Finding Tod: Prof offered to write 50-year history after designing seminar

As an academic more accustomed to scholarly research, Kathleen Scherf stumbled upon the idea of writing a history of Sun Peaks almost by accident.

Scherf, who teaches communication and cultural studies in the TRU faculty of arts, became involved indirectly. She was asked to develop a seminar for Sun Peaks Resort Corporation, focusing on local points of interest. That got her thinking about mountain culture.

As she learned of the steely determination to bring the dream of a mountain resort to life against the odds, Scherf knew a book was warranted. That book, An Evolution of Dreams (Peaks Media, Sun Peaks, $39.95), is expected to arrive just in time for the hill's 50 thanniversary celebrations.

"I realized there was an opportunity here for a really good cultural history to be written. It's not just a mountain resort, of course. It is also a very strong sense of community there. That was a very interesting aspect that caught my 'writerly' attention."

After making her pitch, she got the go-ahead earlier this year.

"That was in May. I've never written a book quite so quickly."

Her greatest source of first-hand information was Dr. Bill McLaren, 90, who was among the original dozen people who spearheaded the development of Tod Mountain. Only a few of those trailblazers survive.

"It's been very useful, I think, to Sun Peaks. It's cleared up a lot of misunderstanding."

For example, many people had been led to believe that Harry Burfield was a ski-area founder (the Sun Peaks travel guide at Wikitravel still states this); he's not. The naming of Burfield Lodge in his honour took place only after his death in a 1971 plane crash (on an aerial tour of the mountain), Scherf noted.

"There was a question of how we even found Tod Mountain," Scherf said, her use of the pronoun "we" suggesting she feels a part of the community after the writing.

The idea of developing a ski area in the mountains northwest of Kamloops came from Don Whyte, a land surveyor who skied at Silver Star near Vernon in the 1950s.

Whyte was driving north on Highway 97 from Monte Lake one day when he spotted a snow-shrouded alpine peak in the distance.

"Just before the road falls down into the river valley, and only for about a kilometre, can you see Tod Mountain from Monte Lake. And you see it rosy and powdery looking."

That would have been enough to whet the appetite of a powder hound, the sort of skier who hungers for superior conditions just over the horizon.

In May 1959, Whyte and a group of buddies rented horses from Whitecroft ranch (for the princely sum of $1 a day per horse) to explore Tod, also known as Old Baldy. Rob White guided them into the alpine and they donned skis at an old shepherd's cabin.

"We didn't know how much that day would change our lives," Whyte would say later.

"I hiked up to it because I wanted to be part of that history," Scherf said. "The next morning they hiked to the Top of the World and looked at the bowl. Don Whyte said, 'This is where the chairlift should come.' Two years later, a chairlift was there."

Trying to reconstruct Whyte's moment of inspiration, Scherf brought Dr. McLaren along for a drive of Highway 97 last summer. They had to drive back and forth before they found the spot.

"He had brought with him this tiny little container of scotch and, right there, looking at Tod Mountain, we toasted the memory of Don Whyte."

The book will be available by Dec. 14 at the resort or at its store location in Kamloops.

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