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Raising a World Cup star

Forget Invermere. Don’t even think of Calgary.

Forget Invermere. Don’t even think of Calgary. Despite the media’s frenetic efforts to place Canada’s newest World Cup star, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, on the wrong side of the Rockies, his mom Jane Osborne wants to make sure that people know he’s 100 per cent West Coast. A third-generation Whistler skier in fact. And there aren’t many of those around…

More striking, however, is that Manuel was introduced to skiing by a single parent. Check the statistics. There are even fewer of those. In fact, not many young skiers make it to the top echelons of the sport without a full complement of family members to support them in their quest. But Manuel has somehow managed to accomplish the impossible. In only his third full year on the World Cup circuit, the Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus has defied the odds by standing on two downhill podiums this winter — one in Lake Louise, the other in Val D’Isere. So how did they do it?

Fortunately, grandpa was there to take up the slack. “I was on my own with Manuel from the time he turned two,” explains Jane. “It was my choice but I definitely had my hands full. As a youngster, Manuel was busy. Very busy. And physical. Having grown up with a twin sister I had very little experience with that kind of energy — I had to learn how to live with a little boy.” She laughs. “Everything was about doing — soccer, baseball, mountain biking. That’s where my father played a huge role. He supported me when I thought I would go nuts…” She stops talking for a moment, Smiles. “Although dad was never a ‘serious’ athlete, he’s often told me that Manuel’s energy reminds him a lot of himself when he was younger.”

Skiing became the threesome’s common ground. “It was a good time in my dad’s life,” she continues. “He was working less so he was able to relax and have fun with Manuel. Since he was still skiing, that seemed to be a good connection too.”

And the young energy bomb thrived in that environment. “I don’t know if it’s inherent or learned,” muses Jane. “But skiing offers a kid great autonomy. By the time he was seven, Manuel was heading up the mountain by himself. He once claimed that he could fit in six runs before meeting up with his Ski Skamps class at 9:30 a.m....”

Still, chances are it would have never happened without grandpa.

A Manitoba native, Dr. Jim Osborne took a rather circuitous route to the West Coast. From Winnipeg to Baffin Island (where he played every role from family doctor to dentist — to veterinarian!), and then from there to Kamloops and finally on to his surgeon’s posting at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver in 1959, the elder Osborne was an enthusiastic skier long before Whistler Mountain opened its door. And that, despite the fact that he had six children at home under the age of 10! “In those days, he was taking the older kids to Mt Baker,” remembers Jane. “My sister Jill and I started skiing at the age of four on the Goldie Rope Tow at Mt Seymour. Everybody learned to ski there.”

It wasn’t long, however, before rumours started flying about a new ski area being developed in Garibaldi Park. The Osbornes decided to check it out. “It was 1966, Jill and I were nine years old. I still remember that trip. It took forever!” In those days, there was only a rough gravel road between Squamish and Whistler. And the toll it took on family vehicles was considerable. “The gravel nearly shook the car apart,” she says laughing. “You couldn’t open our station wagon’s tailgate without it coming off in your hands…”

But something about the new ski area had really touched the young surgeon. “The next year,” she says, “a group of eight physicians got together and volunteered as the on-call doctors for Whistler Mountain. My dad was one of them.” At a time when walkie-talkies were still a long way from becoming ubiquitous on-mountain tools, working conditions were rather rudimentary — to say the least. “If there was an accident on the mountain, a liftee would put up a white flag at the top or bottom of the chairs. They would then report the accident location and it was the doctor’s responsibility to respond.”

By the winter of 1968-69, the doctors had their very own digs at Whistler. But it was still pretty basic. “They’d put together two Atco trailers in the parking lot,” Jane explains. “One was designated as the examining room and the other one was for living space. But our family was so big that Jill and I had to sleep in the examining room.” Another pause. “Waking up there was always kind of weird…”

The Osbornes remained in the trailers for another two years. But the twins were working hard on their dad to buy a place at Whistler. And like most dads, he was helpless before their onslaught. “By 1971, the older kids in our family had all moved on from skiing,” she remembers. “So the little A-frame my dad bought really became our second home. We had a lot of fun there.” She smiles. And the smile turns into laughter. “I still run into people from time-to-time who say: ‘Oh — the Osbornes’ place at Whistler. I remember going to a wild party at that A-frame…”

Like so many other Vancouverites of their generation, the twins moved up to Whistler full-time after graduating from high school in 1975. It was an exciting period and the two sisters took full advantage of their newfound freedom. Jane even moved in for a while with future builder-to-the-stars Andy Munster when he was still squatting on the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek. But after a few years of hedonistic mountain living, Jane realized she’d had enough of Whistler. “I moved back to town to ‘get a life’,” she explains. “I worked my way through art school, travelled and decided it was time to have a child. I hadn’t realized it until my sister told me that I was now an adult.”

But an adult she certainly was. For now there was a little person looking to her for support. In the winter of 1984, “on a beautiful sunny day in February with snow on the North Shore mountains,” she recalls, “I had Manuel.” And her life changed forever.

“I had quit skiing six years before,” she says. “I was trying to find myself in the city. Frankly, I really didn’t think I’d ever go back to it.” But as her young son started to grow up, she realized just how big his own physical needs were. “That’s why I got him into skiing. I had to think: ‘What am I going to do with this kid?’ And dad and I decided that skiing might be just the thing for him…”

She was right. “Whistler is very much a part of who Manuel is,” she says. “I can’t even imagine what he’d be like now without that experience.” After starting him off on the mountain at three, and seeing how quickly he took to the new sport, Jane decided to enrol him in Ski Skamps the next season. “I needed some time for me,” she admits. “But I also knew it would be good for him. And it really worked out. He made lasting friendships and had a lot of fun.”

Skiing, as it turns out, suited Manuel’s talents perfectly. From Ski Skamps to the WMSC, and from the B.C. Ski Team to his World Cup podiums, Osborne-Paradis has had an amazingly smooth career path to date. “My whole thing has been to never undermine the authority of the people who are teaching or coaching him,” explains Jane. And that strategy has paid off. “Manuel has been gifted with really great coaches — really good people. But as (B.C. ski coordinator) Bruce Goldsmid once said: ‘What Manny has is guts. And you can’t teach guts.’ I tend to agree with that assessment.”

That said, she’s quick to point out just how big a role the Whistler Mountain Ski Club community has played in her son’s on-mountain success. “Over the years,” she says, “we had so much help from some of the moms at the club. And it was these mothers volunteering their time — Ingrid McDougall, Lynn Groper and Norma Jamieson (I hope I’m not forgetting anyone) — who really formed a support group for Manuel.” Meanwhile, Jane met and married Weasel Worker Bill Scott in 1995. “Little did he know he’d be watching his stepson race on the Dave Murray course a decade later,” she concludes.

And there you have it. Along with all the other members of the Canadian National Ski Team, Manuel Osborne-Paradis is back in Whistler this week, vying with his teammates for the honour of standing on the top step of the national championship podium. It won’t be easy. After all, Canada now boasts one of the most talent-laden speed teams on the planet. But he will have the advantage of knowing the hill better than just about anybody else in the race.

So if you come across members of the media trying to relocate him east of the Rockies again, don’t hesitate to set them straight. Manuel Osborne-Paradis has his roots firmly entrenched in Whistler soil. And that’s one story that everyone in this valley should be proud to recount!