By G.D. Maxwell
On January 27, 1935, a massive avalanche struck the Kettle Valley Railroad near Romeo section house. The slide knocked cars off their wheelsets and carried several to the valley bottom. It was 10 days before rail service was re-established between Vancouver and Nelson.
In faraway Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Lorne McFadgen was born.
If youve been around Whistler any length of time, youve most likely heard the name. If you hang around Blackcomb at all, youve surely run into him. And if youve reached the upper levels of CSIA certification, he was quite possibly the guy deciding your fate.
But if you dont know who Lorne is, you may be forgiven for failing to understand you are in the presence of a legend. For he will surely never tell you that himself. Its not a legend in the Arthurian sense. There is no magic, no wizardry, no divine intervention. Its a legend built of hard work, imagination, good timing and a single-minded dedication to an all-consuming passion: skiing.
There was, as well, a crazy decision forced on a 25 year old by a big company that just didnt get it. It could all have turned out so differently.
Had the family stayed in Nova Scotia, Lorne might have become a hockey player. He could, as his father liked to say, skate before he could walk. But the family moved west and summer jobs took him into the Rockies and eventually to Vancouver.
At 20, Lorne landed a plum job with B.C. Tel. Around the same time, he was drawn to the glamour of skiing which was undergoing a renaissance, having passed through an unprecedented period of post-war growth. As is often true with good skaters, he picked up the sport quickly. He threw himself into it whole-heartedly. In short order, hed been certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and was teaching whenever he could at Mount Baker.
Juggling a job, a hobby of growing personal importance, a wife and a baby daughter required a delicate balance. But passion is, almost by definition, the absence of balance.
"I wanted to see what skiing was all about," Lorne recalls. "I loved skiing, loved teaching and wanted to immerse myself more deeply into it. I asked the telephone company for a leave of absence so I could spend the season teaching. They wouldnt give me one. So I left quit. Some people thought I was crazy."
Whether youve got a young family or not, this scenario probably sounds familiar to more than a few people living in Whistler in 2004 and wrestling with how to follow their passion. In 1960 though, there were no "world class" resorts, no multi-path career streams in the ski industry, no myriad of spinoff jobs if skiing didnt work out, no, well, no history of guys like Lorne whod blazed the trail.