By Andrew Mitchell
In ski racing, there are probably 10 times as many people working behind the scenes as there are in bibs for any given event, most of them unpaid volunteers who are out there purely for the love of the sport.
In Whistler, the behind the scenes volunteers are known as the Weasel Workers, a group that has been in existence for at least 25 years, and that made a name for itself in the days of the Crazy Canucks downhill team. Although there are a few explanations for the name, the most conventional explanation is that the Weasel Workers were named after a steep section of the Whistler Downhill Course — now called the Dave Murray Downhill — that had to be manually boot-packed in the days before winch-cats existed.
While the Weasels have helped out with virtually every World Cup and national championship held in Whistler, they are also well known around the world as dedicated volunteers. Up to 50 members volunteer each year at the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup races, as well as the Pontiac GMC Cup races and national championships on home soil, and various World Cups and Olympics around the world. At Salt Lake City alone 35 Weasel Workers were on the job in 2002, and over a dozen made the trip to Bormio, Italy in 2006.
But while the Weasels are easily one of the largest social groups in Whistler — over 200 on the mailing list on any given year — the Weasel Workers are launching a massive recruiting campaign. Whistler will be hosting the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships in March, four World Cup speed events next winter, a disabled World Cup in 2009, and, biggest of all, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Hundreds of new volunteers will be needed over the next few years.
According to Scott Roberts and Peter Allan — longtime Weasels who are leading the recruiting drive — the group will need about 640 volunteers this March when Whistler again hosts the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships.
While Whistler has hosted the Canadian championships three times in five years this is the first time that the skiers will use the Olympic venues — with the exception of the women’s downhill course, which is still under development. Because of the change of venues — and because the national events will be a dry run for the 2008 World Cup races and 2010 Olympic races, more volunteers will be needed to ensure things go smoothly.
“Our objective really is to increase the number of vollees working on course, increase the volunteers working off-course, and also to address the need to provide the best volunteer experience anywhere leading up to 2010,” said Roberts.