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Naked history

Exposing Whistler’s unclothed past and present

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On August 15, 2009, roughly 20,000 people were tensely crammed against the base of Whistler Mountain for the revered Monster Energy Slopestyle competition, the signature event of Crankworx. The setting sun spilled violently across the dirt track and the sky was lit up by a swirl of colorful mountain bike tricks. The sea of spectators, spread-eagled through Skiers' Plaza, desperately craned their necks in fierce anticipation of the next jaw-dropping trick. You could feel the pressure in the air. 

Then, a butt-naked man suddenly appeared.

Flashing skin and smiles all over the place, the lone streaker took off down the slopestyle track with a vengeance. The crowd went wild as his bare legs flew over rocks and skipped over dirt mounds. Men, women and even children pounded their hands together and let loose howls as the anonymous man ran, his sandy blond hair bouncing uninhibited in the wind.

The streaker zoomed past the red Sram elevated ramp and around the blue Kokanne Kicker, heading straight into the finish circle in Skiers' Plaza. Whistler councillor and Crankworx volunteer Tom Thomson handed him a red beach ball to cover up as the mystery man jumped the barrier and disappeared into the cheering crowd.

The streak lasted about five minutes, but it was a significant moment in Whistler's history.

It stood as a defiant reminder that, amid the high-stakes professional biking world and pre-Olympic hype, Whistler's soul hasn't changed much in the last thirty years. Sure, the totally naked days of the '70s have been put to rest, but this is still a town built on the smiles of 20-year-olds; a place where getting gritty in the name of fun will always reign supreme; and a place where pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable is downright celebrated.

And if there is one attribute that could symbolize Whistler's rebellious spirit - if there is one commodity that could be brandished as an emblem of this resort town's free soul - then exposed skin is it. Throughout the decades, nudity has consistently popped up along the village streets and in our parks. It's raised its head inside bars and on mountain slopes, along the nudie dock and danced across the stage at Das Boot Ballet. From the Toad Hall photo to the legendary Pimp and Ho parties, nakedness has woven itself thickly into Whistler's historic fabric. In other words, Whistler has definitely got a Naked History.

A BRIEF NOTE ON BIRTHDAY SUITS

But before we jump into the naked stories of Whistler, a brief disclaimer is needed: Whether bare-skinned, disrobed, in the buff, raw, undraped, stark naked or wearing only a smile, the sight of publicly flashed bodies brings out a reaction in almost everyone.

For some, uncovered skin is the pinnacle of a free society; naked people are liberated people that have at last thrown aside their conservative pasts and embraced the true curves of the new millennia. For others, exposed flesh promotes unhealthy attitudes towards women or ups the lewd factor just a little too high.

But whatever your thoughts on nudity you have to admit there is also something silly about getting naked in public. It lightens moods. In fact, easily 90 per cent of the people interviewed for this feature laughed when they were asked to comment on nudity in Whistler - including an officer with Canada's Integrated Security Unit about whether they will be taking any measures against streaking during the Olympics (hint: they won't). 

THE TOAD HALL PHOTO, FLESHED OUT

Long before Blackcomb Mountain merged with Whistler Mountain, before Whistler village even became Whistler Village, and long, long before Olympic officials declared Whistler ground zero for the Winter Games throwdown, a group of ski bums took a photo that kicked off Whistler's nudity tradition with a bang: the Toad Hall photo. 

It was 1973, and a group of hippies and ski bums were living in a cluster of bare-bone cabins at the north end of Green Lake, at an old lumber mill complex called Soo Valley. They had no running water and they ran their tape decks using car batteries, but the rent was cheap and they were having a fabulous time. 

Unfortunately, like most things in life, it was too good to last for long. That summer their ski-bum paradise came to an end when they got word from the Alta Lake Housing Society that they were going to tear down the Soo Valley mill.

As the residents gathered their things and prepared for the move a fellow named Chris Speedy decided they should take a photo to serve as a memento of their legendary stay in the Soo Valley. Speedy and his friend Terry "Toulouse" Spence, one of the last remaining members of the Soo Valley gang still living in Whistler, set immediately to work gathering people up for the photo-op.

Eventually they got together a solid group of 14 people who stripped down to their birthday suits and lined up against the Toad Hall cabin, skis in hand. Speedy stood on the left, Toulouse in the centre, and a man known as Anthony, or Tony, or more commonly as Kiwi, manned the camera.

