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Walking the talk

Whistler athletes represent in Whistler style

"Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind."

- From The Olympic Charter


The honour list of athletes runs deep here. Dag Aabye, Jim McConkey, Nancy Greene, Dave Murray, Stephanie Sloan, Rob Boyd, Chris Kent, Bobby Allison, Eric Pehota, Trevor Petersen, John Smart, Wendy Brookbank, Hugo Harrison, Ross Rebagliati, Mike Douglas, Darren Chalmers, Aleisha Cline, Maëlle Ricker, Rob Fagan, Mercedes Nicoll, Justin Lamoureux, Crispin Lipscomb, Davey Barr, Ashley McIvor, Julia Murray, Michael Janyk, Britt Janyk, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Robbie Dixon, Kristi Richards, Mark Abma, Kye Petersen. OOF. And that's just skimming the surface; this list could go on forever. But you get the point.

The performance bar has always been set high at Whistler, ask anyone. Whether dropping into a fresh line of thigh-deep powder or chasing down a puck at the local hockey rink; whether lofting off an impossibly big hit at the bike park or suffering a gut-busting mountain run over three summits and five climate zones - newcomers had better be on top of their game if they plan to make an impression here.

Know what I mean? Posing is not an option at Whistler. Sure, there are posers around. Like any other town that boasts this kind of top-gun reputation, the wannabes flock to this valley like seagulls after a garbage barge. But nobody pays them any attention. Why? Because there are more high performance athletes per capita here than anywhere else in this sport-forsaken country.

No joke. The guy fitting your boots this morning? He's the defending North American freeskiing champion. The gal serving you dinner last night? She won the national cross-country MTB crown last year. The kid bagging your groceries? Just happens to be the top junior ski racer in the country right now. Oh yeah, and that old guy you saw teaching skiing yesterday? His grandson is a World Cup downhill champion with a good chance at Olympic gold.

And they come from everywhere. From Ontario and Quebec and New Brunswick and Manitoba. From France and England and Australia and Japan. They come with dreams of greatness and hopes of success (either that or they're riding their fame into town and hoping for the best). Some already have impressive resumes; others aim to create their own. It's a cacophony of aspirations. A jumble sale of inspiration.

But rich or poor, male or female, talented or talentless - it doesn't really matter. Everyone who comes here gets schooled by the environment.

It's part of their learning curve. Their Whistler Icarus moment if you will; the "oh-no" instant when newcomers realize just how far they can push it in these mountains before disaster strikes.

And no one is exempt. It's the first time you get hypothermic on a big powder day. It's getting caught in your first slide and realizing what it really means to "eat snow." It's the tree that doesn't move when you ride into it. The trail that disappears just when you thought you knew where you were. It's the storm that catches you at the end of a long slog home. The rain that leeches your warmth away like a bloodsucker on a bender.

You don't fight the environment around here. You learn to work around its strictures.

Which makes for very effective learning sessions. Either you quickly figure it out and adapt, or you move on. It's another type of Darwinism, I guess. For slowly but surely, over a year or two or three, the successful newcomers blend their old cultural trappings with those of their new mountain home. The outcome? Whistler is all the richer for their presence.

But it's not like all these mountain stars are your typical nose-to-the-grindstone jocks. Au contraire. Whistler athletes have always inspired others with their unconventional sense of fun. They all work hard at what they do. Ski. Snowboard. Bike. Whatever. But they also know how to have a good time with life.

It's a Coast Mountain thing. Something to do with the weather and living on the edge of the world (okay, maybe not so much the edge these days), and being aligned with the great Pacific flow. Think about it. Storms roll down from Alaska one week dumping a metre of snow and epic powder conditions. Then the next they shoot up from Hawaii, dropping a pineapple express-worth of rain. It's kind of schizophrenic that way. One day heaven; the next day hell. Which encourages a more patient, more zen-like approach to life. And a propensity for grabbing opportunities when they're at hand.

"You should have been here yesterday," is a common utterance around these parts...

Be that as it may, the singular nature of the local weather (not to mention the local terrain) has created an entirely distinctive sporting culture here. Easy-going for the most part, and with an understated quality that easily distinguishes them from their American or European counterparts, Whistlerites are renowned for their ability to enjoy themselves when others are beginning to flag. On-mountain or off, in bad weather or fair, local style is all about grabbing the moment and shaking it alive. I mean, really. You'll never see a Whistlerite running for shelter just because a little rain is falling on the party...

