He grew up far from the mountains. Didn’t know much about snowsports at all. “We didn’t do winter sports in Philadelphia,” insists Whistler Mayor, Ken Melamed with a straight face. What? One of the most passionate mountain guys I know — a pro patroller at Whistler since the late 1970s — and he didn’t know snow as a kid?
Say it ain’t so….
Turns out Ken’s peace-activist parents were far too busy demonstrating against nuclear testing or American intervention in Latin America or the war in Southeast Asia to pursue something so exotic as skiing. “It just wasn’t part of our life,” he says. “It wasn’t even on the radar…”
Still, those early years touched Melamed deeply. “My parents took us to all the big marches. I remember these incredible peace rallies — tens of thousands of people gathering together — with folk singers like Pete Seeger and such.” He stops speaking for a moment. “You know, my parents came by their convictions quite naturally,” he says. “My Jewish grandparents escaped the pogroms of Russia and emigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life at the turn of the century. There is a long tradition of taking action for social justice in our family.”
So that’s where Ken gets his activist’s edge. Now I get it. But wait. There’s more.
In 1966, Melamed Senior decided he couldn’t bear to pay taxes anymore to underwrite America’s war efforts. Recounts Ken: “He told my mom ‘I’ve had it. I’m moving to a peaceful country. I’m going to Canada.’” Suddenly, at 13 and very impressionable, a young Kenny found himself moving with his family to Montreal.
“Overnight winter sports became everything,” he remembers of his precipitous introduction to hockey and skiing. And then he smiles, and his autumn-coloured mustache bristles with excitement. “There was a latent calling for the adrenalin sport of skiing for Ken Melamed, I can tell you,” he says. “From the moment I felt those skis sliding over snow, I was hooked!”
An outdoorsy amalgam of Popeye and Inspector Clouseau — mixed in with just a pinch of Woody Allen — Kenny Melamed looks nothing like a world-class mountain resort mayor should. But then what exactly should a world-class mountain resort mayor look like?
Tall? Handsome? Smooth? Sophisticated? Melamed is none of these. Short, balding and wielding a slightly pugnacious conversational style, he favours ball caps and fleece jackets over suits and ties. He’d much rather go for a bike ride in the mountains than attend yet another VIP cocktail party. And when it comes to matters he feels strongly about, the 53 year old can be surprisingly blunt.
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