Later, looking at the photos, Speedy decided they should make a poster. Toulouse and someone else contributed $1,000 each and he supplied the negative. Together, the three men printed off thousands of posters and started The Naked Truth Poster Company.

"We used to take them down to Dusty's on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and sell as many as the market would allow for $2 each," recounts Toulouse. "We then used all the money we made to buy our drinks."

The Naked Truth Poster Company also went on the road, travelling through B.C. and even Europe to sell the photo of naked people holding skis. Some people didn't like it, but in general, it was a popular item. And 36 years later, it remains a landmark of Whistler.

"Mark Twain said, 'You'll regret the things you don't do more than the things you did do,' but I don't regret doing that. At the time, it was fun, and it continues to be a talking point for Whistler," says Toulouse.

"It is tweaking its nose at society a little bit because the people in the photo are saying it is alright to be nude. Because it was done in Whistler, it caught the Whistler mood."

POSTCARD FLASHES

Whistler's naked history reached another level of professionalism when photographer Gary McFarlane started the Barely Whistler postcard series.

The idea came about during a series of backpacking trips in the mid-'80s. Gary and his friend started stripping down and taking naked photographs while traveling, and they would include the shots in their slide shows back in Whistler.

"At one of those slideshows one of my drunk friends said, 'Wow, you should make postcards!'" Gary recalls. "I woke up the next morning and remembered his comment and decided it sounded like fun."

Gary started Barely Whistler in 1992 and spent the next seven years capturing naked men and women frolicking in 50 black and white shots. The postcards, sold in a few Whistler shops including Rick Clare's photography store, were cleverly crafted with most private bits concealed.

Gary recounts with gusto one postcard in particular. It was at the end of a ski day and he got five naked skiers with long hair to line up in front of Monk's Grill at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. He was going to take their picture when a bunch of men enjoying an après session nearby started cheering them on. One of the skiers turned around to see what was going on, and as soon as he did, the après men exclaimed with shock: "Hey! Those aren't girls!"

The last postcard of the series - and the only colour postcard - was taken at a special party at Merlin's. The theory was at midnight everyone at the party would strip and Gary would take their picture. At first, Gary wasn't so sure it was going to be a hit but the eager Whistler crowd proved him wrong. By 10 o'clock people were already stripping down and at the stroke of midnight 100 people in various stage of undress happily lined up for the camera and said "cheese."

THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY THRASH

Any serious discussion about nakedness in Whistler, of course, ultimately winds up on the subject of Johnny Thrash. The legendary wild-man could often be found naked around town throughout the '90s.

In fact, there is an old saying amongst long-time Whistlerites that it wasn't a party until Johnny showed up naked.

"He'd just always showed up, and he loved to party. And he'd love to get naked and party," recounts Mike Varrin, current manager of the GLC. "You could often catch him swinging from the rafters of the bar, just totally naked."

Johnny moved to Whistler in 1988 and spent the next decade rocking the resort town with his unsuppressed, uncensored moves. Throughout his stay, he worked as a liftie, commercial fisher, guitarist and Rim Rock employee. In fact, it was at Rim Rock that Johnny said his mind first really opened up to streaking.

"I was working with these old ski bums," says Johnny today from his new southern home in Squamish, B.C. "They were all ex-hippies and all from that generation where nudity was okay."

Johnny's first nudity incident happened one winter when he was dating a girl with a birthday right after his. For their birthday celebration, they decided to rip off their ski gear and see how many runs they could get in on 7th Heaven before they got caught. They did three runs, clean, before ski patrol showed up.

Johnny's most legendary naked stunt, though, was the gyro sphere scene, forever preserved on film for the 2001 National Film Board of Canada flick Ski Bums - although the footage was shot before the film was conceived. 

It was 1988, and Johnny had met a guy called Sal Paradise, also known as the youngest stunt man in Hollywood. Sal was up in Whistler for the season and had brought with him a circus-like collection of skidoos, mono boards, big foot skis... and a pink, green and yellow gyro sphere.

One night, after a Kiss cover band concert at Tommy Africa's, Johnny and Sal dragged some girls over to Sal's buses parked on Blackcomb. They decided to pull out the gyro sphere and go riding in it and, in the midst of the excitement, Johnny took his clothes off. While his tricks frightened the girls off they inspired Sal who immediately exclaimed: "Let's film this tomorrow!"

