"The family that skis together bitches together."
- Jack Styan, owner of Screaming Heights
He wasn't your typical little fat kid. Sure, he was a little rounder 'round the middle than most other ski racers. And the specs he wore didn't help his image either. But put Bob Styan on a race course and the little kid with glasses surprised everyone. "My parents got me involved in the local Nancy Greene program on Grouse pretty early on," says the soon-to-be 50 year old. And then laughs. "I'm pretty sure it was mostly for the babysitting though."
Still, it was evident from the get-go that this unlikely young athlete had a special relationship with the snow. "I didn't really like ski racing at first," admits Styan. "But then I realized I could beat all the other kids down the hill. Even the older guys. And that was very satisfying." A happy grin slowly spreads across his face. "I guess it was mostly because I'd already skied a lot. Whatever. But the other kids definitely didn't like it when the little fat kid would beat 'em..."
Ski racing is a funny thing. Intense, exciting, demanding - emotional even - the sport provides an incredible learning environment for young snow-athletes. Social bonds forged in the heat of competitive battle are often deep and life-long. It's that aspect of ski racing, says the always-gregarious Styan that really impresses him now. "I was away from Whistler for nearly 15 years," he explains. "But the moment I got back to town, it was like I never left. I could pick up on old relationships almost immediately..."
Which is exactly how he and I re-connected last winter. On one of my very rare appearances in the Roundhouse one afternoon, I spied a bespectacled form working at the Playground real estate sales desk. It could only be one person. Bob Styan.
I hadn't seen the former national ski team member for over a decade. But that familiar figure got me smiling right away. And it wasn't long before we were exchanging war stories like the two old ski vets we'd become.
An admission: I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Bob Styan. In a sport as technical and arduous as ski racing - where svelte bodies and tight tummies are de rigueur - Bob's XXL bod stuck out like a five-footer playing basketball. And his good-natured personality off-the-hill camouflaged any hint of a killer instinct on-the-hill.
But against all odds - and despite the many naysayers around him - the kid from Lynn Valley made it all the way to the World Cup. And not just as a participant, but as a contender. A member of the young Turks group trying to grab the mantle from the ageing Crazy Canucks, Styan spent the early 1980s knocking at the door. When he retired in 1983 at the tender age of 23, the young downhiller had made his point. It's not your body mass index that counts in competition it's how badly you want it.