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“What Is a Ski Map?”: Murray Hay and the Ski Maps of the Canadian Rockies

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

By Courtney Maxwell-Alves, Manager of Development

Back to The Cairn

I have never been to a ski hill. There, I said it. But, if I asked you “have you ever seen a ski map or taken one home, either on purpose or by accident?,” would you say yes? Then you probably have encountered a map by Murray Hay.

Left: [Sunshine Village Husky World Downhill and Giant Slalom poster], March 8-9. 1986, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (M570/III/B/i/1)

Right: [Blackcomb/Whistler trail map], [ca.1980-ca.1990], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (M570/III/A/ii/1)

The Archives of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies recently acquired the personal papers, drafts, and portfolio of commercial artist Murray Hay, who hand-painted ski maps for all of our favourite ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies and beyond. As the initial processor of this collection, I became interested in Hay’s intricate process of map-making and decided to delve a little deeper into the history of skiing in Banff and Murray Hay’s role in that story.

Banff Winter Carnival, boys ski jump [on Learn’s Hill], ca. 1920, Byron Harmon/photographer, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Byron Harmon fonds (V263/NA-3980)

Skiing in the Canadian Rockies has become a prominent feature of mountain culture, past and present. Although skiing arrived in Banff in the mid-1890s, it wasn’t until Conrad Kain arrived in 1910 with a set of Norwegian skis that the sport became popular among residents and visitors. Using homemade skis, many local children learned to ski and jump on Learn’s Hill, by Buffalo Street (near the Old Banff Cemetery), including Peter and Cliff White and Cyril Paris. In 1917, the White brothers and Paris formed the Banff Ski Club.

Also in 1917, the first Banff Winter Carnival was organized by local businessmen Norman Luxton and B. W. Collinson, as a way to promote Banff as a winter destination (at this time most visitors went to Banff in the summer).

Start of girls ski race on Banff Avenue during Banff Winter Carnival, 1925, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Jim Brewster fonds (v90/658/NA66-1999)

The Banff Winter Carnival became an annual event and by 1921, skiing (including ski jumping, skijoring, and cross-country skiing) was a central activity, attracting amateur and professional skiers. In addition to skiing, the Carnival hosted activities such as curling, hockey, skating, and dogsled races.

As the popularity of the sport grew, local residents began looking for ideal locations for downhill skiing in and around Banff. This eventually led to the development of the “big three”: Mount Norquay Ski Resort, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, and Lake Louise Ski Resort. For example, in the mid-1920’s, Cliff and Pete White, along with friends Fulton Dunsmore and Cyril Paris, began scouting for good skiing on Mount Norquay. Noticing that due to forest fires and logging there were ready made slopes ideal for skiing on Norquay, they developed the first ski run and later built a cabin, the Mount Norquay Ski Camp, which officially opened in 1929 during the Winter Carnival. This would eventually become the first ski resort in the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Norquay Ski Club Lodge, [ca.1932], Byron Harmon/photographer, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Byron Harmon fonds (V263/NA-3613)

Skiing in Banff continues to be a major draw for visitors and young people who want to work and live in Banff, and is a cornerstone of the human history and culture of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The development of the ski industry in the Rockies inevitably led to the need for trail maps of the various ski hills and artists to create these maps. A self-taught artist, Murray Hay was asked in 1976 by Charlie Locke and Sir Rodney Touche to paint a ski map for the Lake Louise ski hill. As someone who had never been skiing and knew nothing about mountains, his initial response was “what is a ski map?!” He eventually agreed and this forever changed the course of his career.

Left: [Lake Louise trail map brochure], 1992-1993, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (M570/III/B/ii/1)

Right: [Lake Louise ski area], [ca.1976-2000], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/B/ii/1)

Born on October 1, 1931 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Murray Hay left home at the age of 16 to travel, ending up in Melbourne, Australia for a year. During his time in Australia, he painted and sold greeting cards while enjoying the beach life. Hay returned to Canada and relocated to Calgary around 1960 where he lived with his wife and two daughters until his death on October 27, 2015.

