Tag Archives: Molson World Downhill

1984: The Molson World Downhill

When Whistler held its first World Cup Downhill race in 1982, the course ran from the top of the Black and Orange Chairs, down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft and across Crabapple Creek to the finish line in view of the recently completed Whistler Village. This was, however, the only World Downhill to run this course and in 1984 the course returned to the south side of Whistler Mountain.

Spectators walk down to the Whistler Village from the 1982 World Downhill course. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The race in 1984 followed the same course as had been planned for the World Downhill in 1979. It began near the top of the Orange Chair, coming down the run now known as Dave Murray Downhill and ending above today’s Creekside area. The course was prepared by hundreds of Weasel Workers, volunteers who bootpacked, slide-slipped and carefully maintained the race surface, as well as working the course during training runs and the race itself.

Spectators watch from the side of the 1984 course prepared by the Weasel Workers. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

Spectators were encouraged to come and watch at both the race itself on March 11 and at the training races in the preceding days. Winterfest offered a VIP viewing experience for Winterfest patrons, who were flown by helicopter to a prime viewing location on the mountain where they could enjoy a champagne brunch before being flown back down to the valley. For those who didn’t have a spare $1,000 to become a patron, organizers printed a guide to viewing locations along the course. From Double Trouble near the top of the course, spectators could expect to see racers come down the starting pitch and tuck before disappearing beyond Toilet Bowl. Racers could be going pretty fast at the Weasel and spectators watching from the finish could see the racers push themselves to make up any lost time. Highly recommended was Coach’s Corner with a sharp turn and a section requiring good technical skiers.

A helicopter approaches the VIP viewing area and brunch. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

Whistler was the last stop for the 1984 World Downhill. This meant that by the time the World Cup came to town and Winterfest began many of the racers were well known even to those who didn’t usually follow the circuit. Franz Klammer of Austria and Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski were fan favourites, especially as this was to be Podborski’s final race before retiring at the end of the season. On March 11, however, it was the American skier Bill Johnson who came in first. This was the third World Downhill win for Johnson, who had also taken gold at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo.

American racer Bill Johnson holds up his trophy at the awards ceremony. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

According to the Whistler Question, the race was a success “in terms of excitement and technical difficulty,” though the start was postponed twice due to fog. Some of the top skiers of the season didn’t finish the race, including Ermin Resch of Austria who had a serious fall but still came in second in the overall downhill standings. The top Canadian results came from Todd Brooker, who finished fourth, and Podborski in fifth. This race also marked the end of local skier Rob Boyd’s first World Downhill season.

While the course in 1982 drew complaints from some racers, reactions to the 1984 race and surrounding events were mostly positive, although the snow did soften throughout Sunday, making for some tough conditions for those later in the line up and reports of the race admonished spectators who chose to boo Johnson at the finish. Nonetheless, hundreds gathered in Mountain Square to cheer for the racers at the official ceremony. Joey Lavigne, the Canadian Men’s Downhill coach, even told Winterfest organizer Tony Formby that “Whistler had the best run event on the whole 10-race World Cup downhill circuit.”

Taking Over the Town

If you were in Whistler in February or March 2010 (or any time during the multi-year lead up), there was no missing that Whistler was acting as the host resort for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. While Whistler continues to host international competitions today, races rarely saturate the valley in the same way. This was not the case, however, when Whistler first began hosting World Cup Downhill races over forty years ago.

Thousands of people crowded into Village Square following the Molson World Downhill in 1982. Whistler Question Collection, 1982

Despite being cancelled, Whistler’s first World Downhill race on March 7, 1979, still drew a large crowd to watch the racers fly down hill “unofficially.” In 1982, when Whistler’s first successful World Downhill race ended on the north side of Whistler Mountain, thousands of people crowded into Village Square to congratulate the winners. Looking back at copies of the Whistler Question from 1983 and 1984, it quickly become apparent that Whistler had big plans for the Molson World Downhill in March 1984.

The Molson World Downhill in Whistler was more than just a race; it was also the centrepiece of a multi-day festival called Winterfest. With more than 20,000 visitors expected for the race, Winterfest aimed to extend the World Cup excitement in the valley and attract spectators to stay beyond the day of the race.

Even though Whistler was aiming to welcome the world in 1984, the Whistler Conference Centre wasn’t quite ready to host Winterfest yet. Whistler Question Collection, 1984

Winterfest was organized in just a matter of months by a committee including Drew Meredith, Brain Moran, Tony Formby, June Paley, Kathie Hicks and Val Lang. In January 1984, the group was still trying to secure a space to hold the larger Winterfest events. They estimated that they needed to be able to accommodate between 1,600 and 2,000 people and wanted space for a 225 m2 dance floor and a beer garden. While today the Whistler Conference Centre would be an obvious choice, the convention centre was still under construction. Winterfest even thought of using the unfinished building but WLC Developments decided that the safety of the public could not be guaranteed. Instead, Winterfest began looking for a place to erect an 1,100 m2 tent, finally settling on the parking lot of the Whistler Golf Course. Other smaller tents were also place throughout the Village.

Winterfest ran from March 5 to 11, with the Molson World Downhill taking place on Sunday, March 11. Winterfest events included an art show at the Blackcomb Lodge featuring local artists, a Winterfest Queen competition, a torchlight parade and fireworks display, a casino night, and performances from Doug and the Slugs at the main dance floor. There were also helicopter tours, a cross-country race, barrel staves races, and even a Samsonite Suitcase Race on Blackcomb Mountain. For the celebrities who took part in the suitcase race, Saturday night featured the Winterfest Grand Ball with food provided by restaurateur Umberto Menghi in the “Myrtle Philip Ballroom,” also known as the school gym.

Like in 1982, the official race presentations packed Mountain Square. Note the Whistler Singers next to the main stage, ready to sing the American national anthem. Whistler Question Collection, 1984

Even before Winterfest began, there was a lot of excitement in the valley around the Molson World Downhill. There was a weekly countdown to the race in the Question featuring articles on different race-related topics, from the racers themselves to the timing equipment that had been used at the Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo earlier that year. When asked who they thought would win the race, Whistler residents had thoughtful opinions that showed that many of them were familiar with at least the top racers from various countries. The local choir, the Whistler Singers, had even learnt the national anthems of the competing nations so that they could be ready to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies no matter who won.

We’ll be taking a closer look at different features of the 1984 Winterfest and World Cup Downhill over the next while – if you have a favourite memory of the events, please let us know at the Whistler Museum!