Storytelling in the mountains 

Half a century of mountain tales

Stephen Vogler, one of the writers participating in fourth annual Words and Stories. Photo by Nicole Fitzgerald
  • Stephen Vogler, one of the writers participating in fourth annual Words and Stories.
    Photo by Nicole Fitzgerald

What: Words and Stories

When: April 17

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $10

Sitting on chairlifts all day then piling around fireplaces at night, storytelling goes hand in hand with mountain life.

Words and Stories ringmaster Michel Beaudry wanted to showcase mountain tales, in celebration of Whistler Mountain’s 40th anniversary and Blackcomb’s 25th, drawing on the many facets that make mountain life so unique: the people – the pioneers, freeskiers, nightlife queens, musical poets and scribes, all willing and excited to brave the elements.

And in the spirit of the anything-but-ordinary mountain dwellers, the fourth annual Words and Stories showcase April 17 spans more than 40 years of mountain tales shared in a manner as unique as its speakers.

Anyone who saw Jeff Holden perform at last year’s event knows Words and Stories is anything but a dry read. Who knew one of the best big-mountain skiers in the world could spin out his passion for the mountains in awesome riffs and rhymes with such emotional vulnerability? Sometimes audiences ran with the adrenalin of flying off cliffs while at other times they pondered his insightful spiritual overviews of mountain and man. His spoken-word gymnastics conveyed the vitality and youth only a 29-year-old freeskier could know.

Now jump ahead more than 40 years to Canadian Skiing Hall of Famer Jim McConkey, one of the original extreme skiers, who will share Whistler tales dating back to a time when lift passes were $6 and 220 cm skis had no sidecut.

"I remember one time when the president of Whistler had the idea to advertise in the fall that anybody who climbed to mid terminal, the original gondola, they could ski for free," McConkey recounted. "I remember saying, ‘Gosh Franz, you realize a lot of people will do that.’ He didn’t think so. It was like the Chilkoot Trail."

Although McConkey’s yarns are second to none, it isn’t his tales that distinguish his storytelling prowess, but instead the passion and excitement he brings to them.

His excitement is felt by all. Plunk McConkey into Google and you’ll find his quotes everywhere: from professional photographers’ bios sporting "Every day’s a bonus and everyone’s a winner" to blog sites: "It’s like teaching skiing, and as Jim McConkey (old ski legend who can still turn ’em) used to say, ‘Yer like hookers, yer sellin’ fun.’"

McConkey’s passion for mountain life spans generations.

Another timeless Words and Stories character is the infamous Ace McKay Smith. Some know her as Foxy Moron, a resident DJ at the GLC, or an award-winning producer/director/cinematographer. Others know her as Tommy Afrcia’s hottest plus-30, go-go dancer or a professional freeskier who has forever resided in the mountains since she was a little girl.

"For me Ace represents that great mountain spirit," Beaudry said. "I really challenged her this year: to stand on stage and tell her story in real time. It is not her area of reputation. She’s such a great performer. I know she will pull something amazing out of the bag."

The risk element is what makes Words and Stories such a signature festival event, and the only thing you can count on with writer/musician Steven Vogler is the unexpected.

The CBC Radio talent and Hounds of Buskerville rocker grew up in the valley and isn’t shy to bridge his often comical, sometimes sentimental rants through poetry and music.

"There were not too many kids growing up in Whistler Valley at the time," Beaudry said of Vogler. "He brings a contemporary view. He sees this place as developing in a very commercial way. It is not everything he dreamt of."

Ivan E Coyote also joins the lineup as the wild card of the bunch. She may not be from Whistler, but as a Yukon native she is a mountain girl in her own right. Her award-winning columns, books and articles have won over audiences nationwide. The Globe and Mail called her "a natural-born storyteller." The Toronto Star heralded her "talent for sketching the bizarre in the everyday."

And lastly, Beaudry, the master of ceremonies, provides the glue that ties the storytelling explosion together. The long-time Whistler resident, with publications as far reaching as the New York Times, London’s Daily Mail, GQ and every adventure sport magazine on the planet, is not just a storyteller, but also an advocate of the medium.

"It’s truly unique," he said of Words and Stories. "The intimacy of the evening is really special. It’s a small room where people do feel connected. There are just words. People have to transform those words into images in their mind."

Tickets are $10. Visit www.whistler2006.com to purchase.

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