The World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) rolls around again next week, this time with a shorter, denser format. The old faithful film and photo events are all back for the visual pleasure of our eyeballs, showing off the creative talent we incubate here in Whistler and inviting others from around the world to participate against one another.
Sporting events are making a comeback, too. The always ooh-ahh Big Air offers an action sports spectacle worthy of far more than crappy smartphone videos, so if you're lucky enough to be there, try to avoid experiencing the whole event through your screen. That goes for the live music afterwards, too.
But the most exciting comeback of all this year has to be the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme. I've wanted this event to make its triumphant return for years now, bringing up the idea to Whistler Blackcomb's senior decision-makers at every interview opportunity. I won't take credit for the Saudan's resurrection, but I'll be there taking photos and cheering on all those throwing their hat in the ring for Blackcomb's most legendary race in its 38-year history as a ski resort.
Speaking of legends, a couple of weeks ago I attended the opening night of the Whistler Museum's latest exhibit, Saudan Couloir: History of North America's Most Extreme Race. The walls of the alcove were adorned with almost every poster created for the event by now-fine artist Brent Lynch, and a looping video digitized from the days of VHS revealed the truly crazy event for what it was. Chris Kent—who won the event three times—was there along with former Blackcomb staffer Dave Clement to give an account of how this event stayed so popular over its 14-year run, and how such a bold concept got off the ground in the first place.
I've been to over a dozen of these speaker series events at the Whistler Museum. I'm a bit of history nerd and I love learning from not only our town elders, but anyone who has an adventurous story worth telling. There are other venues around town that have done a great job of organizing speaker events, too: the Whistler Library, Forlise and Escape Route's Alpine Demo Centre among them. But the biggest speaker event of the year is coming up at the Whistler Conference Centre next week during the WSSF: Multiplicity.
When I pay for a not-very-cheap ticket to a WSSF arts event, I'm looking for two things: to see some mountain eye candy and to get inspired to go out and experience more adventures of my own. The Pro Photographer Showdown has rarely let me down for motivating my picture-taking with its jaw-dropping display of imagery from the world's best action sports photographers, but you rarely get to hear the story behind all those images.
That's what I love most about Multiplicity. There's no competition, just stories from the wide spectrum of mountain culture; running marathons in Antarctica, kayaking across oceans, survival for months in the bush, climbing some of the world's hardest rock routes, jumping out of all manner of aircrafts. Sometimes speakers have a tale of overcoming tragedy, like when Sherry McConkey spoke last year of the gaping hole left by her husband, the late freeskiing and base jumping legend Shane McConkey. For a community that loses people to the mountains every year, that stuff really resonates.
"Having all these people under one Whistler roof on the same night is pretty unprecedented," says Todd Lawson, publisher of Mountain Life magazine and organizer of Multiplicity. "For people to be able to listen to legends from the mountain bike world, amazing climbers and all sort of adventurers, to hear their life stories and the amazing arc of their careers... It's pretty special."
The images on the screen during the Multiplicity presentations aren't always the eye-popping, magazine cover quality, but they accompany the speaker's words to form a greater story of adventure and adversity in the mountains. It's real, it's visceral and sometimes even a bit uncomfortable. But ever inspirational.
This year's event (taking place at the Whistler Conference Centre on April 10) will feature seven speakers from all manner of mountain backgrounds. I'm most excited to hear about the life of extreme mountain biker Hans "No Way" Rey, the underwater missions of diver Jill Heinerth, the bush survival tales of Ted Baird and the Coast Mountain exploits of ski bum/climber/punk rocker/perennial nudist Johnny Thrash. If you didn't already have a reason to attend, the event also doubles as a fundraiser for the Spearhead Huts.
The WSSF may have a shorter program this year but it still oozes mountain culture from its pores. Get your tickets.
Vince Shuley is ready to top up the mountain adventure inspiration tank. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email email@example.com or Instagram @whis_vince