But seriously. Whistler athletes are a different breed. Inspired by the likes of Diamond Jim McConkey and Maraharishi Yogi Mur, they bring an air of festivity to their sporting endeavours that truly distinguishes them from other mountain denizens.

And it really doesn't matter in what part of the world you find yourself. From Chamonix to La Grave, from La Parva to Portillo - from Aspen and Vail to Snowbird and Stowe - Whistler ambassadors have left an indelible mark in the warp and weave of the snowsliding tapestry...

Doubt my words? Consider this: the Sea to Sky corridor counts more legitimate medal hopes at this year's Winter Games than many of the attending countries. From McIvor and Murray in ski cross to Ricker and Fagan in snowboardcross; from Osborne Paradis in downhill to Michael Janyk in slalom and Justin Lamoureux in halfpipe - Canada has never seen this kind of quality representation from one community before. Indeed, there are few towns in the world - no matter how big they are - that can muster this type of Olympic talent in a given year.

But then there are few towns in the world like Whistler...

We all know the story of its beginnings. Born on the wings of an Olympic dream, Whistler is finally living up to its destiny. Biggest mountain resort in North America. Leading light in the New School ski movement. Crossroads of the snowsport universe. Host to the world. Home of the Games. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But what most people don't know is just how much this thing called "Whistler culture" reflects the original tenets of Baron De Coubertin's Olympic philosophy. Long before there was a town centre here, decades before a Whistler address carried a million dollar price tag, young folk were drawn to this valley to pursue a life that sought to integrate nature, sport and work in a more balanced whole. Unconventional, irreverent and talented beyond the norm, the newcomers created a way of doing things - and a positive, go-for-it attitude - that is now recognized and celebrated around the world.

Whether Olympism, Whistlerism or just good ol' Funhogism, that approach to life is now seeing its own results in the ways the kids who were born and/or raised in this valley approach sporting performance. Their names are recognizable to even the most casual of Whistler followers: Murray and Barr and Allison and Nicoll; Dixon and Pehota and Petersen and Pro. Following in the footsteps of their moms and dads, these Whistlerites-de-souche are raising the performance bar yet again. One can only wonder just how high that bar can go...

So there you have it. Now you know how a unique mountain environment worked its singular magic on an inimitable tribe of thrill seekers. Leaders, iconoclasts, trendsetters, opinion-makers - call them what you will - the people who have made this valley their home have managed to create an entirely new cultural paradigm in the way they address their day-to-day lives. Read on. Who knows? You might even get inspired to go out and do something crazy.


Whistler's first wildman set the standard

One of the earliest (if not the earliest) skiers to set the tone for what was to come at Whistler was a young Norwegian by the name of Dag Aabye. An incredibly bold skier who pioneered some of the region's hoariest descents (including Vancouver's signature skyline peaks, The Lions), Dag combined rare gymnastic talent with an artist's mountain perspective. And he loved nothing more than sharing his eccentric ski vision with anyone who cared to follow.

A child of the times, Dag Aabye was barely 20 when he arrived in Whistler. Trickster, visionary, pioneer freestyler - call him what you will - the young Aabye would set the performance bar extremely high here in those early years. No matter who followed after him - McConkey, Murray, Boyd, Pehota, Douglas or Abma - no one has ever quite been able to match Dag's reputation as a wild and crazy mountain player. I know. I know. The world has changed since 1966. But take my word for it - were Dag 20 today, his name would be on everybody's lips.

And were it not for Whistler's first ski school director, Ornulf Johnsen, one of the valley's most enduring legends would have never set foot here.

"I first got to know Dag when I was working for the ski school in Geilo, Norway," explains Johnsen. "He was still a teenager back then, but already he'd dedicated his life to becoming a ski stuntman." So much so, he recounts, that people would worry for the young daredevil. "He built a jump in the middle of the hill. His goal was to master Stein Eriksen's famous swan-dive-to-front-flip. And he would go at it from dawn till dusk." Ornulf lets a chuckle escape. "I don't know how many times he landed on his head. It was a lot though."

Pound for pound, says Johnsen, "Dag Aabye is the strongest guy I've ever known." Hyperbole? Maybe. But I doubt it. "Each morning, the guy would do 50 handstand pushups," explains Johnsen. "Now I could do five or 10 in my prime. But 50? I've never seen anybody come even close."

