Parsons race set for 40th anniversary 

Event honours early WMSC cornerstone Bob Parsons

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS LEIGHTON - Big win Jim Parsons won the first Bob Parsons Memorial Downhill, in honour of his father, in 1980.
  • Photo courtesy of Chris Leighton
  • Big win Jim Parsons won the first Bob Parsons Memorial Downhill, in honour of his father, in 1980.

Bob Parsons was an early cornerstone of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC), from starting the Weasel Workers program to serving as the chief-of-course for many of the club's major races in its infancy in the 1970s.

Though he passed away in 1979, his spirit remains a part of the club with the Back Bowl Downhill race renamed as the Bob Parsons Memorial Downhill for the 1980 edition. His son, Jim (now the club's U16 coach), won that year and this weekend, the 40th running of the U16 Parsons Memorial Race at the Dave Murray National Training Centre is set to go.

Parsons' daughter, Chris Leighton, works as an administrator for the club, recalling how the family grew up in Vancouver and learned to ski at Mount Seymour, but was excited by Whistler's prospects in its early years as a destination. Leighton said the family bought a lot in the mid-1960s for $500.

"He got us into the whole ski-racing thing, and Whistler was coming online, so we just ended up here," she said.

Parsons was often away for work during the summer, and while he did odd jobs like working as a liftie in the winter, he had more time for other projects. Parsons helped start the Vancouver Ski Team, which later developed into the BC Ski Team, and along with Neville O'Sullivan and Howard Goldschmidt, helped kickstart ski racing in the resort.

Leighton recalled her father's dedication to kids' ski racing, helping to bootpack the courses as there were no winch cats at the time, and even performing some summer clearing on the runs.

"He would always travel to the downhills that we would go to. We would get there a day early and he'd be out there mobilizing all the parent help, turning the mogul fields into a runnable downhill track," she said. "He was all about making it safe so the kids could go fast, have fun."

WMSC executive director Mark Tilston said that participation in this year's race will likely be lower than prior years, with about 80 young racers taking part. He explained it's because the race is not on the provincial circuit this year, meaning racers will primarily be from Whistler with a handful from the Lower Mainland sprinkled in.

"We've got a few kids coming from the coast zone, from the city clubs, but because it's not part of the BC Alpine provincial series this year ... we shouldn't have massive numbers," he said.

Tilston expects that conditions for this weekend's super-G and alpine combined races on Saturday and Sunday will be very good with cold and dry weather on the horizon.

Tilston explained the bulk of athletes who have graduated from the club to higher levels such as the World Cup circuit tend to be speed athletes, and that the Parsons race is one of the central races in their developmental years. It goes beyond alpine, as ski-cross athletes also reap the benefit of speed training.

"It's massive. The whole event on its own is such a valuable part of our involvement in ski racing," he said. "When you look at the current climate of ski racing, it's getting harder and harder to host speed events.

"The intent of Bob Parsons 40 years ago to create a safe opportunity for athletes to learn how to ski speed and to race speed, it's really valuable."

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