Tag Archives: ski racing

Saudan Couloir: The History of North America’s Most Extreme Ski Race

With the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme returning this April we’re taking a look back at the original run of the legendary race.  This new exhibit opens Tuesday, March 20 with special guests Dave Clement (part of creating the first race), Chris Kent (winner of the first four races) and more.  The exhibit will run through the end of April.

This Week in Photos: February 1

All of the photos used for This Week in Photos (as well as many more) can be found in the Whistler Question Collection here.

1979

Just one of the winter safety signs visible along Highway 99.

RCMP and Mountain Hostesses working at the “Ski Watch” programme during Tuesday’s snowstorm. The sign reads: THIS SKI AREA IS NOW PROTECTED BY ANTI-SKI THEFT CRIME PREVENTION PROGRAM Participants in this program have all ski equipment identified, marked and registered with the authorities. For information on how to participate in this program, contact manager of this ski area.

The Whistler Municipal broomball team exhibits the fine form that won it the Winterfest Broomball Trophy on Sunday.

Elmer Hellevang plays the “pipes” as he leads the parade from the haggis at the Burns Night celebrations.

The Spring is Sprung (in January) – skiers sunning themselves on Thursday beside the Gondola Barn.

1980

The Question didn’t just cover Whistler – here they are on the scene at Big White.

Photographer Chris Speedie tries to fix a frozen camera.

A ski-out to the parking lot, today underneath Blueshore Financial and the Village Stroll.

1981

Ron Andrews skies the powder on January 28.

The fresh produce selection at the Whistler Grocery Store shortly after it was put out on display last week. Both the grocery store and Tapley’s Pub recently opened their doors.

Tapley’s Pub during its first week of operations.

Community Club members dig in to the numerous dishes at the Burns Night Pot Luck Dinner.

1982

The official opening of the Village Chair. In 1988 the Village Chair was replaced with a 10 person gondola.

The brass plaque commemorating the opening of the North Side lifts will be displayed at the base of the Village Chair.

John Lavin and Gary Koliger know what they like – cold beer and good music. Lavin and Koliger were playing at the Creek House but will be sitting in with Doc Fingers at the Brass Rail for the rest of the week.

An Alta Vista residence under a heavy blanket of snow.

Al Raine receives the ‘Freeman of Whistler’ scroll from Pat Carleton.

Four-year-old Justin Adams will be trying to beat the municipal sign bylaw by keeping on the move. Justin says he’ll use his earnings to buy a toboggan.

Roland Kentel, John Reynolds and Jeff Fisher toast Tapley’s first anniversary with glasses of bubbly.

1983

Like a bridge over troubled waters the Culliton Creek span begins to edge its way towards the south bank. Scheduled for completion this spring, the bridge will take a big kink out of Highway 99 when it is finished.

A competitor in the women’s 7.5 km cross-country race in the inter-collegiate competition held at Whistler January 28, 29 and 30.

CKVU talk show host Laurier LaPierre rolled into Whistler Friday, January 28 with his TV crew to compile an updated report on the crown corporation takeover at Whistler. At Beau’s Restaurant, LaPierre interviewed Roy Ferris, Mike Widger, Geoff Power and Glenda Bartosh for their opinions on Whistler and it’s future. The segment will be aired on the Vancouver Show Friday, February 4.

Brian Moran, Ken Till, Bob Elliott and John Grills outside the soon-to-be-opened Whistler Keg.

1985

Fans turned out to PWA’s Pro Tour race Saturday and Sunday on Blackcomb to see Sean Murphy win his first race on the circuit.

Some fans even made their own banjo music at the race.

Education Minister Jack Heinrich explains a funding formula to his audience at Howe Sound School District offices in Squamish Monday night. They suggested he go easy on the chalk – there isn’t much money for that sort of thing, apparently.

Helicopters were used to airlift in tons of cement to re-stabilize Tower 12 after Thursday’s malfunction.

