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Whistler loses long-serving volunteer

Dr. Ken Nickerson, 85, passes away after heart attack



Two weeks ago Dr. Ken Nickerson was showing off Whistler Mountain as one of its long-serving volunteer mountain hosts.

That same week he skied Secret Chute on Blackcomb Mountain with the Seniors Ski Team. He was the oldest member of that team at 85 years old.

But age didn't matter - getting up and into the mountains was just in Nickerson's blood.

"He was living his life up to the very fullest right until the end," said his good friend Gord Leidal.

"I think we all aspire to be like Ken."

On Tuesday, March 30, Dr. Ken Nickerson died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Vancouver after a heart attack. He was in hospital following a car accident March 26 on the Upper Levels highway in West Vancouver.

Before moving to Whistler full time with his wife Shirley, Dr. Nickerson was a renowned gynecologist in Vancouver.

He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta and his medical degree from McGill University in 1948. What followed was a distinguished career as a doctor at Vancouver General Hospital and a member of the consulting staff of the B.C. Cancer Institute.

He was also involved in teaching and training programs for medical students and residents and by the time he retired from active clinical practice, he had achieved the rank of clinical professor.

The mountains, however, always had their place in his heart and beckoned to him. Even in the thick of his busy clinical practice, Nickerson was a member of the weekend Whistler Ski Patrol in 1966, working on the mountain and out of the makeshift medical trailers based in Creekside.

After more than 20 years as a volunteer patroller, he switched to volunteer as a mountain host.

"He was so dedicated to the mountains," said his mountain host supervisor at Whistler Blackcomb Dale Hotell. "He loved to host, loved to show it off to guests."

For that he was awarded his 40-year length of service award from Whistler Blackcomb in 2007, the longest ever given.

"All the young 60-year-olds were saying 'that's what I want to be like (when I'm older),'" said Hotell of Nickerson.

Wendell Moore, of the Seniors Ski Team, echoed that sentiment: "I don't think there is one person who wasn't inspired when they watched him skiing."

But it wasn't just his prowess on the mountains that drew people to him. He was a natural mentor and leader and his death has left a gaping hole in not just the community but among the friends and colleagues who were part of his life.

Leidal, who loved to play golf with Nickerson, said of his friend:

"He was interested in everything around him...You never had a boring moment with him."

Nickerson was a member of Whistler Rotary, past director of the Mature Action Committee and volunteered with the Whistler Village Host Program.

In February, Dr. Nickerson and his wife Shirley, 76, were putting in long hours at the alpine events in Creekside as volunteers for the Olympic Games.

On the eve of his 40-year length of service award, Nickerson told Pique :

"You love Whistler and you like to show people how nice it is.

"People in Whistler, I think on the whole, are pretty friendly people because I think most of them live here because they want to live here. I think visitors are impressed by that helping attitude."

Mayor Ken Melamed acknowledged his passing on Tuesday calling Dr. Nickerson "a dear friend of Whistler."

The family is planning on holding services both in Vancouver and Whistler at the end of April or in early May. The dates and venues have yet to be confirmed.