How do you combine a serious history book with a commercially accessible coffee table book that will sell?
“Like this,” said Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English as she motioned towards the first copy of First Tracks, a new museum book exploring the history of skiing in Revelstoke. “I think we did a pretty good job of it. I think it is a good, solid history of skiing in Revelstoke, and I think it is a book that people really are going to enjoy.” She adds it’s also accessible for visitors.
The original target was a 144-page book, but with so many new photos and stories coming in, several new 16-page folios were added. The final tally is 203 pages. “There’s a much bigger story than you can fit into a 200-page book,” English said.
“Right from the very beginning we wanted it to be very strongly photograph based,” she said. “The text would be supporting the photographs, but of course we had a specific narrative we wanted to tell too, so it was trying to find that right mix.”
The First Tracks project also contributed greatly to the museum’s mission to gather local history. The committee that compiled the book included English, project manager Jan Morehouse, principal author Laura Stovel, designer Kathryn Whiteside, photo designer Rob Buchanan, photo editor Kip Wiley, and committee members Alex Cooper, Gillian Hewitt, Lisa Longinatto, Nancy Martin, Karilyn Kempton and office support by Daria Cater.
They received many photo donations and compiled about 50 interviews; they’ve added the resources to the museum’s collection. “Nobody said no,” English said.
First Tracks combines a chronological history with skiing by genre. It opens with early history, then floats into the ski jumping era, which dominated the early and mid-century ski scene.
Ski jumping was “incredibly popular,” said principal author Laura Stovel. “There were ski jumps all over town.”
The book was partially based on an earlier online virtual exhibit, but was extensively revised, updated and augmented by the committee.
“I think it really brought out some of the early history that we’ve forgotten,” Stovel said. “We’re in a place where skiing is big, but I had no idea it was as big as it was, and it was that big early on – really since 1914.”
Although skiing has been around since the 1890s, it never really caught on until then, and also had major periods of decline. Ski jumping died out in the 1970s, yet alpine hadn’t taken off quite yet.
As a result, residents may not have realized how pervasive skiing has been in Revelstoke for a century.
“It was just part of growing up here,” Stovel said. “Most people were on skis at some point. An American magazine from 1928 talked about Revelstoke as a place where the children go out of the cradle and onto skis.”
For English, the project also fleshed in the history of alpine skiing here, including runs on Mt. Revelstoke that predated the Powder Springs resort on Mt. Mackenzie.
“I think a lot of people were aware that there was ski jumping here,” English said. “But I don’t think a lot of people realized that there was other skiing here.” Stovel even tramped through the bush to an early downhill run called Haner’s Hill with Earl Campbell, where they found the run and an old roller from the rope tow.
For Stovel, it was the stories of the pioneering ski community that captivated her. “I was quite interested in the old ski and snowshoe tramps that they used to have … they would go to the Jordan cabin and socialize there, or they would follow a leader and go off through the bush,” Stovel said. “They had a really great social life around skiing. Skiing was so often associated with getting together, going and exploring through the bush and then going and having refreshments, and maybe a dance.”
Revelstoke residents may be aware of the big names from early- to mid-20th century ski jumping, but the book also fills in the pioneering years of other genres, naming the ski cabin builders, the heli-skiing pioneers, the rise of touring and the development of lift-accessed skiing in Revelstoke.
The photo editing by Kip Wiley is great. Photographers invariably focus on the skiers charging down the hill, but often the story is in background. First Tracks has a great mix of both – I’m sure it was really hard to narrow it down to just 203 pages.
First Tracks: The History of Skiing in Revelstoke is available at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives. $45 including tax.