The Nancy Greene-Raine Connection

We recently announced our upcoming Speaker Series on May 6th, celebrating 50 years of summer camps. The inclusion of Nancy Greene-Raine on the speaking panel quickly made it apparent that, although we have decent coverage of her husband Al Raine’s contributions to Whistler on this blog (plus here), up until now, Nancy’s presence is notably lacking. This blog post will start to fix that problem.

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Though Nancy was born in Ottawa, grew up in the Kootenay ski haven of Rossland, BC with its historic Red Mountain Resort, and has lived in Sun Peaks for roughly two decades, her connection and contributions to Whistler remain strong.

Nancy, of course, is one of the most recognized and celebrated Canadian athletes of all-time, regardless of discipline, even earning the title of Canadian Female Athlete of the Century!  She was the most dominant female ski racer of the 1960s, earning 13 World Cup victories, 2 overall world titles, and her gold medal (and silver, all while battling a severe ankle injury) performance at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, alongside French legend Jean-Claude Killy, is the stuff of legend.

Here’s a complete run-down of her ski-racing accomplishments. 

 

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1969 Toni Sailer Summer Camp staff. Nancy is front row, 2nd from left, Toni Sailer is back row, 2nd from right, both wearing cowboy hats.

Nancy retired at the top of her field and a global celebrity after her dominant 1968 season. Retirement from ski racing was no permanent vacation, as the pervious winter she had already launched her Nancy Greene Ski League, Canada’s national, grassroots-level ski racing program. In the nearly 50 years of operation, virtually every single Canadian ski racer of note, from Steve Podborski to Ashleigh McIvoor, and countless thousands of others, started competitive skiing in Nancy’s program.

In 1969, she began coaching at Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps on Whistler Mountain, a position she maintained for several years and which she will be recollecting at this Friday’s Speaker Series.

Al and Nancy first built a cabin in Whistler in 1970, which was their summer home while Nancy coached on the glacier. Once Al retired as a ski coach in 1975, they moved to Whistler full-time and set out to help Whistler become a leading international ski destination.

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Nancy skiing on Blackcomb, circa 1980s

Nancy and her husband Al Raine also played a huge role in the early success of Whistler and their legacy carries on to this day. Nancy became an spokeswoman and ambassador for the resort, using her celebrity to promote the upstart ski area. As such, she was one of Whistler’s original “Celebrity-Athletes” that played such a pivotal role in Whistler becoming, well, Whistler.

Al sat on the first municipal council and was a leading figure in the planning, design, and construction of Whistler Village and Blackcomb Mountain.

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Nancy and husband Al, representing Blackcomb Mountain (note the matching Blackcomb Mountain outfits, and Nancy’s Blackcomb logo name tag). circa 1980s.

In 1985 they built Nancy Green’s Olympic Lodge in the heart of the Village, and despite having long since sold it, the building bear’s Nancy’s name to this day. In the 1990s, Al and Nancy moved on to Sun Peaks in the B.C. interior, but they still maintain close ties to Whistler.

We are truly honoured to have Nancy join this Friday’s  panel, and we hope you can join us. Get your tickets in advance, it will sell out!

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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.

Rob Boyd is God

February 25, 1989 is a date that any long-time Whistlerite should remember, because on that day Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup Downhill event on Canadian soil.

It remains not only one of the most memorable days in our community’s history, but for Canadian ski fans as a whole. Not too long ago, we even had some visitors here to the Whistler Museum who recalled watching the race live on a black-and-white television in the lodge at Luggy Lump Ski Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. If that does not warm your heart with old-fashioned Canadian nostalgia, nothing will.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. WMAS, Greg Griffith Photo. 

It was a triumphant moment not only for the historic achievement, but also because Canadian supporters were still reeling from the gruesome and nearly fatal crash that Boyd’s teammate Brian Stemmle had suffered at Kitzbuhel six weeks earlier. By this point Stemmle was back on the long road to recovery and everyone was keen for a reason to celebrate.

If you watch the video clip of the CBC’s coverage of the race (available on YouTube), right after he crosses the finish line Boyd waves the cameraman over to get up close so that he can proudly announce “For you, Stemmle!” There’s also a pretty glorious cutaway to the raucous celebrations going on at Dusty’s.

