Seems like only yesterday… But no. A whole generation has passed —19 years to be exact — since a lone pilot from the decimated corps of Glenn Wurtele’s high-flying downhill squad managed to ski away from four past and future Olympic champions to carry the day on Whistler’s wild and woolly Dave Murray course.
And what a clutch performance that was. With best pal Brian Stemmle still in hospital recovering from a near-fatal crash in Kitzbuehel — and the knives already out for Wurtele and his coaches — Rob Boyd saved the season by becoming the first Canadian alpine skier to post an at-home World Cup victory.
He certainly didn’t do it the easy way. Behind the leaders most of the way down the hill, Boyd shifted into overdrive on the last few jumps and jags to win by just over a tenth of a second. How close was it? In a race that was won in a time of 2:10:03, the top 10 skiers were all within a second of each other.
More importantly, the very best from that era were in attendance. Mahrer, Zurbriggen, Hoeflenner, Mueller, Piccard, Girardelli, Ortlieb – the top-10 list read like a who’s-who of downhill royalty.
“It took me a while to come down from that particular high,” Body told me a few years later. “I think most high-performance athletes dream of doing well in front of their hometown crowd. And I was no different. To win in my backyard – fair and square against the best in the world – it was truly a dream come true for me.”
And for the community too. To this day, I can’t think of a bigger party at Whistler than the one the town held that night for their young hero. Confided a shell-shocked Boyd later that evening: “Wow…I’ve really done it this time, haven’t I…”
It was a different era of course. Ski racing was the only game in town back then, and downhill was king at Whistler. Still, Rob’s victory came at a time when the community was just beginning to forge an identity for itself. The place was coming of age; it needed bigger-than-life characters to go with its bigger-than-life story. And the local kid’s World Cup win – against long odds and in the face of serious adversity – perfectly mirrored the town’s own developmental narrative.
That’s why everyone — and I mean everyone — got involved in the party. Residents, weekenders, part-timers and near-timers: the whole of Whistler celebrated. Indeed, it’s still a popular après-ski story among those who were there that weekend. As in, “Do you remember that crazy World Cup when Boyd won and the whole town went crazy?”