As for his skiing, Ornulf explains, there was no one else even close. "He set tracks on that mountain that first year that blew people away." He smiles. "There was so much snow that year. So many opportunities to try new runs. But it was Dag who set the first tracks on the peak." He laughs. "That first time, he wanted me to climb with him to the top. But I wasn't ready yet so he went alone. Didn't bother him at all."

Dag Aabye stories are legion among early Whistler enthusiasts. And each is more outrageous than the next. I mean, this is a guy who would regularly meet his ski school charges while walking on his hands with his skis on his feet. "Whistler wouldn't be the same place without him," posits Johnsen. "He's an original."


Diamond Jim comes to town

He was a big name long before coming to Whistler. But it was here in the late 1960s and '70s, in the heart of the Coast Mountains, that Jim McConkey left his biggest legacy.

I mean, they don't call the guy Diamond Jim for nothing. Big-mountain legend, skiing innovator, film star, bon-vivant, teacher - and father to the much-grieved sport jester Shane McConkey - Jim's place in the North American skiing pantheon is assured. His connections in the ski business are all-encompassing. From Warren Miller to Alf Engen and Junior Bounous, from Toni Matt to Hans Gmoser and Toni Sailer, Jim has skied, travelled, hunted and climbed with the biggest names in the sport.

Yet he's the first to dismiss his role as a history-maker. "I just happened to be at the right places at the right times," he's told me more than once. "My goals in life have always been to have as much fun as possible and make people happy. That to me is way more important than how much money you make - or how much power you yield..."

Indeed. A funhog long before Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard coined the term in the late 1970s - and a big-mountain freerider decades before that movement got traction in North America - McConkey has always lived on the leading edge of adventure sports. He was a poster boy for the powder skiing revolution of the late 1950s. He was one of the first in the ski-business world to understand the life-changing experiences that helicopters could deliver to high-end skiers. And he was an inspiring mountain mentor to a broad swath of early Whistlerites.

But it's not his prodigious physical talents that make him such a great Whistler story; it's his ability to connect with people. No matter where, no matter how, Jim McConkey has always managed to make his friends, clients and colleagues think that they are the most important people in his life.

Vancouver lawyer Tom Ladner was one such person. A tough judge of character, and a man who didn't suffer fools, the prominent city businessman had very little in common with the ski star. But he was an unabashed fan of McConkey's. "I don't know how Jim does it," he once told me, "but he can make the nastiest ski day feel like a walk in the park." And then he laughed. "I recall one heli-ski outing in particular. Our last run was from the peak of Whistler and down through the trees to the base of Creekside." Another chuckle. "Given the kind of gear we were using in the late '60s that was a tall order for me. And I was exhausted. I remember at one point just plopping down in the snow and thinking I couldn't possibly go any further..."

McConkey would have none of it, however.

"He came over," recounted Tom, "helped me to my feet and in that booming voice of his said, 'Isn't this a great day, Tom? We're so lucky to be here. Don't you think?' And suddenly I didn't feel so tired..."

Jim turned 82 last summer. Most of his contemporaries have either passed away or have radically slowed down their activities. But he wears his years lightly. A frequent Whistler visitor (mostly in the spring), McConkey can usually be found skiing with friends in the morning and golfing in Pemberton in the afternoon. Doesn't matter what the weather is like - sunny, stormy, soupy or even downright nasty - he doesn't alter his plans. "Everyday is a good day if you're on the mountain," he's often told me. And he means it.

"There's something very special about that man," says local photographer-to-the-stars Bonny Makarewicz. "He seems to have so much fun with life," she marvelled. "And it comes through so clearly in his photos. Even at his age today! The camera still loves this guy..."

Which pretty much says it all. Everybody loves Jim. Why? Because McConkey's way of doing things celebrates all that is exciting and inspiring and adventurous about this singular Coast Mountain community. Accessible, generous, self-deprecating and totally unpretentious - but with a damn-the-torpedoes, risk-taking element to his character that has led him into countless adventures and more than his share of mishaps - Jim is the living embodiment of Whistler Style.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.


A downhill star for the ages

Sometimes local heroes die young. But it's particularly hard when a young community loses one of its first homespun stars. Such was the case for Whistler and Dave Murray.

