As race day dawned cold and sunny in the annual Peak to Valley race, Owen Owens stared down the course stretching 5.5 kilometres from the top of Whistler Mountain to the bottom, narrowing his concentration to the 179 gates ahead of him.
He's been in this start gate on The Saddle before — about 30 times — and it never gets old.
Even at 91 years old.
"I actually have a feeling that I'm skiing better today than I ever have," he said.
"I'm carving better turns, let's put it that way."
Wearing Bib No. 1, Owens took off out of the start gate, down a fast and smooth course.
Unfortunately, with Dusty's and the finish line in sight, he misjudged the very last gates. He had to climb back up to get through the gate to ensure he was not disqualified, posting a time of 8.07.36 — fast by any standard.
Had it not been for that mistake, Owens thinks this would have been his fastest year yet.
In the early afternoon on Sunday morning, after the 33rd Peak to Valley race was put to bed for another year, Owens was quietly reading his book — Pacific by Simon Winchester — in his Whistler cabin.
He had just returned from the mountain — skiing the lower mountain first because of the manmade snow made overnight, then to Hugh's Heaven on Seventh Heaven, and finally the Blue Line from the top to the bottom.
"To get ready for next year, I had a non-stop run," Owens joked.
He thinks he has missed just the first few Peak to Valley races. So, for some 30 years he has taken part in this annual Whistler event that gathers people of all ages and puts them into teams of four based on their combined age — two team members race on Friday, two on Saturday. Conditions vary from year to year, and from day to day.
The concept, the brainchild of Crazy Canuck Dave Murray, is great, said Owens. While there are Olympians — this year Britt Janyk, Mike Janyk, Robbie Dixon — on the course and all kinds of former racers, it's not meant to be an elite race.
"It attracts all kinds of people — that's the key," said Owens. "That's the way it was designed and that's why it works. That's why it's survived for 30 years.
"And then, the great thing is, it's a stimulation to be better. And that's what I find so satisfying in the Peak to Valley. It's always been my attitude that I just want to ski better, to improve my technique and striving to improve your technique keeps your enthusiasm up."
Owens has been skiing since he was five years old, growing up in Montreal. He raced throughout high school and in university and when he was transferred by his company to Vancouver in 1970, he started coming to Whistler right away.
A weekend skier throughout his working career, Owens remains a weekend skier to this day, travelling up from Vancouver every weekend throughout the winter. And he competes in one race every year that just happens to be the longest GS race of its kind in the world.
For an event as steeped in tradition as the Peak to Valley, which sold out once again this year, there is now a new tradition starting to take root every year — the rousing standing ovation for Owens and Grace Oaks, oldest female racer, during the awards dinner.
They are an unintentional inspiration for a room full of skiers at the Roundhouse, who all want to be bombing down Whistler Mountain in their eighties and nineties.
"I like to mention the age as an encouragement for people to think 'you can do this,'" said Owens. "You can go on and you can get better. It's just fun to keep going."
In the overall standings, the NZ Foundation Team defended its title, while Barry the Rooster and the Blue Ice Wrecking Crew rounded out the podium. Full results are available online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com.