Tag Archives: Alan White

Learning to Ski at Whistler

Whistler attracts skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels and it comes as no surprise that there are a great number of people who first learned to ski on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, or even on the nearby slopes of Rainbow Mountain.  On Whistler Mountain, formal instruction has been on offer since it opened in 1966.

Garibaldi Ski School was opened by Roy Ferris and Alan White, who persuaded Omulf Johnsen from Norway to manage the school.  After two years Johnson moved on to Grouse Mountain and Jim McConkey was asked to take over instruction at Whistler.  McConkey had taught skiing in Utah for ten years before moving to Todd Mountain in Kamloops.  He agreed to come manage the ski school in Whistler on the agreement that he would also handle equipment rentals and the ski shop.

Jim McConkey posing for a formal staff photo in his Whistler Ski School uniform.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

McConkey described the ski school as being in a class of its own due to there being limited beginner terrain.  The ski school grew to have a few salaried instructors and more than 25 regular instructors who worked on commission.  Joe Csizmazia and Hans Mozer had started using helicopters for skiing in 1966 and McConkey took over the helicopter operations in 1968 for six years.  He, along with a couple of his top instructors, acted as guides for heli-skiing off of the regular runs on Whistler Mountain.

Ski lessons were a bargain at $18 for six two-hour classes.  In 1969 the mountain introduced adult summer ski programs in addition to children’s camps.  The adult summer lessons combined skiing with apres and summer recreation.  After a few hours of skiing in the morning, the group would have lunch at the Roundhouse and then go swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, or McConkey, who was an avid golfer, would take groups to the Squamish Golf Course.  Each week’s camp ended with a slalom race and an evening barbecue.  McConkey also began holding instructor courses where weekend skiers could learn to become ski instructors.

This bell called a generation of skiers to their lessons on Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1978

Students at Whistler Mountain were called to their ski lessons by the ringing of a bell at the base of the gondola.  McConkey had heard that there was a bell in Pemberton that belonged to the Lil’wat Nation.  The bell had been installed in the steeple of a church in Mount Currie in 1904 but had been unused since the church caught fire in the late 1940s.  McConkey asked for permission to use the bell and had a picture drawn to show what it would look like at the base of Whistler.  The council was consulted and agreed to lend the bell to the ski school.  McConkey and Dick Fairhurst brought the bell to Whistler and installed it at the gondola base, with a plaque to tell the story of its origins.

A young Bob Dufour poses for his offficial Ski School portrait, early 1970s.

McConkey left the ski school in 1980, at which point Bob Dufour took over as its director.  When Blackcomb Mountain opened in 1980 they made their own ski school called Ski-ed.  It was advertised as a chance to ski with a pro on Blackcomb.  In 1985 Ski Esprit was opened as a dual mountain ski school with six instructors.

Since the 1980s, Whistler and Blackcomb mountains have combined more than just their ski schools, and thousands of skiers, and now snowboarders, continue to learn on the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Speaker Series – Celebrating 50 years of Summer Skiing

It’s been a long, nostalgic winter of celebrating Whistler’s Golden Anniversary. But just as Whistler is known for deep snowpacks that sustain the snow-sliding revelry well past winter, we have an abundance of stories this year to push our regular Speaker Series programming well into spring.

Considering the circumstances, it is only fitting that we prolong our season-long retrospective on our resort’s proud ski history with an event paying tribute to that seasonal oddity peculiar to Whistler, summer skiing. The evening of Friday May 6th we will be hosting a Speaker Series focused on fifty years of summer skiing camps on Whistler’s glaciers.

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Summer glacier skiing in Whistler is as old as the resort itself, having begun during the inaugural season of 1966. Beginning with the original Toni Sailer camps and later Dave Murray camps on Whistler, then moving to Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier in the 1980s, with Camp of Champions, Momentum Camps, to name just a few, summer skiing in Whistler has been a novel way to compliment and extend the regular ski season, promote the resort with a veritable who’s who of celebrity athletes and guest coaches, and create fifty years of memorable and unique experiences.

Former camper and ski history enthusiast Alex Douglas has organized a weekend long “Whistler Summer Camp Reunion” series of events, with this Speaker Series included. There will also be a reunion dinner hosted at Creekbread on the Saturday, and, of course, group ski outings during the day. One need not be a former camper to attend the Speaker Series event.

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The crew from the 1969 Toni Sailer Summer Camp, including (front row at left) Alan White and Nancy Greene, and Toni Sailer himself (back row, 2nd from right).

The Speaker Series will open with a screening of footage and a short film dating back to the original Toni Sailer Summer Camps of the 1960s and 70s. After the film will be a panel discussion featuring Canadian ski racing legend and former summer camp coach Nancy Greene-Raine, Alan White, founding manager of Toni Sailer camps and one of the true ski pioneers of Whistler, and former coach from the Dave Murray Summer Camp era, Mark Taylor.

Needless to say, this is a wonderful panel of speakers and we are extremely excited to host them and hear their stories.

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A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s, including Mark Taylor (back row 4th from the left). The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing. Stephanie Sloan Photo.

Doors will open at 6pm, with the presentations beginning at 7pm. Tickets are $10, $5 for museum members. To purchase tickets, stop by the Whistler Museum or call us at 604-932- 2019. To ensure a seat, make sure to purchase in advance as this event will sell out.

As always, we will be serving complimentary coffee provided by the Whistler Roasting Company, assorted tea, and a cash bar serving beer and wine.