Ski racing ruled supreme at Whistler in the early1980s. From club racing to adult racing - from 10-year-olds to 70-year-olds - everyone, it seemed at the time, was keen on learning how to run gates. And that enthusiasm, in large part, was due to the vision and drive of Whistler's earliest ski champion.

A founding member of the Crazy Canucks, the now-legendary group of Canadian downhillers who first imposed themselves on the World Cup circuit in the mid-70s, Murray was the embodiment of the laid-back West Coast athlete. With his long blond hair and curly beard, his facility with the ladies, his guitar-playing and windsurfing, Murray sometimes acted more like a beach bum than a ski racer. No doubt about it, this guy was different.  Even the nickname his teammates had bestowed upon him - Maharishi Yogi Mur - illustrates how far from the conventional ski racer model he'd strayed.

But get him on a downhill course and the easy-going hipster would turn into a hard-charging dragster. Although he never had the good fortune of standing on the top step of the World Cup podium during his 10-year career, he did finish second twice and third once. During the 1978-79 campaign, he even led the Canadian squad in overall results, finishing third in the World Cup downhill standings.

Murray was named director of skiing at Whistler Mountain upon his retirement in 1982 - a position that appeared more honorific than practical at the time. But Murray had other plans for the job. He was convinced that ski racing in Canada was getting too elitist, too narrow in scope, and needed to develop a broader base of participation. After all, he was a latecomer to the sport himself (he didn't start to race seriously until he was 16). And he knew from experience that racing could appeal to a much broader group of skiers. Murray knew intuitively, too, that if he could entice more skiers into racing, he could also foster greater interest on the part of potential sponsors.

Along with his business partner, Don McQuaid, Murray formed the Masters Group and introduced the then-revolutionary concept of "adult racing" to Whistler and completely changed the face of skiing in the region. Suddenly dentists, lawyers, accountants and businessmen in Vancouver were buying stretchy downhill suits and signing up for mid-week ski racing "camps" with Murray, McQuaid and their all-star cast of coaches. When the world's best came to Whistler to race these new enthusiasts were out in force to watch and learn.

The mid-80s was a time of tremendous growth at Whistler. Murray and his wife, Stephanie Sloan, a former winner of the World Freestyle Ski Championships, rode the wave like everyone else in town. Murray's adult racing programs flourished, bringing new sponsors flocking to the sport (just as he had predicted). He became more involved - and more comfortable - as a Whistler spokesman and was touted by some as a potential mayoral candidate for the resort-municipality. It looked at the time as if there were little he couldn't accomplish.

But all of that changed when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Although he'd spent much of his last 20 years on the public stage, Murray was an intensely private man, and chose to fight his final battles far from prying eyes. He was in and out of hospitals for months. Prodded, poked and operated on. Yet through it all, Murray bore his burden with grace and dignity. He even managed a few windsurfing trips between hospital stays. When he passed away on Oct. 23, 1990, he was only 36 years old. His daughter, Julia, was still in diapers. Whistler is a sadder place without him.


Local kid captures gold in his backyard

He's lived his entire adult life in the shadow of Whistler Mountain. Literally. From local racer boy to downhill hero, from free-spirited adrenaline hound to doting father and World Cup coach, Rob Boyd's story is inextricably bound to the story of the mountain resort with which he shares a birthday.

And somehow that's fitting too. For though he wasn't born in this valley - he moved here in 1982 - Boyd is still considered a shining example of that first generation of homegrown kids to put Whistler on the global sports map. "I think this place had a lot to do with my success," he says. "I always knew where I came from. I always felt very proud to tell people I was a Whistlerite..."

Let's reel back time for a moment - all the way back to March of 1989 to be precise. The Canadian downhill team was in one of its periodic slumps back then. Nothing was going right for the Canuck racers. The recent World Championships at Vail had been disastrous. Frontrunner Brian Stemmle was still in the hospital fighting for his life after a horrific fall in Kitzbuehel. As for the Canadian coaches, they were already preparing their resumes to send to other teams.

To say that the team's morale was low when they arrived at Whistler for the last speed race of the season is like saying Tiger Woods has a problem with women. Things were not looking promising at all for the young Canuckleheads.

Who knows where the 23-year-old Boyd got his inspiration. From the steep powder run he charged down minutes before his race? From the breezy reggae music playing through his earphones? From the gaggle of friends who raucously partied on the side of the course? Doesn't really matter now, does it?

