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No political support yet for housing ski museum in Whistler

RMOW staff to investigate Whistler museum's request to support grassroots initiative

What was it like to be Nancy Greene, racing the giant slalom down the Chamrousse slopes on her Rossi's, faster than any other woman in the world, so fast that she won Olympic gold?

Just imagine if there was a virtual video that could put you on those skinny skis, transport you back in time to Grenoble, France, 1968, and make you feel as though you were there.

Maybe there will be. One day. And maybe that day will come in Whistler.

Whistler is one of five communities vying to be the new home for the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum (CSHOFM).

And board member Chris Edgell believes that it could be a facility that could take you places most people have never been before, Grenoble with Greene, for example. He wants people to think out of the box.

"By allowing lots of leeway all (five communities are) developing their own idea of what this thing should be," said Edgell. "For me? I picture an area displaying the history of skiing but also presenting it through virtual videos so you could go and ski down the back bowls of Whistler on the skis of Todd Brooker. Or try, just try, to ski Nancy Greene's great race on her old giant slalom Rossi's. So this is where I'm coming from. We're creating the path as we go."

Local businessman Peter Alder is leading the charge for the Whistler bid. He submitted a letter of intent to the task force, backed by Hall of Fame alumnus Hugh Smythe, by the March 1 deadline.

"I'm very supportive of this," said Smythe. "I think it would be a great addition and I think it's something that, with our history and the Olympics and everything, I think there's a lot of interest and we would get enough visitation. In Ottawa, where it was located, it just wasn't able to sustain itself and here in Whistler I think it would be a great addition to the village and also would have the number of visits from people around the world interested in what went on."

Alder knows it will take hard work, political will and money — millions of dollars in fact. But that's not slowing him down. "When we started to look at it we found that we needed money," said Alder. "There's no use making a proposal which we can't follow up. So I've been working with a group, trying to see what the legal status is to issue tax receipts for any donations."

He wants to get all of that legal work taken care of before embarking on the fundraising campaign.

This week John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, wrote a letter to council looking for an expression of support for housing the Canadian Ski Museum in Whistler. The local museum has formed a committee to explore private sector funding and the feasibility of bringing the ski museum to town.

"I believe that such support would assist Peter and Hugh and the Committee in their efforts," he wrote, of this request for a letter of support from council.

Council received his letter and referred the matter to staff.

In the meantime, Whistler's competitors are working on their bids.

They are: Grouse Mountain, Rossland, Revelstoke and Mont Tremblant.

Each has something going for them. None are like Whistler.

"Whistler's plan, as far as I understand it, is probably the biggest thinking that we've heard," said Edgell.

Revelstoke is promoting not only its big terrain, but also its three to four museums in the area. A ski museum would fit in nicely.

Rossland sees itself as the birthplace of big names in skiing — Nancy Greene for one.

Mont Tremblant is the only eastern locale making a bid. It has two existing buildings that will be available this summer that could be the new home.

Vancouver's Grouse Mountain has access to a big population that could potentially walk through the doors.

And then there's Whistler.

Plans for Whistler Olympic Plaza show there could be a museum on the edge of the open area, close to the health care centre. Alder estimates a museum with all its technical requirements could cost in the range of $7 to $8 million.

The CSHOFM task force on the future of the museum envisions a 4,000 square foot premise that could house the $1.5 million collection.

"What I really want to see is a new, happy, modern display/exhibit/experience of the history of skiing and all of the great things that come out of people's mouths when you mention: 'have you skied recently?'" said Edgell.

The proposals need to be developed more by the summer. The task force is hoping to make a final decision on the eve of the next ski season.