Skiing in summer? In Whistler, that isn’t as crazy an idea as it sounds. With its year-round glaciers, everyone from pint-sized campers to larger-than-life ski stars have taken advantage of Whistler’s unique setting to squeeze in some turns during the “offseason.”
The sun-filled sky acts as a perfect balance to the chilled mountain air, leading to peak skiing conditions – pun definitely intended.
Since the first lifts were installed in the 1960s Whistler has always been was a popular ski destination. Perhaps a victim of its own success, long lineups during the Winter discouraged many impatient skiers, but during the summer this was not the case. Many become occupied with the variety of summer activities available in the Whistler area, such as canoeing on Alta Lake, so the mountain was left to the die-hard skiers.
Whistler’s Glacier Bowl was also the only permanent snowfield in Canada that was easily accessible by lifts, a convenience factor which trumped earlier summer skiing efforts powered by helicopters, or simply placing one foot ini front of the other with your ski gear on your back.
The first summer ski camps on the Whistler glacier were pioneered by Toni Sailer, a medal-winning member of the Austrian ski racing team. Sailer’s motivation behind developing the ski camp program on Whistler was largely driven by the need for competitive skiers to stay in shape and to improve their techniques between competition seasons, but as word of the camps spread recreational skiers also became active participants.
Four types of instruction (Advanced Racing, Intermediate and Novice Racing, Recreational, and Freestyle) became the norm, and accommodated skiers of all levels who received personalized instruction by internationally known skiers such as Nancy Greene Raine, Wayne Wong, and Jim McConkey.
These ski camps inspired many young skiers to enter the competitive world of ski racing, among them being Dave Murray, who attended his first Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp at the age of 15. Murray quickly rose to fame as one of the Crazy Canucks – the Canadian ski racing team – who took the European-dominated ski racing world by storm with their reckless style of skiing.
After 10 years on the competitive ski racing circuit Murray retired to become the director of skiing at Whistler Mountain, as well as the organizer and lead instructor of the summer ski camps. In 1984, the name of Whistler’s most popular summer ski camp was officially changed to the Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camp, and its fame grew to attract many skiers from Europe and Japan.
During the late 1980s the popularity of snowboarding on Blackcomb Mountain was also growing, prompting a need for the development of summer camps that catered to this new breed of mountain rider. The Snoboard Shop Camp of Champions (established in 1989) was one of the first summer camps to cater to snowboarders, and by 2008 60% of Whistler-Blackcomb campers were snowboarders, indicating a mass migration away from camps dedicated to the traditional snow sports.
Camps for all types of snow sport – as well as for the newer mountain biking market – have continued to grow in popularity in Whistler as the draw of the year-round glaciers continue to provide excellent conditions for Whistler’s summer ski and snowboard camps.