"I have forty years of Whistler home movies! Just wait 'till I transfer them all onto tape."
– Paul (Da Finn) Saarinen
He knows where all the skeletons are buried. Or at least most of them. Like the old nursery rhyme 'tinker, tailor, soldier, spy...' Finn Saarinen has auditioned for just about every role you can play on our vast mountain playground. Instructor, pro patroller, guide, photographer-to-the-stars, retailer, ski tuner, even mountain-top ski-bag checker ("I make the best toaster oven pizza above 6,000 feet," he says proudly) — the smiley-faced 60-year-old has been a fixture on Whistler Blackcomb for nearly four decades now. I mean, the guy is full of secrets and lies and myths and legends. In fact, he's probably forgotten more about Whistler than most of us will ever know...
So what to do? I could just go on and provide you with a linear description of his mountain years: his growing friendship with ski-boss Jim McConkey, his marriage to wonder-woman Sue Boyd, the birth of their children Tory and Jenna, the photographic mentorship of Pat Morrow and Rick Clare, Seppo's impact, the lessons he learned from Steve Flynn and Jim Haberl, his sheer, tenacious, stubborn, Finnish will-to-endure... gasp... or I could simply stand back and let him tell you his stories.
I'm going with the latter. Can you blame me? I mean, there are all sorts of Whistler mysteries that I'd like answers to. For example: what's the real story behind the 1981 "Wreck of Number 13?"
"Hah!" he says. "That's a good one. Well, you know, in the old days — we're talking over 30 years ago now — the Whistler Patrol would always make a home movie for April Fool's Day. And each year had to outdo the one before. Well, that particular year, it just so happened that we had this beaten-up Tod Toboggan ready for the junk heap. Old number 13, it was. And we were done with it. So we decided to give it a proper send-off." He stops. Chuckles at the memory. "Well, (patroller) Cathy Jewett went all the way and built a perfect dummy for the sled's last ride. Dressed it up and everything. It looked so-o-o-o real." He lets the suspense mount. And? I know it's not polite to prompt, but..."Simple," he says. "We sent the toboggan and dummy flying off Elwin's Cliff and blew the thing up with dynamite in mid-air... and shot the whole sequence for posterity. It was epic."
Finn's memory sometimes strays on the details. Fortunately he still has the original film. He contacts me a few days later. "On that exploding toboggan story," he says. "After reviewing the home movies, I can say for sure that the wreck of number 13..." And here he pauses dramatically "...happened exactly like I said... but there was no dynamite." My let-down is palpable. I'm sure he feels it. Fortunately the story isn't quite over. "Minutes after the wreck however," he continues, "another fellow patroller, Pat Coulter pulled out an 'old fag bag,' an extremely cheap patroller packsack no one liked. He stuffed a big stick of logger's special dynamite into it and threw it off the same cliff. 'I won't ever have to wear that pack again,' he said with a big laugh. Next year patrol got new packs..."