The Crazy Canucks, by Janet Love Morrison
224 pgs, $34.95
They fearlessly barreled down icy, steep courses in Europe during the early ‘70s, carving out a niche and making a name for Canadian ski racers on the world’s ski racing circuit.
And while the Crazy Canucks – Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Ken Read and Steve Podborski – represent a core part of Canadian ski history, one author believes they also epitomize an essential part of the human spirit.
“I feel their story is much more than Canadian sports history,” said Janet Love Morrison. “I feel it’s also about human interest, because they had a dream, and they made it happen. Their belief system, they lived it… We all have our dreams, we all have our desire to be more, and they did it through skiing.”
Morrison is the author of the new book entitled “The Crazy Canucks,” which chronicles the journey of the four determined racers who took the world downhill circuit by storm in the early 1970s, catching a ride with the Canadian Air Force, getting around in a beat-up VW van, and competing with inferior equipment, but armed with courageous spirit and optimistic attitudes.
Whistler figures quite prominantly throughout the book with World Cup races, the Canadian ski racing industry and Whistler developing hand-in-hand, so it’s quite fitting that the book will be launched here at 2 p.m., Nov. 15 at the Whistler Public Library.
“The races, when they were first brought to Canada, was sort of at the same time that Whistler was going through a lot of its growing stages,” Morrison explained.
Morrison skied in Whistler as a child during school trips, and lived in the area from 1985 until 2000.
“I was an avid fan of the Crazy Canucks as a kid and drove up to Whistler for the races and drove to Lake Louise for Ken Read’s retiring last run,” Morrison said.
She remembers seeing Ken Read crashing at the Lake Placid Olympics, and running home from school to watch the race on television.
Her personal admiration for the racers, who made incredible accomplishments in the face of adversity, inspired her desire to write about the ski racers’ journey. But she didn’t just focus on the ski racers themselves; she touches on the behind-the-scenes people, like trainers and administrators who were instrumental in their success. As a result, the reader is left with a solid concept of the dedication and hard work these ski racers devoted to their sport.
Morrison certainly has a knack for painting a picture with her narratives – in the prologue, she deftly crafts a scene from within the Crazy Canucks’ Volkswagen, as they navigate switchbacks to Val d’Isère in December 1974:
“Two passengers sat huddled silently in winter coats, sweatshirts, sweat pants and running shoes on a hard bench seat bolted to the floor behind the driver. Packed suitcases and duffle bags provided some insulation against the cold… a passenger in the back rearranged a couple of bags and extended his legs. He knew that in a half an hour, he’d be shifting the bags back so his legs wouldn’t fall asleep. The hours were torturous and painful, but this was a genesis. These men had a mission.”
Her vivid descriptions didn’t come from thin air – Morrison invested a lot of time, energy and finances into this book. Over three years she traveled throughout Canada, Europe and South America to conduct research and interview over 70 people: competitors, coaches, family members, journalists, trainers and more.
“I did huge, huge research,” she said with a laugh. “It took me about six months just to transcribe all the interviews.”
Another significant aspect of the book is the treasure trove of photos found within. Full-colour and black and white shots of the racers were dug from every imaginable archive – Canadian Press, the Canadian Ski Museum, Ski Racing Magazine, and even the racers’ personal collections.
“Steve Podborski had several boxes, and Irwin had several boxes, so I went through every single one of their boxes, and I chronologically lined up the pictures they had to go with each chapter,” she explained.
The racers and their families were integral to the project, lending a considerable amount of their time to Morrison for research and interviews.
“I’m incredibly grateful to all of them and Stephanie Sloan (Dave Murray’s widow) for the trust they gave me to tell their story,” she added.
Now, after all of this time and hard work, Morrison is happy that the book will be on the shelves for the general public. The timing couldn’t be better with the Olympics just a little over a year away.
“Usually, it’s at the Olympics when nations step back and remember those who have been successful,” she said, adding that she hopes the Crazy Canucks’ accomplishments are recognized.