History matters

There was some history made in Whistler this past week, although few people seemed to take notice of it.

Thomas Grandi of Alberta won the slalom and giant slalom titles at the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships on Whistler Mountain, the 10th and 11th national titles he has captured in his career. That’s more national championships than any other Canadian has won since they began holding Canadian ski racing championships back before the middle of the last century.

History matters. The records and stories of people’s accomplishments, decisions and defeats is important in determining who we are and what actions we will take in the future. People who don’t know their history, or their town’s history, or their country’s history, don’t know themselves.

History isn’t all in books or museums; it can be living, inspiring, even fun.

Ski racing history isn’t particularly important to most of the world, but it should matter in a town that was first built for skiing. Even in an age when skiing has spawned snowboarding and competitions have morphed into big air and skier/boardercross events, ski racing history should matter to a place like Whistler.

Ski racing provides some of the showcase events of the Winter Olympics, which of course Whistler is chasing. And the list of ski racers who have won World Cup races on Whistler Mountain includes some of the greatest names in the history of the sport: Stenmark, Nelson, Girardelli, Mueller, Mader, Seizinger, Boyd, Moe…. There is representation from all the traditional alpine nations on the list. Yet there is little evidence on the mountain that a World Cup ski race has ever taken place here. The downhill course is named in memory of the late Dave Murray, and there is a nice tribute to the Crazy Canuck in the Roundhouse. But in Europe, where they sometimes have history and not much else, you will find plaques with the names and photographs of the winners of every World Cup race that a resort has hosted.

Some of the stories behind those World Cup races in Whistler, from Stenmark hitchhiking back to Vancouver to Rod’s Revenge to Rob Boyd’s victory on his home turf, are what make history come alive.

And it’s not just ski racing. Freestyle competitions on the local mountains go back to the early 1970s. Throughout the ’90s, Blackcomb played host to World Cup freestyle events annually, including the world championships in 2001. This winter, the freestyle World Cup was moved from Blackcomb to Fernie. The only evidence on the mountain of past freestyle events are Davies Dervish, named after the late Gary Davies who was instrumental in making freestyle events happen at Blackcomb, and the water ramps where the freestyle team trains in the summer.

Snowboarding has a history at Whistler too, with World Cup events held each December for the last several years.

Perhaps that’s why these aspects of our history are so easily overlooked – they are treated and marketed as events to build business in the resort. And with events of one kind or another coming and going on most weekends of the year in Whistler it’s easy to lose track of the people and stories that make them significant.

For instance, how many remember that the first Canadian championships held on Whistler Mountain were in 1969? A rock slide closed the highway for a week, meaning the racers had to get to Whistler by train. There were no snowcats to groom the course, and few people living here, so residents of Mount Currie were hired to shovel the moguls off the slope. The records show Keith Shepherd and Laurie Kreiner won the downhills.

The Canadian championships, which were plagued by bad weather all week, were not marketed to anyone. They were simply held to determine the best ski racers in the country in each discipline. The winners’ names go down in Canadian history.


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