In what has become a legendary moment at Whistler, Boyd pushed out of the start gate and proceeded to dismantle the opposition. Didn't matter that the biggest names of that era - Zurbriggen and Heinzer and Mueller and Girardelli and Piccard and Ortlieb - were all in attendance. Didn't matter that he was behind until the last hundred vertical metres of the race. The guy was victorious when everyone else had predicted defeat. In one fell swoop - and against all odds - Rob Boyd had become the first Canadian male to win a World Cup race at home.

"What a party that was," sighs the hometown boy, now 20 years older. "It was like all of Whistler came together that night to celebrate my win. It was almost overwhelming for me. There were so many good wishes - so many people in the community who had helped me get there - that I didn't know who to thank first..."

He stops. Sighs. "Now that I'm a dad," he explains, "I think about that kind of stuff a lot more. Whistler has changed since I was a teenager living at the base of the mountain. But I still think it has the potential to become one of the country's premiere athlete development centres. And I really want to make that happen."

It's a very simple goal, he says. "I want Whistler to become a place where people say, 'Wow - that's the town where all those great athletes come from.' I think that's how Whistler could continue to be a truly inspiring community. Why? Because it truly takes a whole community to bring up world-class athletes ..."

Boyd is convinced that community success comes from fostering the right team spirit. "I think if people reach out and aim just a little higher than what they're comfortable with, they'll find that there are a lot more winning opportunities out there for them. As a sports community, Whistler has this huge potential. We just have to keep believing in ourselves."

As usual, Boyd is backing up his words with actions. And once again, his professional destiny is linked directly to Whistler Mountain's. "I've committed myself to the Canadian Ski Team until the Games," he explains. "I'm also working on my various coaching levels. After the Olympics, I'd love nothing more than to come home and get involved in some local programs ..."

But right now he's on a mission. Assigned to the highly-touted women's speed squad for the last four years, Boyd's job to is to make sure that his charges are razor-sharp for the new Olympic downhill course on Franz's run. "It's exciting for sure," he says. "Once again, there's a downhill course in my backyard that will play a huge role in my life over the next four years. I mean - this is the course that will ultimately decide who gets gold, silver or bronze in 2010. And my job is to get a Canadian wearing the gold."

Another deep chuckle. "Yeah - it's kind of funny to find myself back on the White Circus," he says. "Travel and missing the big days at Whistler still suck. But coaching is really rewarding. When I retired from racing, people kept asking me, 'When are you going to start coaching?' and I thought 'why would I do that?' But I've grown to really love it. Sure, it's tough at times. Particularly right now with a growing family. But my love of the sport - the knowledge that I have; the positive effect I can have on the athletes - makes this a very fulfilling profession for me."

Besides, he adds with that little-kid grin that has almost become his trademark, what's not to like about spending time outdoors, on your skis, working with great athletes at some of the most beautiful mountain resorts in the world?


Third times lucky

Sometimes you want something so badly that it just doesn't happen. Such has been the case with Squamish resident Maëlle Ricker. Arguably the most talented snowboarder of her generation - and one of the classiest competitors on the World Cup circuit - Ricker has yet to step onto an Olympic podium. She's already got certificates for her fourth and fifth place finishes. But that top tree designation continues to elude her. She swears this year will be different...

She attended her first Olympics in Japan as a bright-eyed 19-year-old with boundless potential as a competitor. "I took up snowboarding for the lifestyle," explains Ricker, who cut her racing teeth dodging gates on skis. "But I always dreamed of competing at the Games. For me, to suddenly have those two things come together - snowboarding and the Olympics - well, I felt like I'd won the lottery."

For Ricker it was more than just a dream-come-true. "I always knew I wanted to go to the Olympics," she explains. "At first it was in soccer. Then it was track and field. It didn't matter what sport. I wanted to be an Olympian."

That was eight knee surgeries ago. Fifth in the inaugural halfpipe event in Nagano but sidelined during the Salt Lake City Games, Ricker mounted yet another astounding comeback and charged into the Torino Games in 2006 as the overwhelming favourite in the new moto-inspired, rock-and-roll event known as snowboardcross.

Combining a near-magical sense of glide with raptor-quick reflexes, Ricker rocketed into the Olympic final with nary a challenge. And then disaster struck. "The fact that I crashed in the finals - the fact that I didn't reach the medals in Torino - that was the deciding factor in my decision to push on to 2010," says the 31-year-old veteran, with just a hint of a smile. "It's really motivated me to raise my game."

