By Alison Taylor
Dr. Ken Nickerson has been skiing in Whistler since almost the first day it opened and in that time he has paid for his season’s pass just once.
That’s because he has volunteered his time on the mountains for 40 years — first as one of the original group of doctors on the mountain and later as a mountain host, a job he still does to this day.
Whistler-Blackcomb honoured his contribution recently with a 40-year length of service award, the longest ever given. And Nickerson said he has no plans of slowing down any time soon.
“I’m in good health so I’m going to keep on mountain hosting, so we’ll see how we go,” said the 82-year-old on the eve of accepting his award.
In the winter of ’66 Whistler Mountain had just opened for business. A group of doctor friends from the city formed the first medical patrol, a small group that assisted the mostly-volunteer ski patrol and worked on weekend rotation.
They didn’t have fancy red uniforms back then, just a Red Cross armband to show they were the guys who were there to help. There were no walkie-talkies to get help, the doctors had to find a phone. And sometimes they had to rely on others to provide supplies, like the lady who saw Nickerson attending a patient, jumped off the T-bar, dropped her pants and took a bandage off her knee for his patient.
“We put together this group and it wasn’t a very high class group,” recalled Nickerson. “I was a gynecologist. (Bill) Arbuckle (his friend who brought him to Whistler) was an urologist. We had a radiologist and I think we had a cardiologist.”
There were a few orthopedic doctors on the rotation too.
Dr. Nickerson remembers responding to a call on the mountain for a lady who had hurt her shoulder. It turns out he had delivered her babies in Vancouver.
“She looked a little apprehensive when she saw this gynecologist coming up to look at her,” he chuckled.
Those were the days of runaway straps and low ski boots, and the runs weren’t groomed the way they are today. It could get busy at the end of the day in the makeshift medical trailers at Creekside.
“If you came out of your ski you had this ski flailing around like a windmill,” said Nickerson. “So one of our main jobs was sewing up lacerations at the end of the day from these flailing skis.”
After more than 20 years — Nickerson can’t recall exactly how long he was part of the medical patrol — he traded in his armband for a mountain host jacket and has been doing that ever since.
There was one year in between patrolling and mountain hosting when he did not volunteer and he paid for his pass.
But it was never really about the free pass, although it’s a nice perk.
“I think more people (volunteer) because they like to help out,” said Dr. Nickerson of his mountain hosting duties.
“You love Whistler and you like to show people how nice it is. People in Whistler, I think on the whole, are pretty friendly people because I think most of them live here because they want to live here. I think visitors are impressed by that helping attitude.”
Nickerson was presented with his length of service award on Thursday, April 5 at the Roundhouse.
Whistler ski patrol manager Bernie Protsch spoke highly of the commitment all the volunteers make for the mountains.
He highlighted several long serving volunteer patrollers in addition to Dr. Nickerson.
Albert Van Citters was awarded his 35 year length of service award as a Whistler Mountain volunteer patroller, and Dennis Attfield received his 30 year award. Protsch also mentioned Harry Orton who has served 31 years.
“Their efforts are greatly appreciated by us,” said Protsch. “They are paramount in helping us achieve our goals of delivering first aid to our injured guests.”