Here in Whistler it was a massive community event. Rob had moved to Whistler as a teenager in 1982, so he had huge local support. The medal ceremony drew one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Whistler up to that point and the party kept going for days.

That evening a fundraiser was held at the Conference Center for the national ski team, featuring performances by Colin James and Smokey Robinson. Apparently the $125 event had not been selling well, but Boyd’s dramatic victory put everyone in the celebratory mood and all 1,800 tickets were eventually spoken for.

It was a legendary party that included, among other things, the golden boy being gifted a pair of Dwight Yoakam’s cowboy boots that Boyd proceeded to brandish on the dance floor.

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

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

This wasn’t Rob’s first World Cup gold medal, having won twice already at Val Gardena, Italy, but winning on home soil was certainly a career highlight.

Rob still lives in Whistler and remains one of our town’s biggest heroes. Just a few weeks ago there was a huge party at Dusty’s Bar to celebrate Rob’s 50th birthday, a stone’s throw from the finish line where he won gold 27 years earlier.

When he’s not celebrating birthdays you can find Rob coaching for the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. The club’s Creekside headquarters are easy enough to find, address: 2028 Rob Boyd Way.

Some go as far as to say that Rob Boyd is God:

Peak-to-Valley: A Whistler Tradition

This weekend marks the annual return of Whistler’s proudest traditions, the Peak to Valley Race.

The brainchild of Dave Murray – the retired Crazy Canuck racing legend, turned Director of Skiing for Whistler Mountain – this event was one part of his tireless efforts to popularize ski racing amongst the masses. No doubt, Dave also considered it a creative way of showing off Whistler’s massive vertical. Many a race goer over the years has certainly left wondering “how much is too much?!?!”

With its 32nd iteration wrapping up today, sold out as usual, Dave’s vision has been more than vindicated.

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Peak-to-Valley visionary Dave Murray came up with the brilliant idea to promote ski racing amongst the general public by creating a race far more gruelling than anything he had encountered on the World Cup circuit. It worked.

From the top of the Saddle all the way down to Creekside base, the concept is deceptively simple; people ski out from the valley to the alpine all the time. But turn on the clock and throw down a 1400 vertical metre, 180-gate gauntlet and, well, thighs begin to burn. For comparison, a world cup GS course can be no more 450 vertical metres, with a maximum of 70 gates. It is, quite simply, the longest giant slalom ski race on Earth.

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Hopefully the legs aren’t burning yet! A long way still to go for this racer running the upper section of the course, circa late 1980s. Note the absence of the Peak Chair. Greg Griffith Photo.

Superlative course aside, what makes this event special is the tradition that it has developed over the years. This is one of the few races in the world where you can have world cup-level racers competing against, even with octogenarians.

The race is battled over by teams of four. Teams must include a member of each gender, no more than one “carded” racer (ie – pros, ringers, etc), and categories are sorted by the cumulative age of each team, from 149 & under all the way up to 250 & above. Some of the teams have been together for close to two decades.

Local rabble rouser G.D. “Max” Maxwell wrote a great feature in 2004, celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. In the article, former national team racer and P2V course record holder Chris Kent described the feat of endurance as such:

Coming off the first section, you’re gliding across the flats before Upper Franz and you’re beginning to really feel your legs. The first time I ran it, about there I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, how can I possibly finish this course?’ This is where you have to start getting tough.

Keep in mind that this section is only about a third of the way down.

But for every team grunting it out in the quest for Peak-to Valley primacy, there a handful of others who are in it for the camaraderie, and perhaps a personal best.

 

A racer heads for a gate on Upper Franz, 2016. Brad Nichols photo.

This year we’re excited to have the return of the full-course, after snow conditions prevented the race from running all the way to the valley last season (only the 3rd or 4th time this had happened in the history of the event). Good luck to all the teams today!

Whistler-Blackcomb has now uploaded the results for every race since 1985, viewable here.

2016 results available here. Congrats to all the racers!

 

 

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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