Unfortunately for Johnny, the image of him riding through town naked while spinning uncontrollably also caught the attention of the RCMP. They arrested him and sentenced him to a series of expensive psychiatric sessions to find out whether he was a sexual deviant! Sal covered the costs.

The psychiatrist sessions weighed heavily on Johnny's psyche and eventually his friend hooked him up with an entertainment lawyer from L.A. who agreed to cover the case pro bono. As soon as Johnny mentioned the lawyer's name to Crown Council they dropped the charges.

Today, Johnny never thinks of himself as someone who was always naked and he never meant to offend anyone. 

"I was just out there being myself, and sometimes I would get carried away in that sense, I think. I am very bad with peer pressure," he says.

Johnny adds the Olympics are a sad time for him in the Sea to Sky Corridor because he feels like Whistler's free spirit is being pulled out of the valley. He plans to be away in Costa Rica when the big event hits town.

"In a lot of ways, we knew it was coming, but I just hope Whistler doesn't loose all of its flavour," says Johnny. "The Whistler brand to me is a way you feel, not the way you look on the slopes or how many lifts there are."

THE PHOTO THAT GOT ROB BOYD FIRED

While Johnny Thrash was running about wild, another Whistlerite was also pushing the naked boundary.

In 1992, ski hero Rob Boyd's friends approached him to help out with advertising for the Summer of Love party.

Rob agreed, and that summer they took a shot of him riding a motorbike with a bare breasted woman on the back - her hands raised in peace signs. It was a remake of some 1960s Summer of Love memorabilia, and the photo ran on the back of the now defunct alternative magazine the Whistler Answer .

"Nothing much was said, or at least I didn't hear anything," says Rob.

Things changed the next year, though, when his friends approached him again for the party's advertising campaign. This time, they took a shot of Rob butt-naked on a motorcycle, which was sitting on a raft in Alpha Lake, while a nude woman dove into the water. While all of Rob's visible private parts had been air brushed out, there was just enough left to the imagination to stir things up. 

"That was the one that raised a lot of concerns about nudity, and if I am an ambassador of Whistler I shouldn't be doing this kind of thing," recalls Rob.

"There were a lot of people who were uncomfortable with their bodies and nudity and they raised a lot of stink about it. As a result, I lost my contract with the Whistler Resort Association, which was Tourism Whistler's predecessor."

But Rob doesn't appear to regret being in the photo that got him fired.

"I did it partly out of helping a friend, but also that sort of Whistler free spirit idea," he says.

MOULIN ROUGE OF THE MOUNTAINS

Whistler's naked legacy hit another level thirteen years ago. Before Cornucopia was founded, on a weekend in November when nothing worth noting was happening in Whistler, a man named Andre St. Jacques threw the first of what was to become a series of legendary debaucheries: the MasquerRave parties.

The concept of MasquerRave was to blow the concept of wine tasting into something bigger, more fun, more approachable and way less serious than tradition dictates. Enter body paint. 

"The first year, all the wineries didn't even know what I was doing," says the proprietor of the Bear Foot Bistro, who had gotten a slew of wine tasters from the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival to come up to Whistler for the occasion. "It was a great delight when they found out I was painting girls and guys in the logos of their wine as they are pouring wine."

The rowdy wine event with naked models was a resounding success. It not only became an annual event in Whistler, but it was also folded into Cornucopia when the food festival popped onto the scene in 1999.

In fact, during its 11 years of existence, Andre's anything-goes, sexed-up party grew from 150 attendees to a remarkable 2,500 guests willing to pay the $250 cover charge. People were even travelling from as far as San Francisco, New York and Australia.

Each year, Andre made sure to raise the bar and keep people on their toea. One year he had an ABBA cover band. Another year, he put on an acrobatics show. Nude ice sculptures with vodka shots from their nipples, shadow-box sex shows, and penis-shaped hors d'oeuvres were also reported inside the Bistro's tavern. Oh, and then there was the time Andre had to cancel the live lion act he had planned for the fete because of the controversy it created with animal-rights groups.

"I don't want to brag about it," he says today about his Moulin Rouge-esque throwdowns. "I felt I threw a good party. People were always asking me what I was going to do the next year. There was a sense of excitement."

