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Remembering the 'glamorous' World Cup days

Longtime locals gather to remember downhill racing at its finest

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Longtime Whistler locals packed into the Whistler Museum on Thursday, March 28 to celebrate the resort's fascinating history of hosting World Cup downhill skiing in the 1980s and '90s.

The Museum's speaker series talk—titled "Whistler's World Cups: From Fiasco to Fiesta"—featured a short presentation from Whistler ski-god Rob Boyd and former World Cup ski-race organizer Alex Kleinman.

The evening took on a casual tone (very Whistler), with plenty of back-and-forths between Boyd, Kleinman and the audience members, many of whom helped put the races on.

Boyd was quick to thank the famous Whistler Weasels Workers, a volunteer organization dating back to the 1970s, which was instrumental in preparing the courses.

He recalled that while racing on the World Cup circuit, he and the other racers would get into a routine of going to a new resort, racing, (and perhaps partying if they did well), and then moving on to the next one when it was all over, without giving much thought to the actual organization of the event.

Over time, he has come to a greater appreciation of the magnitude of work that goes into putting on such a race, he said.

(Boyd was a member of the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team from 1985 to 1997, winning a total of three World Cup Downhill races during that time.)

"I'm still learning to appreciate more and more what was done by so many people for so long before (the racers arrived)," he explained.

Speaking in front of a lively audience, Kleinman recalled seeing Jamie Tattersfield—who was in charge of Whistler Mountain's mechanical equipment for years, prior to moving to Sun Peaks, where he served as the resort's operations manager until the 2014-15 season—in an early groomer, trying to groom a steep pitch of the Lower Dave Murray Downhill known as the "Weasel."

"Charlie Davies was sitting in the cab holding onto Jamie as they went down the Weasel sideways," said Kleinman, garnering a big laugh from the crowd.

Rather than risk the groomers, race volunteers decided to boot and ski-pack the Weasel slope in preparation for races, explained Kleinman. (Hence the group's name.)

Kleinman also discussed the challenges of pulling off World Cup races. Whistler's heavy snowfall—and occasional rainfall at lower elevations—made things difficult, he explained.

Whistler's first World Cup Downhill race, in 1979, ended up being cancelled due to avalanche risk.

In 1982, the race returned, with Switzerlands' Peter Müller getting gold, while the Crazy Canucks' Steve Podborski and Dave Irwin finished second and third, respectively.

That year, the race travelled down the north side of Whistler, ending in the village, as Whistler Mountain wanted to highlight its newly built village, explained Boyd.

"Unfortunately, that year it snowed and it snowed, and it made the course quite easy," he added.

In later years it would return to the south side of the mountain, down the upper and lower sections of the Dave Murray Downhill.

Prompted by a question from the crowd, Boyd recalled his 1989 win. It felt like the entire community had won, he said.

"It was such a huge celebration," he said. "(People) put in so much work—blood, sweat and tears—into preparing this track."

Recalled Kleinman of the year that Boyd won: "I can still remember standing with the Austrian, German and French coaches at Coaches Corner ... The comment was, 'Ya, he is going faster than anybody. He's going to win' ... It blows me away that they understood (that)."

There would be races in the 1990s, but the feasibility of Whistler holding the event became even more challenging when the International Ski Federation (FIS), the world's highest governing body for international winter sports, moved the North American stops of its World Cup circuit to earlier in the season.

This lead to three "consecutive cancellations of the Whistler stop on the World Cup circuit due to snow and weather conditions" between 1996 to 1998, according to a post on Whistler Museum's blog.

Among those in the audience was Whistler Councillor Cathy Jewett, who moved to the community in 1976 and had a long career working as a professional ski patroller before moving into a supervisory role with Whistler Blackcomb's ski safety department.

It was "so glamorous," she said of the World-Cup days. "The Europeans were coming here—ya, it was a pretty big deal ... plus, the Crazy Canucks were doing really well."

To see Boyd win on home turf was an incredible experience, she added.

"The difference between now and then is that that's what skiing was for us," she explained. "There wasn't competitive big-mountain skiing. There was no such thing as terrain park.

"Everyone skied on long skies, and everybody skied very fast."

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