Left: [Murray Hay], [ca.1951], Personal Collection of Allison Hay, Calgary

Right: [Murray Hay on the Glenmore Reservoir], [ca.1981], Personal Collection of Allison Hay, Calgary

Ski map artist extraordinaire, Hay worked out of his basement studio in his home in Calgary. After creating a ski map for Lake Louise, the word of Hay’s skills spread and he was asked to paint maps for both Sunshine Village Ski Resort and Mount Norquay Ski Resort. From there, Hay was sought out by other ski hills across Canada, North America and international venues, as well as to paint maps for various Olympic bids (e.g. Calgary 1988, Alyeska 1992) and tourism maps for brochures and magazines (e.g. Equinox Magazine, Reader’s Digest, “Keys” to various cities like Calgary).

[Calgary Olympic Bid], 1988, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/B/iv/1)

One of the most interesting aspects of the items in his collection is how they offer a glimpse into Hay’s artistic process. For his first paintings of the “big three” completed in the mid-1970’s, Hay used resource material and reference photographs provided by the ski hills to support his work. Not entirely happy with the results, Hay began photographing the areas he was painting from a small plane or helicopter. Wearing a harness, Hay would take numerous photographs from an open door and later lay them out and tape them together until he got the right view and angle of the mountain the ski hill was looking for. For the next few weeks, he would then sketch his first draft on tracing paper, tacked on a board. He would then place a grid on the tracing paper and begin sketching on the actual board and, finally, he would begin painting. Throughout the process, Hay would take his work to the ski hill to ensure he was on the right track and fulfilling his contract. Overall, it took Hay approximately three to four months to complete a painting, and once completed, Hay would add overlays to include trail lines and names, as well as the legend and any other required information.

[Sunshine Village, original draft], [ca.1980-ca.1999], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/B/vi/3)

Left: [Yoho National Park, British Columbia], [ca.1980-ca.1999], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/A/i/1)

Right: [City of Kimberley, British Columbia], [ca. 1980-ca.1999], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/A/iii/1)

Upon completion of a project, Hay would bring the finished product to the ski hill who would then take photographs of it, reproducing the map for brochures, pocket trail maps, etc. The original painting, once the overlays were removed, could be displayed somewhere in the ski hill’s main office or lodge so they usually remained with the ski hill. Murray Hay painted multiple maps for ski hills as trails changed and new developments were added. He of course had his favourites (Lake Louise and Sunshine, among others), Hay loved to paint mountains and became a skier in the process. He would often lower the price of a painting or while negotiating terms of a new contract to include a ski week for himself and his daughters, Allison and Lynda.

[Murray and Allison Hay skiing], [ca.1999], Personal Collection of Allison Hay, Calgary

I thoroughly enjoyed processing Murray Hay’s collection, not only for the maps themselves but also for the conversations I had with his daughter, Allison, which provided contextual information about what I was looking at. Simply put, I learned a lot. As you can imagine, many of the maps we acquired are quite big (and include the aforementioned overlays) and the photographs included in this article offer a mere snapshot of examples available in the collection. However, I did manage to photograph some of Hay’s original and draft paintings that demonstrate another key aspect of Hay’s career: he didn’t just make ski maps. One example, as seen below, is a map made of Montana. I included several different photographs of this map to show the level of detail and Hay’s process.

[Montana, original], [ca.1990-ca.1999], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Murray Hay fonds (V795/II/D/i/3)

Although many of Hay’s maps were used primarily for commercial purposes, I couldn’t help but feel each map I encountered was a work of art. I was impressed with Hay’s meticulous process and striking attention to detail, which are evident in his work, and spent the most time with his originals and drafts.

Mountains, particularly the Canadian Rockies, became Murray Hay’s comfort zone and happy place. His first ski hill commission in 1976 changed the course of his career and pushed Hay to become a trailblazer in ski map creation in North America. He used acrylic paints, always started with the sky, rarely sat while he painted, and had an excellent sense of humour. While sometimes becoming bored with the extensive detail of a painting, Hay would amuse himself by adding subtle things like wipe outs and car crashes barely noticeable, but he knew they were there.

As his daughter Allison says, “He was able to create a marriage of cartography and art that is used for business, tourism, safety, education, and are also remarkably beautiful paintings.”

[Murray Hay working o