In 2007, though, the risqué parties were shut down when the liquor licensing department and Tourism Whistler kicked up a fuss about what was going down inside the doors of Bear Foot Bistro.

"I was told that I could do it in a format that would be completely regressing," Andre says. "I could have a tea party. And I was not having a tea party so I opted not to do it. You just can't go backwards."

But Andre hasn't totally turned his back on MasquerRave and its naked, glamourous, envelope-pushing agenda, saying: "I would love to do it again, but it would have to be with the blessing of the municipality, with whoever is looking after Cornucopia, and Tourism Whistler."

PARTY NAKED AT MERLIN'S

While Andre was playing out glitz at the Bear Foot Bistro, the man managing Merlin's was also testing Whistler's boundaries.

"When I was brand new to Whistler my boss at the time said to me, 'We want you to push the limit,'" says Mike Varrin, now manager of the GLC. "He said, 'If people aren't in my office angry at what you are doing at least once a week then you are not doing a good job.'"

And so how did Mike scandalize après sessions? He threw a hot tub party on Merlin's deck: Splash Nash, the hot tub guy, had just moved to town, and he helped Varrin thrown his "Drop Your Gear for a Beer" party.

"Well, the whole patio was naked with people screaming for beer," laughs Varrin. "It was an overwhelming experience. We had to stop doing it because we couldn't afford to give out that much free beer."

From there, Mike brought in Naked Limbo - a contest to see who would go the furthest the lowest, along with several other naked get-togethers. 

But perhaps his most legendary events were his Pimp and Ho parties, done in conjunction with Extremely Canadian in the late '90s and early '00s. The focus of the parties was "What is the most extreme thing you would do for something?" - starting out with a pair of skis and moving up to a Heli Trip.

"The Pimp and Ho parties involved a lot of people getting naked," says Mike with a laugh.

In fact, he says, the discussion of what is okay in public got pushed to a new level in 1999 when the Pimp and Ho party gave away tickets for Heli skiing. As Mike tells it, a girl jumped on stage with her boyfriend, ripped down his pants, and went down on him.

"Some people were shocked with it, but you've got to put it in perspective; her response was, "Are you kidding me! I do this for free all the time,'" says Mike. "It shocked so many people, but she was okay with it and he was good with it, and they got to go Heli skiing for free. Depending on how you look at it, it was one of the most shocking things or most normal things that happened."

Today, Merlin's has moved away from the naked parties and become more family friendly. They've dropped their old tag line - "Party naked at Merlin's" - along with the Pimp and Ho parties. But Mike says they still don't shy away from a free apres session.

"If someone takes their shirt off and gets on the table, we'll let them go for a while before we tell them to cover up."

TIME TO PASS THE TORCH?

It's been thirty years since the Toad Hall photo, 20 years since Barely Naked started and 10 years since Johnny Thrash rode the gryo sphere, but Whistler's naked torch is still burning bright. In fact, a man commonly called The Bone was probably the last person to carry it as he expressed his "freedom flag."

"There were too many rules, and I just wanted to get silly and remind people not to take things too seriously," says The Bone about why he started getting naked in public. "Everyone is so worried about style and imagination. I say, 'Drop your pants, and let's party.'"

The first time The Bone dropped his pants was in 1995. He was sitting at the bar drinking and thought it would it was funny because he was just normally conversing with people even though he didn't have any pants on.

"Things just snowballed from there," he says.

One of The Bone's first full-on streaks was after Canada won the gold in ice hockey during the 2002 Olympics. He started at Buffalo Bills and did a lap around the village. He's also done weddings, naked ski days, film festivals and more.
"It has become very calculated now," says The Bone. "In the beginning, it was kind of sloppy. Now, my escape is always planned out. I am much more methodical about it now."

Today, The Bone has moved from Whistler to Vancouver and he doesn't streak as often as he used to (although he did a wedding last week). It's time to pass on the naked touch onto someone else, he says.

"The old guys in Whistler, they used to spend a lot of time naked. They were showing their freedom. They were teaching us all how to live in the Whistler mentality: get it out there and let yourself be free. It is important that we remember that and pass it on. I came after Johnny, and hopefully someone comes after me," says The Bone.

"It is a legacy that is our duty to uphold."