Mike Douglas – A most favourite Whistlerite 

click to enlarge Mike Douglas and his Switchback crew
  • Mike Douglas and his Switchback crew

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."

- Dalai Lama

This is a Whistler story," he says. And I can't help but smile. For he's certainly got that right. His story is so intertwined with Whistler's that it's nearly impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends.

And it's kind of eerie too. Like other iconic Whistler athletes — Dave Murray, Rob Boyd, Eric Pehota and Trevor Peterson come to mind — the guy is so friendly and approachable that most people don't realize just how vital a role he's played in the ski business these last 20 years.

It bears reminding. Ever since Mike Douglas convinced Salomon to create the world's first twin-tipped ski back in the mid-1990s, the 40-something father of two has been riding one of the wildest roller-coasters in the snowsliding universe. But it's more than that. Douglas, you see, is a bit of a workaholic. He can't help himself, he tells me. He just keeps coming up with all these new ideas that need implementing.

And he definitely likes to stay busy. Founding member of the New Canadian Air Force, product innovator, pro skier, film star, TV host, motivational speaker, Whistler ambassador — and now award — winning filmmaker — the guy with the squeaky kid's voice and boy-next-door mien (he still doesn't look a day over 30!) continues to push the envelope when it comes to his professional development.

And unlike so many of his peers, his public persona is impeccable. Recognized around the world as the "Godfather of New School," Douglas eschewed many of the eccentricities espoused by his colleagues in the freeskiing/freestyle community. In other words, he is no Tanner Hall. It's not that he doesn't like to have a good time. Au contraire. It's just that Mike knows when to turn it on... and when to turn it off.

Mostly, though, it's about self-control. And Douglas has that in spades. Laugh if you will, but I believe that his clean image and disciplined style have convinced countless moms and dads around the world to allow their sons — and daughters — to get involved with freeskiing.

But enough of my words. Let's check in with the man himself.

"Whistler definitely helped to shape me as a person," he says. "In addition to its unique physical endowments, it has a well-earned reputation for attracting forward-thinking people...." He pauses in mid-sentence. Smiles. "I've lived in this community for 24 years now. And yet I still find inspiration from Whistler residents — every day! Whether it's Binty Massey or Eric Berger, Paul Morrison or Rob Boyd — the balanced lifestyle of most long-time locals still touches me deeply." He stops again. Laughs. "It's definitely something to aspire to..."

In Whistler, he adds, the pursuit of happiness often supersedes the pursuit of financial riches. "As a society, we too often seek material wealth in the hope of finding happiness..." He stops. Shrugs. "But it's usually the other way around. If you're happy, acquiring money turns out to be not all that important."

Mike grew up on Vancouver Island, Campbell River to be precise. "My dad was a member of the RCMP," he explains. "So we moved around a fair bit. I was actually born in Saskatchewan — in 1969. But we moved to Nanaimo when I was three." His family even got to live in Tofino for a few years... but before there was a surf scene there.

He says he's always been a bit of a dreamer. "I'd sit in my classroom in Campbell River and daydream of skiing." He smiles. "I thought I'd grow out of it. But I didn't."

As a youngster Mike enjoyed the competitive environment of freestyle skiing. But "winning," he says, wasn't the be-all and end-all. "For me," he explains, "it was always about developing new tricks. I guess I was more artist than athlete..."

Alas, in those days there were few other avenues to hone his skills. "I tried to fit myself into that mould," he adds of his stint with the Canadian Freestyle Team, "because that was the only way to make your mark back then." He sighs. "You know, conceptually I was only half a step behind guys like Glen Plake and Scott Schmidt."

Indeed. For Mike and his New School buddies were, as he puts it, "fundamentally passionate skiers. We watched snowboarding come on the scene with all this new energy. Meanwhile, our sport — freestyle skiing — was getting all bogged down with rules and stuff." But that quickly changed when the twin-tipped phenomenon kicked in. "I remember talking about it with friends: 'Wow,' we said, 'this is changing everything! Skiing is coming back to life...' And we were right."

His filmmaking career was launched under the same kind of impetus. "We started Salomon Freeski TV in 2006," he recounts. "I'd recently noted that I'd changed the way I consumed media. Instead of putting in a DVD, I was going to Youtube to watch videos. So I took the idea to Bruno Bertrand at Salomon and we launched the show four months later."

Now six seasons in, and nearly 100 episodes deep, Salomon Freeski TV is an online success story averaging more than 100,000 views per week." We cover everything from the history of skiing to exotic travel destinations; from kite flying in Chile to Josh Dueck's first sitski backflip," says Director Mike, the energy building in his voice as he lists his favourite episodes. "I love that it's always changing," he adds. "I never get bored with it..."

Hmm. Still keen on the subject, eh? "Heck yeah," he says. "That's why I became a filmmaker. There are so many ideas spinning in my head. I'd just like to make some of these ideas come true."

But it's not like Mike is "just" a filmmaker now. "I'm still hanging on to the other things — still skiing for a living, still giving talks, still involved in ski design." He tries to find just the right words. "But I guess filmmaking is where I'm putting my best efforts."

When I bring up his approachability — his easy-going friendliness — and how fame has brushed over him so lightly, he laughs. "Looking back on it now," he says, "I realize I was a late bloomer. I worked every crap job imaginable — bus boy, waiter, construction worker, retail assistant... even laundromat attendant! — to make my ski dreams come true. I was 27 years old before I could live off my skiing income. And I think that helped keep me humble."

And his search for life balance? "It's very easy for me," he says, "to work too much. Typically, I have way more stuff coming at me than I can handle." He pauses. "But I'm finally learning how to say 'no.'" He sighs deeply. "And I'm wishing I'd learned that skill sooner."

Particularly, he adds, since his children are growing up so quickly. "My wife Susie and I have two wonderful kids — Devon, nine and Kirra, five — and my most favourite thing in the world is sharing my passions with them, you know, surfing, skiing, hiking... that kind of stuff." He takes a quick breath. "I get such a sense of joy watching them fall in love with what makes me happy..."

As for Whistler itself, he says he's still as much in love with the place — maybe more! — as he was when he first arrived here as a ready-for-anything 19 year old. "I've had the great good fortune of travelling to most of the world's top-rated ski resorts. And I've yet to encounter a place that can match Whistler. At the very top of my list is the community here. There are so many great, passionate, outgoing people who still call Whistler home. As I said before — it's very inspiring."

And then he leaves me with one last thought. "Whistler has always been on the leading edge when it comes to sporting innovation," he starts. "But in the adventure filmmaking domain, I don't know how many people in town realize that some of the best work in the world is now being produced in this valley — much of it right here in Creekside." He pauses. Laughs some more. "I don't like to toot my own horn — but between us (Switchback Entertainment), the Sherpas crew and Jordon Manley, there's some mighty good work coming out of Whistler right now. And that's inspiring too."

So there you go. Whistler's favourite resident revealed — a busy, happy family man with a huge heart and countless new projects. And you know what? I think the voters got it right this year...

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