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Peter Andrews: Giving for the sake of giving

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Peter Andrews loves Sun Valley. He's had a place there for the last 35 years. Says investing in it was the best thing he ever did for his family. "I love the weather. Love the mountain lifestyle there - winter and summer," says the 70-year old Vancouver dentist. "I also love the fact that it's off the beaten track a bit..."

That's not so strange. After all, long before Whistler Mountain had lifts, Sun Valley was the big-mountain resort of choice for keen West Coast skiers. And Andrews fits into that pre-Whistler generation perfectly. "I first went there when I was still at UBC - 1957, I think," he says. "It was Jimmy Haight who convinced me to go. We were attending a very boring lecture and getting absolutely nothing out of it and Jimmy suggested we drive down to Sun Valley and visit a ski racing friend of ours, Verne Anderson. I had a car, a buddy of ours had some dollars and Jimmy had a 10-foot hose." He tries to keep a straight face. Can’t - and a grin slides across well-worn smile lines. "It was a very low-budget trip..." he adds.

So low-budget, he says, that the three Canadians would show up at the River Run lift at the bottom of Baldy at 7 every morning and spend three hours toiling with the packing crew "you know, sidestepping the hill and mashing down the moguls and generally making the hill fit for paying customers." The payoff: a free lift pass and lunch at the Roundhouse. "It was the perfect deal," he asserts.

We're eating at a sushi bar just up the street from Andrews's downtown office. A still-youthful, fit-looking guy - is 70 the new 50? - Andrews gets visibly excited when the subject of skiing comes up. He hunches forward in his seat. His eyes get all sparkly. "I still get a huge kick out of flying down those Sun Valley groomers," he tells me. "But those early days were special. It wasn't about how much vertical you skied, or whether or not you made perfect turns. It was about hanging out in a special place and sharing those sensations with friend..."

He laughs. "That's what still turns me on today. I love the social side of the sport. I love the friends I've made in skiing." A long pause. "You know, there's nothing more satisfying to me than going up the mountain for a few good runs with some buddies, stopping for a comfortable lunch, and ending the day with a glass of wine and good conversation." He stops speaking. "And that to me, is what the essence of skiing - its soul - is really all about..."

He doesn't want Pique readers to get the wrong impression however. "On a good day, Whistler is one of the best mountain resorts in the world," he says. "It just seems these days that everybody is in such a rush there..."

A skiing bon- vivant ? Certainly. A mountainside romantic? No question. But make no mistake. In the 42-year history of Whistler skiing — and more specifically Whistler ski racing history - there are few individuals who have had a bigger impact on this place than Peter Andrews. Inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame in 1994, a past president of both the B.C. and Canadian Ski Associations, and an eight-year appointee to the very influential FIS Council, Andrews was a tireless ski racing proselytizer and organizer in these parts. To call him the chair emeritus of Whistler World Cup events is barely to give his story justice.

Consider: for just about 34 years, Peter and his wife Barbara devoted much of their considerable energy into establishing Canada - and Whistler - as worthy venues for top-calibre, international ski races. They hosted athletes, feted VIPs, ran races, and did everything in their power to make sure the events they organized were memorable ones. And they succeeded.

Even today, eight years after retiring from active participation in the politics of ski racing, Andrews's contacts are extensive. And his stories are legion. Whether it's convincing Aspen to take over a cancelled World Cup race from snow-starved Collingwood in the early '70s while still respecting The Bank of Montreal's sponsorship deal - "Can you believe it?" he says, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "Racing in the U.S. with a Canadian sponsor, it was crazy!" - or persuading the international race jury at the 1984 Whistler World Cup to follow Chris Stetham's recommendations and apply fertilizer to the course in order to harden the snow - "That was the first time fertilizer was ever used in international competition," he adds proudly - Andrews has always been able to successfully mediate between skiing "insiders" and "outsiders". And more often than not the results have been beneficial to Whistler - and the community's quest to become an Olympic host.

