Chris Leighton’s all-time favourite memory with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club goes back to the original downhill races of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
“It was just crazy,” laughed Leighton, one of the club’s original kids and daughter of Bob Parsons, who played an instrumental role in the early days of Whistler ski racing.
“There was no netting back then. If you crashed and fell, you just hoped the kids behind you didn’t run into you.”
The Back Bowl downhill race began at the top of Whistler Mountain’s T-bars, descending Harmony Bowl and what is now known as G.S. run.
The bigger downhill was on what is now the Dave Murray course. But this was before the Orange chair existed, and racers would have to hike uphill through the snow to get to the starting area. A volunteer at the bottom would time racers using a stopwatch.
“It was very… casual,” Leighton smiled fondly.
Forty years later the ski club — and Whistler — have morphed with the times.
Million-dollar houses now cover the last leg of the original downhill course, just above Creekside. State-of-the-art grooming machines have taken the place of kids and parents prepping and packing the snow by hand. And skiers now have more control while zooming down icy courses with their deep-side cut skis.
Still, while things may have gotten fancier, WMSC members still boast the same camaraderie of spirit that buzzed so strong in the early days. And in tribute to the past 40 years, the thick network of volunteers and alumni are throwing a party Saturday, Dec. 20, to toast their heritage.
Sonny O’Sullivan, the first president, is even coming from Vancouver Island to see the old gang again.
“We all made our best friends — both the kids and the adults — through the club, and that was partly why I wanted to do this,” said Lynne Hume, who was the one that dreamed up the birthday fete. Hume’s two kids skied with the club before moving on to the national team.
The history of the club, which hosts regional, national and international alpine ski races, goes back to 1968, just two years after Whistler Mountain opened for recreational skiing.
A Hungarian man named Joe Czismazia got a group of 12 kids together to train for alpine ski racing and started entering them into races held on Mount Seymour, in North Vancouver.
To officially compete, the kids needed to be members of a recognized club. They skated by on the name Garibaldi Olympic Development Association for a few years, but eventually landed on the permanent title of Whistler Mountain Ski Club.