Tag Archives: 2010 Olympics

Volunteers of 2010: The Weasel Workers

This past month, the Whistler Museum opened a temporary exhibit on the Sea to Sky volunteers of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The exhibit will run through March as Whistler continues to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Paralympic Games.  One of the groups included in this exhibit is a group that formed well before the Games ever came to Whistler.

The Weasel Workers formed in the 1970s when Bob Parsons bad his crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.  Most of the early volunteers were parents of Whistler Mountain Ski Club members, but membership grew over the years as Weasels continued to work on the courses for large races on Whistler and began sending volunteers to help build courses for World Cups, World Championships, and Winter Olympics on other mountains.  When the Games were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003, the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team well in advance of the alpine events held on Whistler Mountain.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

During the 2010 Games, the number of Weasel Workers swelled to about 1,500 volunteers.  Volunteers came from across Canada and other nations to join a core group of 400 to 500 volunteers from Vancouver and the Sea to Sky area.  About 300 volunteers worked specifically for the Paralympics, and a couple hundred Weasel Workers volunteered to work for both the Olympics and Paralympics.  Weasel volunteers began their work for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on Whistler Mountain as early as mid-November 2008 and continued to clean the courses well after the Games had left town.

Even during the Games, the Weasels continued to be a family affair.  Bunny Hume, who began volunteering the with Weasels with her husband Dick in the early 1980s when their grandsons began ski racing, volunteered alongside multiple family members.  She handed out and collected race bibs, her son Rick was the Chief of Course for the women’s course, and her grandsons Jeff and Scott worked on the dye crew.  Rick’s wife Lynne also worked as a Weasel during the Paralympics.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

Some of the Weasel Workers who began volunteering as ski club parents even had children competing in the Games.  Long-time Weasel Andrée Janyk, who could often be found working on a course with a smile, saw two of her children, Britt and Mike, race in the Olympics in their hometown.

Karl Ricker, also a long-time dedicated Weasel Worker, was on the mountain trying to prevent people from crossing where the winch-cats were working when he received the news that Maëlle Ricker, his daughter, had won a gold medal in snowboard-cross on Cypress Mountain and become the first Canadian woman to claim an Olympic gold on home soil.  He went down to Vancouver to attend her medal ceremony, but was back at work on the course early the next morning.

Despite rain, wet snow, and warm weather over the first few days of the Games, and the postponement of three races, the Weasel Workers created and maintained courses for the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic alpine races that were seen around the world in 2010, and those who came to Whistler to work with the Weasels became just as much a part of the team as the long-time volunteers.  Patrick Maloney, then the Weasel president, told The Whistler Question that, “Anybody that’s on that track is a Weasel Worker.”  This sentiment was echoed by Weasel Worker Colin Pitt-Taylor, who claimed that, “as soon as you started working on an alpine course, you became a Weasel Worker, whether you like it or not.”

“Ask Me! I’m a Local” and the 2010 Games

It is well established that Whistler residents have a strong history of volunteering, both for major events and more regularly within the community.

Perhaps the largest event put on in Whistler with the help of volunteers was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which required hundreds of volunteers each day.  One specific volunteer program that was in place during the 2010 Games was Ask Me! I’m a Local.

The Ask Me! program was conceived by Whistler resident Janis McKenzie and her visiting friend Dan Perdue over a cup of coffee in January 2009.

The idea was simple: connect friendly, button-wearing locals to visitors who might need some help.  Local residents would sign up to wear an Ask Me! button while in the Whistler Village, and the button would identify them as someone visitors could approach to ask directions of, make recommendations, or even take a photo (though selfies were becoming increasingly popular, front-facing cameras on phones were not as common as they are today).

Ask Me! I’m a Local program creators stand with Sumi, the 2010 Paralympic Games mascot. Photo courtesy of Janis McKenzie.

McKenzie approached the RMOW, which agreed to fund the program, and got to work developing it so it would be in place by 2010.  According to the Ask Me! strategic plan, “[Whistler is] a community that prides itself on being friendly and reaching out to help our visitors in their native tongue.  We do this because we genuinely care and know that the experience our guests have will define our future.”  Unlike official Olympic volunteers with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC), this program did not require a set number of shifts often lasting eight to ten hours.  This meant that residents could volunteer and act as ambassadors for Whistler simply by walking through town wearing their button.

