Tag Archives: Crazy Canucks

Celebrating Whistler’s World Cup Downhill Races

Historically, in the month of March, Whistler would be hosting a World Cup Downhill event.  Up to 500 weasel workers would be working 12-hour days preparing the racecourse, installing safety nets and removing and moving snow throughout the course.  These volunteers were as important to the success of the event as the downhill racers themselves.

Thousands of ski-race fans would descend on Whistler, filling up hotels and making reservations a necessity to eat at many of the world-class restaurants in Whistler Village.  Pubs and bars would be full to capacity and the village would be enshrouded in a party-like atmosphere for close to two weeks.

Whistler attempted to host its first World Cup race on March 7, 1979.  Due to weather, the race was cancelled.  Three years later, in 1982, Whistler successfully hosted the World Cup Downhill event.  This race took place on a course on the north side of Whistler and its finish was in the newly completed Whistler Village.

Peter Müller of Switzerland finished in first place and two Crazy Canucks, Steve Podborski and Dave Irwin, finished second and third, respectively.  The 1982 race was capped off with a huge celebration because Podborski tied Müller for the overall Downhill World Cup title.

Thousands upon thousands of spectators jam Whistler Village Square for the World Cup presentations.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

This would be the only race held on this course.  Racers complained the north side course was too flat and Müller even joked that he should bring his cross-country skis to the next one.  The downhill course was moved back to the south-side course and every other World Cup Downhill race held in Whistler was held on this course.  The racecourse was later renamed after Crazy Canuck Dave Murray, who succumbed to cancer in 1990.

Whistler hosted the World Cup Downhill event again in 1984 and two years later in 1986.  In 1989, Rob Boyd became the first Canadian to win a World Cup race on home soil.  If you ask many Whistlerites here at the time, they can tell you where they were when Boyd crossed the finish line.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Prior to the Olympic Games hosted in 2010, the last successful Downhill Men’s event was held in 1995.

From 1996 to 1998, the FIS moved the North American stops to earlier in the race season, leading to three consecutive cancellations of the Whistler stop on the World Cup circuit due to snow and weather conditions.

Will Whistler host another World Cup Downhill race?  Or will it be an event that only appears in Whistler’s past?

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This Week in Photos: February 22

1979

The crowds begin to arrive – the Olive Chair loading area on Thursday.

Blizzard! The scene looking down the Green Chair during the snowstorm on Tuesday.

The shed at Mons the day after firefighters were on the scene attempting to put out the blaze.

1980

Election day in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

Two of the many Japanese ski writers who have been visiting Whistler lately – From Skier Magazine in Tokyo (l to r) Photographer ‘Dragon’, Writer ‘Ando’, and Toshi Hamazaki of Whistler.

The new “guard rails” installed to protect the Lift Company office windows from skis.

No diplomatic immunity here – Mons prepares to tow away the Question truck from the lift base.

1981

Students at Myrtle Philip School take a look at cameras through the ages.

Nancy Green, Prime Minister Trudeau and Hugh Smythe spend the day taking in Blackcomb.

The Prime Minister was also taken on a tour of the construction sites of Whistler Village.

An unusually bright and empty view of the bar at Tapley’s.

Whistler Mountain’s Franz Wilhelmsen and Peter Alder watch proudly as Whistler’s Black Chair carries passengers for the first time this season on February 21.

1982

Search and Rescue Squadron 422 from Comox dropped into Whistler last week for a mountain rescue training session.

Stretching, an essential when preparing for a race.

A few Crazy Canucks share a laugh at Dave Murray’s retirement part at Myrtle Philip School.

The first test run of the fire department’s latest addition proved it could be instrumental in putting out high level fires such as the one at Whistler Village Inn January 13.

Long before they started making snow at Olympic Plaza snow piles have provided endless amusement.

A parking attendant’s dream… This giant tow truck pulled into town the other day – and quickly pulled out again, much to the relief of nearby parking violators.

1983

Soaking up the sun (l to r) Rosilyn and Marlin Arneson and Bill Bode of Washington State relax before calling it a day Monday, February 21 after the first really warm one on Whistler Mountain.

Sjaan DiLalla tries out one of the ranges in one of the 29 “studio lofts” in the recently opened Crystal Lodge.

First place team members in the Team Supreme competition. The event, held at Blackcomb February 20, raised $2,400 for the BC Disabled Skiers Association.

Seppo Makinen and Sam Alexander discuss Whistler’s proposed new Zoning Bylaw No. 303 with Assistant Municipal Planner Cress Walker.

Cross-country skiers set off on the Whistler Cross-Country Marathon which was held over a 20km route Sunday, February 20.

1985

Art ’85 was hosted in the gym of Myrtle Philip School this past weekend.

During an introductory press conference Sunday at Crystal Lodge, Todd Brooker (far left) introduces members of the Canadian Men’s Alpine Team: (l to r) Felix Belcyzk, Chris Kent, Paul Boivin, Chris McIver and Jim Kirby.