This is no empty boast. "My goal over the last two years was to peak in February. And as it turns out, that's pretty much how it played out." In a captivating duel with longtime rival Lindsay Jacobellis of the U.S., the Canadian managed to surf a four-race streak in February of 2008 that had her notching two firsts and two seconds on her World Cup belt. That year she ended the season in first place overall.

And while 2009 didn't go quite according to plan - she admits to a few "technical adjustments" along the way - she's come back with a vengeance this year. With a World Cup victory and a couple of podiums already in place, Ricker is once again considered the woman to beat at Cypress. She says she can't wait to resume her Olympic duel with Jacobellis.

"I really love this sport," says Maëlle. "I still love the lifestyle. And I still love the competition. I don't know why I'd ever want to quit..."


The boys on the bus

They're a little bit like the odd couple. Loose and almost lazy-looking, big-boned Manny Osborne-Paradis skis a downhill course like he's riding a Hog. He never appears stressed; never seems to push his heart rate over mildly excited. Meanwhile, his more technically refined (and smaller-framed) teammate Robbie Dixon attacks races with the fierce determination of a wolverine. Precise in his movements, and deceptively powerful on his skis, he gives everything he's got to every turn.

They even act that way off the hill. Manny drawls out his words like he was on a lifetime hit of valium while Robbie spits them out with the eager enthusiasm of a game show contestant. They're not quite like Oscar and Felix, you know, but they're close.

But don't be fooled. The life they lead is no sitcom. For despite their differences, the two Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumni are engaged in one of the fastest, most dangerous self-propelled sports ever devised. "It took a while for me to accept that I actually belonged with the best racers in the word," says the 24-year-old Dixon with characteristic modesty. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming." So do his coaches. Now in his third year on the World Cup, Robbie is considered one of the most promising young speed racers on the circuit. And it all started to come together for him two seasons ago.

You can't really appreciate what this kid accomplished in the last few years unless you've been on the side of a course when the late-numbered guys come skittering down the hill on a sheet of badly-rutted ice that bears little resemblance to what the first seed faced. It takes orbs of steel - and a daunting work ethic - to be able to absorb all that punishment and still do well.

But Dixon didn't know any better. After all, his not-much-older buddy Osborne-Paradis was working over the downhill field pretty much the same way. In 2007-08, Osborne-Paradis finished the World Cup season in sixth place in the downhill standings (and top man on the Canadian squad). Boasting a third place finish at the classic in Val D'Isere, and another third at the Wengen classic, Manny showed the world that his precocious second in Lake Louise the year before was no fluke.

And don't let his easy-going demeanour lead you astray. This is an ambitious kid with a hankering for a lot more podiums. "I don't want to be one of those guys on the circuit who are known as one-season wonders," he says. "I want to show that I can be consistently fast over the long term too."

How can I put their performances into perspective? Let me try: in a discipline where many of the top athletes are well into their 30s - think Didier Cuches and Michael Walchhofer - the two twentysomethings are still virtually children. "I plan to be in this game for a long time to come," smiles Dixon. "I mean, it takes a while to get good in this sport. You can't get impatient, you can't get frustrated. That's why the old guys do so well..."

While ski racing is generally assumed to be a rich person's sport, neither of these kids was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Indeed, both grew up on Vancouver's Northshore with single-moms and not a heck of a lot of money.

What they did have though, was a strong connection to the Whistler community. Both the Osborne and Dixon families have been skiing these mountains for decades. Manny's recently-deceased grandfather, for example, was the first on-call doctor at Whistler Mountain back in 1966, while Robbie's is still an active member of the W/B Ski School at the extraordinary age of 81. It was the boys' grandfathers, in fact, who took on the job of mentoring their grandsons on the slopes. They were the ones to first get them in touch with the magic of sliding on snow.

And now the grandsons are delivering on their promise. "The Whistler course should be really good for us," says Osborne-Paradis who already has two victories under his belt this season, a super-G win in Lake Louise and a downhill first in Val Gardena. "After all, Robbie and I have been skiing these mountains since we were little groms. We know each and every bump on the Olympic hill intimately." He smiles. "You just can't make up all those years and all those miles with just a couple of training runs..."

Watch for them. Their easy-going demeanour and unflappable nature will surely play well in the high-stress environment of Olympic racing.