in those days – hence the broken legs just about every weekend,” he said. “Now, if you get one or two broken legs a season, I don’t know if it’s fact, but it’s very rare now that you get a broken leg.”
The greatest change happened between the mid 1980s and the late 1990s, he said, when Panorama benefited from housing sales.
“Real estate was the big focus and whatever money they could spare, they put it into the hill as improvements,” he said.
As a walking encyclopedia of Panorama Mountain Village’s history, Stuart-Hill explained how he was inspired to write the history book.
“So many people have said, ‘I wish there was a book around here’ and I was going to do postcards, because I do photography as well, and somebody says, ‘Well, why don’t you put it all in book form?’,” he explained. “So I did it on my own. I interviewed people, I put it all together, and I had a lady help me edit, to make sure it flowed and all that.”
Once he had the book written ready for readers, he had to overcome a hurdle before his work was published.
“I tried to look for financial support to publish it, but nobody would come forth, so I said, ‘To heck with it, I’m too independent,’ so I published it myself,” he said. “It was printed down here locally. The first run of about 300 or 400 books sold out very quickly, so I was able to recoup my money. I have all these pictures and everybody’s expressed great interest and thanked me for having done this project because they wanted it done.”