Canadian blues man Long John Baldry and crew crank it out at The Longhorn Sunday.

Jan Seger, Ski instructor, White Gold resident.

The FIS Fiasco of 1979

With the world watching, the mountain began to fall apart.

It was early March 1979, and heavy rains had turned a mid-winter snowpack already beset by persistent depth hoar into a sodden mess. The avalanche hazard went through the roof. This was a mountain manager’s nightmare, but as they say, “through adversity comes greatness.”

Patrol began doing what came naturally; they bombed everything that could move. As long-time Whistler pro patroller Roger McCarthy recalls, “in a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

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Roger McCarthy at left, with Bruce Watt and Ken Moyle going over wind data,   mid-1970s. George Benjamin photo.

That’s right. Whistler was experiencing one of the most volatile avalanche cycles in memory, and we were just days away from hosting the resort’s first ever FIS World Cup downhill skiing race.

A few days before the race, some FIS officials insisted on riding the gondola up to check on conditions. While standing on the loading ramp at the bottom of red chair they witnessed Goat’s Gully shed its snow right to the ground. The avalanche even damaged one of the Orange Chair’s towers. Further downslope, a slide on Lower Insanity had left debris piles five feet high on Coach’s Corner. This was not the auspicious debut on the world stage that Whistler had planned for.

“In a normal day, that avalanche hazard in itself would be enough to give you grey hair. But we had a world cup to run…”

Still, mountain staff managed to clean up the mess and the forecast for race day was cold and clear. However, FIS officials deemed that safety requirements had not been met and the race could not run. As a new course with a relatively small budget, the safety infrastructure was not at the same level as some of the more established European courses, but some suspected politics as the true reason for the cancellation.

This was the era of the upstart Crazy Canucks trying to crack the European-dominated world of ski racing, and some feathers were being ruffled in the process. Regardless, with so much invested, it was going to be a major letdown for the organizers, the resort, the sponsors, and the tens of thousands of fans expected to be in attendance.

The night before the race, sensing it would be cancelled, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene came up with an idea to salvage the event. They ran an exhibition Super G race, the first ever, instead. It wouldn’t count as a World Cup, but as local writer Janet Love Morrison described in her book The Crazy Canucks, it would entertain the crowds, satisfy the sponsors, and demonstrate the spirit and ingenuity of Whistler, and Canada as a whole.

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The Crazy Canucks at the race. From left to right, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Unknown (can anyone help us out?), Steve Podborski, Ken Read.

And just in case anyone was wondering how the racers really felt about the cancellation over safety concerns, when it was Crazy Canuck Ken Read’s turn to race the exhibition course, he ignored the Super G gates and tucked the entire course at full speed, much to the crowd’s approval.

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Ken Read addressing the crowd, with Steve Podborski to viewer’s left.

“Everyone—racers, fans, and media—had a good time,” Morrison recalled.

And so, in 1979, with the ski racing world focused on Whistler, nearly everything that could go wrong did. But somehow we still managed to get things right.

Dave Murray: Whistler’s First Home-Grown Hero

Dave Murray is one of the most well-known names and highly adored athletes in Whistler’s history. Thought of as Whistler’s very first home-grown hero, Murray grew up skiing on Whistler Mountain, and is originally from Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Murray had a late start in his ski Dave-Murray-ACCESS-WMA_P95_006_027_Murrayracing career, as he didn’t start racing seriously until he was 16 years old. This, of course, did not stop him from achieving great professional heights. In 1974, at 21 years old, Murray became a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. He spent the following eight years as a founding member of the Crazy Canucks, the downhill team that captured our hearts in the 1970s and 80s with their “crazy” racing style. In Murray’s best season (1975-76) he had four top-ten finishes. In 1979, he was overall Canadian Champion and was ranked third in the world in downhill. He also represented Canada at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic games.

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The Crazy Canucks. WMA_P95_006_124 Murray

 

 

 

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 Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camp, and its fame grew to attract many skiers from Europe and Japan. Murray also organized masters ski racing for adults (an idea he imported from Europe).

Stephanie Sloan, ca. 1980.

Stephanie Sloan, ca. 1980.

On Tuesday, October 23rd, 1990, Dave Murray passed away after battling skin cancer. He was just 37 years old, leaving behind his wife and best friend Stefanie Sloan, and daughter Julia Murray. Stephanie was a pioneer in freestyle skiing and a world champion, and Julia became a member of Canada’s Ski Cross Team, and competed at the 2010 Olympics. Both continue to call Whistler home.

Dave Murray had a major influence on the world of ski racing, but perhaps what is most inspirational about his story is that he had a genuine love for skiing. His free time was spent free skiing. He took any chance he could get to explore and carve down obscure, off-piste runs, exuding pure joy on his descends. “It’s that unbelievable sense of freedom you get when you’re free-falling through the powder,” he tells friend Michel Beaudry. “It’s like nothing else on earth.”

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