Alas, with all the foofera over the 2010 festivities and the orgy of self-congratulations that's ensued, we sometimes forget who brought us to the dance in the first place. No, Andrews is not part of VANOC - doesn't even have a ceremonial title with the organization. But check out the history of any previous Whistler bid, and his name is always front-and-centre. Indeed, in Whistler's heartbreakingly close gambit to land the '76 Olympics, Andrews was on the Bid's executive committee with Garry Watson, Geoff Massey, the Honourable John Fraser and Whistler Mountain founder, Franz Wilhelmsen.

"You know, we would have gotten those Games if it hadn't for Montreal's Mayor Drapeau," he says, and lets loose another round of laughter. "But we were so naïve back then. We didn't know how to play the game half as well as Drapeau did. That's why Montreal got the Summer Games, and we got, well... squat." He pauses. "But in the end," he says, "it was probably a good thing we didn't win our bid. I'm not sure Whistler was ready to host the world yet..."

But enough about Olympic politics. Andrews's love affair with skiing and racing is a far more interesting story.

It all started, he says, with his first ski lessons on Grouse Mountain back in 1952. "The Vancouver Sun was sponsoring this ski school program for local kids and I'm pretty sure it was free," he recalls. "The instructors were all members of the Tyrol Ski Club - Austrians for the most part. It was a great program..."

A year later, his Grade 6 teacher - "a Brit who told us stories about skiing with Sir Arnold Lunn," - announced to the class that those who could ski would be going with him on a school trip to Mt. Baker. "I put my hand up and we went and it was a hoot," says Andrews with what can only be described as a little-kid grin plastered across his face. "And that was that. That was all the connection I needed..."

He raced through high school and for four years at UBC - and loved every minute of it. "I wasn't that great in the gates," he admits. "I was more a casual racer than a hotshot." He smiles. "In fact, I liked skiing way more than racing. I loved being up early on top of the mountain - the cold crisp air, the vistas. I loved the camaraderie of the guys on the hill; the adventures we’d all get into together..."

After earning a post-graduate degree at McGill, Andrews returned to the West Coast in 1965 where he took a government job in Pemberton as the local kids' dentist. "I'd already heard about what was going on at Whistler," he says. "In fact, I'd even bought two units of Garibaldi Lift Company stock with my summer job money - though my father thought I was crazy spending the outlandish sum of $1,000 to do so." He smiles at the memories. "So every week, on my one day off, I'd drive down to Alta Lake and see how my investment was doing."

It was in the fall of 1966, while working for a dentist in Burnaby, that the newly-married Andrews was buttonholed by a long-time ski volunteer by the name of Bob Bartley. "He was a teacher and I remembered him as one of the organizers of the ski racing league that I'd participated in as a high school student," explains Andrews. "And he said to me: 'Don't you think it's about time you gave something back to skiing?' And I figured. Sure, why not? I could do a little gate keeping in my spare time..."

But Bartley had something quite different in mind. As Andrews recounts: "He told me that the B.C. Ski Division was going through some big changes and they needed a new vice president to keep it on the right path." He smiles. Shrugs. "And that was the start of my ski racing volunteer journey..."

A journey that included being appointed president of both the B.C. and the Canadian Ski Associations, accepting various roles with countless international racing committees, and culminating with an invitation to join the FIS Council, ski racing's ultimate governing body. "It's been quite a trip,” says Andrews. "Still, I never second-guessed my decision to quit my position on the FIS Council in 2000. It was time to move on..."

So let's get back to Sun Valley for a moment. Given his story, how the heck did Peter and his family end up with a place in Idaho instead of here at Whistler?

"We bought a condo at Whistler really early on,” he explains. "In fact, our daughter was the first child to be christened in the Whistler Chapel - Christmas of '67, I think. But the trip from Vancouver was really tough in those days. And we got driven off the highway by yahoos one too many times for our comfort." He smiles. "That's pretty much the reason," he says.

"Oh yeah. And the sunshine. I love skiing in the sunshine..."

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