Opinion » Maxed Out

Saluting a legend

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A couple of weeks ago, you may have noticed a full-page announcement of the End of an Era. The torch has passed. Life goes on. Change is the only constant.

There is hardly a person alive and still wearing ski boots who remembers Whistler Mountain without Bob Dufour. Bob's been a fixture in one form or another since the early 1970s when Diamond Jim McConkey ran the ski school and he was a fresh-faced instructor.

I'm not entirely certain what position Bob is retiring from and have to admit one of the questions I regularly handled while serving behind a Guest Relations desk was, "What exactly does Bob do at the mountain?" My stock answer was, "He runs the place."

Of course, he didn't; it just seemed that way. Bob was everywhere but he was nowhere like Creekside. It seemed to be a place twisted into his DNA. He was there almost every morning and certainly every weekend morning. I'm sure he was sure the place couldn't run without him. He may have been right.

I know Bob wanted to retire with, gulp, 50 years under his belt and I know he fell short by, I believe, two. I won't express an opinion as to why and most likely neither will he. In some ways it doesn't matter.

Herewith are some of my favourite Bob recollections. I'd hoped to share them when I crashed his retirement party but who knows when that will be.

Riding up Peak Chair with him one day, I speculated he probably had more days and more vertical on Whistler Mountain than anyone, alive or dead. "No question," he replied.

Then to change the subject to avoid further embarrassment, he said, as we glided over Whistler Bowl, "Bend over and look straight down between your skis. Don't look up."

I did.

As we suddenly approached the near-vertical wall of rock announcing the peak, it came into my restricted view so fast it felt like a body blow. "Cool, eh?" was all he said as we quickly prepared to offload. I've shared that experience with many guests and, like me, they're always blown away.

Bob ambled into Guest Relations one spring day. The ski-out was largely non-existent for the last 100 metres or so but judging from the mud spattered on the legs of Bob's blues, he'd skied down. His voice boomed a greeting and I replied by saying, "How's the ski-out, Bob?"

"Awesome!!" Double slammers.

Skiing was always awesome for Bob. The only word I ever heard him use to describe skiing on days only diehards and tourists braved the elements was, "Challenging."

I generally felt the upper management of the mountain had my back when I'd managed to disappoint—piss off—some guest because, for example, I wouldn't comp them new skis when they scratched up their own hitting a rock somewhere on the mountain... which was largely made of rock.

But one time, a weekend warrior who was, shall we say, hard to please, was complaining about something that got stuck in his craw. I don't remember the slight on this occasion but he wouldn't be satisfied with any of the bromides I'd offered.

Bob, who'd slipped in and caught the last minute of this tirade, approached the gentleman and said, "Is there something I can help you with?"

Launching into his specious complaint again, Bob cut him off in mid-sentence, saying, "Let me see your pass."

Unclipping the gent's season pass from his lanyard, Bob walked it over to the counter, handed it to me and said, "Refund this guy's pass. I'm sure he'll be happier skiing some place else."

Dumbfounded doesn't begin to describe the expression on the whiner's face. Stumbling over his words, he literally shouted, "No. I don't want a refund."

Bob wouldn't have it. "We don't seem to be able to please you. Maybe some other resort will."

After some frantic seconds, Bob returned the man's pass to him, promising we'd try to do better. I never saw him again except when he came in to buy next season's pass. With no complaint.

But my favourite Dufour story exemplifies the credo Whistler Blackcomb used to operate under: Exceed our guests' expectations.

In early March one year, a Creekside regular wandered in late in the afternoon. He said he had a special request. He was going to turn 60 in two weeks and really, really wanted to ski 60,000 vertical feet that day. He wondered if that would be possible.

I told him I didn't know and would have to crunch some numbers, suggesting he proceed to Dusty's, have a beer and drop back in afterward. I figured his best bet would be yo-yoing Garbanzo Chair since it had maximum vertical and minimum lineups. But assuming it ran at full speed, he was on the first gondy out of Creekside in the morning and skied non-stop, he'd still come up short.

I hated the idea of telling him that.

When he came in, beaming with anticipation, I broke the bad news to him. He didn't complain, didn't whine, just said, "I didn't think so."

And then, in the best Hail-Mary tradition, I said, "Hold on. Let me see if there's a rabbit in this hat."

I called Bob. He answered. "Bob, I have a kind of strange request. A long-time Creekside skier wants to try and ski 60,000 vertical on his 60th birthday in two weeks. I've crunched the numbers for Garbanzo and he'll fall short. Do you have any id..."

Not waiting for the rest of the sentence, Bob shouted into the phone, "Have him meet me at G1 (Village Gondy) at 5 a.m. on his birthday. We'll go up with patrol. I'll have some headlamps and a radio and we'll do laps on the gondy until the mountain opens. Then I'll have the guys run Garbo at full speed and give him priority if there's a line."

Click.

At 3 p.m. that day, the man wandered into Creek GR, grinning from ear to ear. I looked up, he said, "63,000!"

That was Bob. But it was also Whistler, Blackcomb and Whistler Blackcomb. Aside from our terrain, it was the attitude—that we would do almost anything to exceed our guests' expectations—that made WB No. 1, epic before that word was a trademark. Whether such an attitude exists today is open to debate. But Bob walked the talk. He lived the dream. And I look forward to seeing him in the coming seasons, although I'm sure many people will think he's still working.

Feel free to share your Bob stories with Pique. Hard to have skied here very long without having a few.

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