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.

GODA’s Many Olympic Bids

With the 2018 Winter Olympics going on in PyeongChang we’re taking a look back at Whistler’s own Olympic past.

There’s no doubt that over the past six decades this town has been greatly influenced by the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  If the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) had had their way, this month would mark the 50th anniversary of Whistler’s Olympic Games instead of the 8th.

In 1960 a group of Vancouver businessmen and Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) members formed GODA with the aim of bringing the Olympic Winter Games to BC.  In the introduction to their bid for the 1968 Olympics, GODA wrote: “In the northwestern part of Garibaldi Park, only 75 road miles from Vancouver, and part of a picture-post card panorama of mountains, snow and forest is Whistler Mountain, proposed site of the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  It is this mountain and this area that offers the ideal physical location for the Games.”

Driving to Whistler, 1959. Not quite as easy as they made it sound.  MacLaurin Collection.

What their introduction didn’t mention was that the 75 road miles were mostly logging roads and a difficult drive at the best of times, or that the site had no power, water or sewer and all venues and facilities would have to be constructed form scratch.

Not surprisingly, GODA’s first bid was not successful and Banff, Alberta was put forward as Canada’s nomination.  In the end the 1968 Games were held in Grenoble, France.

GODA looked to the future and formed Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. to develop Whistler Mountain.  Five years later, with lifts now installed and paved highway linking the site to Vancouver, they put forward another bid for the 1972 Games.  Again the COC chose Banff to represent Canada (Banff then lost to Sapporo, Japan) and again GODA went back to work on another bid.

Three separate combined Vancouver/Whistler bids were put forward through the 1970s.  By 1970, when the bid for the 1976 Games was put forth, Whistler Mountain had become an established ski resort and was continuing to grow.  This bid received endorsement from the COC and was put forward as an official national bid.  Because of this, we are fortunate today to have many records of the vision for the 1976 Games.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

The official Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book included designs for a purpose-built Olympic Town Site located at the site of today’s Whistler Village, including a grand pedestrian concourse to the bottom of the mountain, sloping angular buildings, and a large plaza with a view of the ski jumps.  The bid promised that all Olympic facilities would be within a 4 km radius of the town site.

Despite a strong bid for Whistler, Montreal’s successful bid the 1976 Summer Games mean the Winter Games could not be awarded to Canada.  Denver, Colorado was chosen but, due to public outcry over environmental impacts and rising costs, Denver declined.  The Games were then offered to Whistler, but a newly elected Social Credit government in BC turned them down and the Games returned to Innsbruck, Austria.

In 1974, the COC approved a bid for the 1980 Games but this was rejected by the provincial government.  In 1979 Whistler and Vancouver put forward a proposal to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, but the COC decided on the ultimately successful bid from Calgary.  It was not until 2003, over 40 years after the first bid was put forth, that Whistler learned it would host the Olympics.

Village Square during the 2003 Olympic Bid Announcement – Whistler finally got to host the Olympics.

Over the next two months, as the Games take place in PyeongChang, we’ll all be reminded of the 2010 Games and the experience of playing host to such a massive event.  If you’ve ever wondered how the planning and details that went into that experience all came together in Whistler, you might just get some answers at our next Speaker Series.  Thursday, February 15, the Whistler Museum is delighted to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.  For more information check here.

February Speaker Series

The Whistler Museum’s 2018 Speaker Series is back this month with Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.

Hosting the Olympic Games involves a lot more than organizing and holding sporting competitions (though that is a huge undertaking for any organization).  Host cities also host performances, cultural exhibitions and more to engage visitors and residents throughout the two months and create a memorable experience of a place.  It’s been 8 years since Whistler and Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympic Games and John Rae, Maureen “Mo” Douglas and Kristen Robinson will be sharing the planning and stories that went on behind the scenes.  From planning at the beginning to presenting the Games on the frontline in Whistler, these three speakers have just about seen it all.

Whistler’s Weasel Workers

Behind every major race held on Whistler Mountain is a pack of Weasels.  The volunteer organization began in the 1970s when Bob Parsons and a crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.

The term “weasel” was bestowed upon the crew due to their work on the Weasel, a section of Dave Murray Downhill that was too steep for the older snow cats to make it up.  Instead, race workers would flatten the section by treading up and down the Weasel on foot.  Though the organization was formally registered as the Coast Alpine Event Club in 1984, the name is rarely used.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

In the early years of the Weasel Workers, most of the volunteers were parents of members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club but as the races they worked on grew so too did membership in the organization.  Since the 1970s, as well as working on World Cups and other races in Whistler, the Weasels have sent volunteers to help build courses for World Cup races in Lake Louise, Alberta, and Beaver Creek, Colorado, World Championships in Europe and the Winter Olympics in Calgary and Salt Lake City.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo courtesy of 2010 Olympic Ski Patroller Lance.

When the Winter Olympics were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003 the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team in preparation of the alpine events to be held on Whistler Mountain.  Working as a Weasel has always required dedication and the willingness to work hard despite the sometimes challenging conditions Whistler winters can create; hosting the Olympics in Whistler was no different, though perhaps on a slightly more tiring scale.  Weasel Workers were routinely called to be ready and up the mountain for 3 am and the long days of shoveling sometimes lasted until 10 pm after which race workers would often walk over to the Weasel House that offered beer, wine and Weasel Wear.  As a 1993 article in the Whistler Answer stated “How do you spot a Weasel Worker?  They’re the ones on race day who look like they could use a good sleep.”

Weasel Workers continue to work on races in Whistler and send volunteers to events around the world.  Most recently a group of Weasels went to Korea in advance of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics next winter.  Three long-serving members of the Weasels joined us this past Wednesday as part of our Speaker Series.

Dennis Waddingham, one of the original Weasel Workers under Bob Parsons, and Owen Carney provided an interesting history of the Weasels (aided as well by Weasels in the audience) and Colin Pitt-Taylor’s photos and stories from their trip to PyeongChang earlier in March provided a preview of some of the venues and events to come in 2018.  Thanks to all three, as well as Pat Taylor for operating the photos and keeping it all moving, and to everyone who joined us for a great evening – we’ll be announcing more details of our next Speaker Series in April soon!