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Saudan back on top

Blackcomb's iconic Couloir has name restored



If you've seen this year's trail maps, you may have noticed a familiar name returning to Blackcomb Mountain. The iconic double-black just off 7th Heaven Express once titled "Couloir Extreme" is gone, replaced with its long-standing name among locals, "Saudan Couloir."

Thanks to a new collaboration between French skier Sylvain Saudan and Whistler Blackcomb (WB), the trail name that was removed years ago as part of a lawsuit is once again back in place.

"I think you have to be respectful of the past; certainly we are respectful of the past, and (the run) played such an important role in the early history of Blackcomb, and was an iconic part of our resort," said Marc Riddell, senior manager of communications for WB. "So when you have an opportunity to honour the past in that way, you jump at it. We're extremely pleased Mr. Saudan thought that way, and we were pleased we were able to make this happen."

The run was originally given that moniker by locals, who affectionately named it after Saudan, considered the father of extreme skiing. But nobody had bothered to ask the "skier of the impossible" if it was OK. The run only grew in fame once the resort began hosting the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme in 1987. When Saudan found out about the unauthorized use of his name, he sued the mountain, and the matter was settled out of court.

In his later years, he has come back around to the idea.

"I have a collaboration with Whistler Blackcomb and I'm very happy about this collaboration," said Saudan in a video interview with Whistler Blackcomb. "I think it will be very good. This is a good thing."

English may not be his native tongue, but Saudan's skiing accomplishments spoke to everyone in the resort. That's why he's been to Whistler twice in the past year to share documentaries about his past accomplishments. It was during his first visit in April that a deal was struck to return his name to the run.

"It was kind of an organic thing," explained Riddell.

"There was some discussion internally before about whether or not it was worth reaching out to Mr. Saudan to revisit the issue and it just so happened he was visiting sometime last April.

"It was certainly something Sylvain had thought about and it was something that we had thought about, and when we had an opportunity to get together just out of courtesy, the conversation came up and, basically that led to where we are today."

Saudan's second trip, which came in November and involved a premiere of his movie Le Skieur de l'Impossible, Sylvain Saudan, resulted in a meeting with WB's COO Pete Sonntag. Among the topics was the potential return of the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme.

"We haven't made a final decision on that as of yet, but I would say that if we were to go ahead and bring that back, we might see Mr. Saudan back here," said Riddell.

There are also plans for a plaque to be placed at the top of the run highlighting Saudan's achievements and his importance to Whistler.

The run, a 2,500-metre chute that was named one of "Ski Magazine's 10 Steepest Runs," is one of the most challenging slopes Whistler Blackcomb has to offer. Oddly enough, Saudan said he has only skied it once.

"I hope to ski more on that run," said Saudan in the video.

"It's a very good run. It's not too dangerous. Just choose it when the snow is very good, that's what the young ones have to look for. It can be a test (before doing more difficult) ski descents."

"Big Bang," the 235-m chute that joins up to the Saudan Couloir, has also had its name changed to "Sylvain." The first batch of trail maps actually included a misprint, calling it the "Sudan Couloir," but that has since been changed.