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Museum Musings: Jim McConkey’s film collection

'“Diamond” Jim McConkey was an accomplished ski instructor for many years before he came up to Whistler.'
Jim McConkey and Charles Graziano seen skiing down a steep, powdery slope during the filming of Ski Crazy in Alta, Utah.

In 2016, we wrote an article on Jim McConkey, where we mentioned him bringing in his collection of 16-millimetre ski films. At the time, we were unfortunately not able to view them, as we did not have the necessary equipment. Well, it has been a long time since 2016, and in that time we were able to acquire the right equipment for digitizing 16-mm film thanks to the support of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation. We have since digitized McConkey’s collection, finding some very interesting videos.

“Diamond” Jim McConkey was an accomplished ski instructor for many years before he came up to Whistler. Born in Barrie, Ont. in 1926, he quickly fell in love with skiing and moved out west in 1948 to ski the bigger mountains in the Rockies. He worked as the first ski-school director in Park City, Utah, and eventually moved to Tod Mountain to run the ski and rental shop at the mountain. In 1968, he was invited to open his own ski and rental shop in Whistler, as well as running the ski school. He ran the ski school until 1980, and the ski and rental shop until 1985. McConkey also ran a heli-ski operation, through Okanagan Helicopters, where he could take clients skiing in the glaciers around Whistler Mountain.

Throughout his career, McConkey made lots of ski films in places all over North America, with accomplished filmmakers such as Warren Miller and Douglas Sinclair. In 2016, he stopped by the museum and brought with him his collection of old 16-mm films, which we were then unable to view. However, the museum recently acquired the RetroScan, a piece of equipment that allows us to scan these 16-mm films into a 4K video format, and, using some other software as well, we were able to get both the video and the audio off these 16-mm films, and finally take a look at them.

McConkey collected a wide variety of ski films over the years, and has films from all over the world. As of right now, we have 12 films digitized from his personal collection. One such film is Marker Ski, which consists of footage of the 1977-78 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup that took place in Austria and Germany, specifically at ski resorts such as Garmisch and Kitzbühel, and includes some of the skiing greats, such as Ingemar Stenmark, Phil Mahre, Klaus Heidegger, and Franz Klammer. Other films in his collection range from a Japanese ski team skiing Nunavut’s Barbeau Peak, the largest mountain in eastern North America, in a film called Brilliance of Fantasy, to instructional ski films such as Ski the Outer Limits, Invitation to Skiing, and Ski Total. He, of course, also left us with some ski films that he starred in throughout his career.

McConkey personally starred in quite a few ski films, but the ones we have digitized are Alpine Ski Technique, Ski Nanny, and Snows of Garibaldi. Alpine Ski Technique is an instructional ski video filmed at Saint-Jovite and Whistler, where McConkey is the high-mountain, expert ski instructor and gives tips on jumping on skis, as well as showing off some great skiing accessed by helicopter.

Earlier in his career, when McConkey was still at Tod Mountain, he starred in an episode of journalist Bob Cram’s television show, Ski Nanny, where the pair go skiing in some deep powder. And finally, we have Snows of Garibaldi, a Sinclair film which, according to McConkey in a 2022 oral history conducted by the museum, was one of his favourite films to make. In this film, McConkey goes heli-skiing with one of his instructors, Guy Barvoets, and it isn’t hard to imagine why this was one of his favourites—the high-mountain skiing looks incredible, and the aerial shots of McConkey and Barvoets skiing untouched glaciers are breathtaking. McConkey is and always will be one of Whistler’s greatest icons, and the footage we’ve seen so far certainly backs this statement up.

Liam McCrorie is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this summer through the Young Canada Works Program.