To recruit volunteers and raise awareness of the program, a launch party was planned for October 1, 2009.  While McKenzie said they hoped to have 80 to 100 people attend and sign up, over 200 people lined up to attend the party at the GLC.  Those who signed up for a button at the party were entered into a draw prize and were eligible to win a season pass donated by Whistler Blackcomb, who also covered all of the costs for the party.

According to McKenzie, over 600 people had registered for buttons by the time of the Games.  The buttons were available in five languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese), and businesses could also take part by displaying a decal in their window.

Joan Richoz poses proudly with her Ask Me! I’m a Local button during the 2010 Games. Photo courtesy of Claire Johnson.

Though organizers originally thought that few participants would want extra training, over 80 per cent of participants registered for in-person training and over 90 per cent registered to receive a monthly newsletter in order to learn more about Whistler.

The success of the simple grassroots program was recognized in the media and the idea spread, with Vancouver introducing its own version of the program for the Games, and Russian representatives asking about it ahead of their own Games.

Though the Ask Me! buttons can no longer be seen, many of its duties are now carried out by the Village Host program.  McKenzie described the program as “an incredible journey” that exceeded all expectations.  Throughout the Games locals could be found in Whistler proudly wearing their buttons, answering questions, and giving directions to the thousands of visitors and participants of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  The main idea behind the program remains relevant in Whistler today: “It’s the smallest things we do that will make the biggest difference for our guests’ experience.”

Building the Spirit: Whistler’s Volunteers of the 2010 Games

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Whistler Museum presents our latest temporary exhibit, featuring stories and artefacts of the volunteers and community members who made the Games a unique experience in Whistler.  Join us opening night to share your own tales of 2010 and show off your Olympic memorabilia (we’re betting a lot of you still have those red mitts and blue coats)!

Doors open at 6:30 pm, Friday, February 28.  Free admission.

Catering (cash bar and complimentary snacks) provided by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre with the support of the RMOW.

Exhibit closes April 19.

Best Laid Plans…

On Thursday, February 15, the museum was thrilled to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson (KR) as our speakers for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.

The three began the evening with a look at the years of planning, partnerships and collaborations that went into creating not only the Olympic Bid but also the Games themselves.  Hosting the Olympics is a huge undertaking and, like anything you plan for, it seems some of the best stories are the ones that you don’t expect.

KR, Mo Douglas and John Rae at February’s Speaker Series.

From the volunteer staying in Birken who was determined to come work the Olympics despite a recent kidney transplant to the absurdity of asking the RCMP to please pull over and ticket speeding VANOC cars who were enjoying being the only ones on the road to knocking on the doors of the National Japanese Olympic Committee to borrow mittens for a medal ceremony, the stories of the three speakers demonstrated that some things cannot be planned for.

KR was the festival director for Whistler Live. The Whistler Live team had the task of planning, creating and broadcasting programming for 8 to 15 hours every day of the Olympics in six different venues, all controlled from one studio.  This included live performances, interviews, street entertainment, photography, films and, of course, the Olympic sports.  According the John Rae and KR, scheduling the programming began with the sports which included trying to find a way to show all Sea to Sky athletes.  Other content was slotted in around the sporting events.  As competitions and other events could be postponed and rescheduled without too much notice, running Whistler Live was a delicate balancing act, one John Rae described as “a chess game that was being played every day.”

The Whistler Live stage and screens in crowded Village Square. Photo: Anastasia Chomlack/RMOW

The first day of Whistler Live didn’t entirely go smoothly.  First, the horses that were supposed to lead the parade of Canadian athletes into Village Square went home sick.  The rest is best put in KR’s words.

We’re just trying to get this group back and we’re learning how to switch out the CTV feed and the Hairfarmers were playing, and that was great, and then all of a sudden, we’re kind of getting into our groove, and this big [notice] on the screens comes up and it’s like ‘I’m sorry, Bell Expressvu is no longer in service.’

After running to the studio, where people were running to fix the problem, KR was told by the director “I want you to run to the stage, and I want you to start talking, and I don’t want you to stop until we fix this.”  Thankfully the Whistler Live team was able to return the feeds just as the Canadian team rounded the corner into Village Square.  The next day it was discovered someone at Bell in Toronto had noticed Whistler Live had multiple accounts on the system and were consolidating them, taking away the feeds.

We’d like to thank everyone who came out on Thursday, especially our speakers.  Keep an eye out for more untold stories of the Whistler 2010 Olympics.