February 19, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

Walking the talk 

Whistler athletes represent in Whistler style

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So there you have it. Now you know how a unique mountain environment worked its singular magic on an inimitable tribe of thrill seekers. Leaders, iconoclasts, trendsetters, opinion-makers - call them what you will - the people who have made this valley their home have managed to create an entirely new cultural paradigm in the way they address their day-to-day lives. Read on. Who knows? You might even get inspired to go out and do something crazy.

 

Whistler's first wildman set the standard

One of the earliest (if not the earliest) skiers to set the tone for what was to come at Whistler was a young Norwegian by the name of Dag Aabye. An incredibly bold skier who pioneered some of the region's hoariest descents (including Vancouver's signature skyline peaks, The Lions), Dag combined rare gymnastic talent with an artist's mountain perspective. And he loved nothing more than sharing his eccentric ski vision with anyone who cared to follow.

A child of the times, Dag Aabye was barely 20 when he arrived in Whistler. Trickster, visionary, pioneer freestyler - call him what you will - the young Aabye would set the performance bar extremely high here in those early years. No matter who followed after him - McConkey, Murray, Boyd, Pehota, Douglas or Abma - no one has ever quite been able to match Dag's reputation as a wild and crazy mountain player. I know. I know. The world has changed since 1966. But take my word for it - were Dag 20 today, his name would be on everybody's lips.

And were it not for Whistler's first ski school director, Ornulf Johnsen, one of the valley's most enduring legends would have never set foot here.

"I first got to know Dag when I was working for the ski school in Geilo, Norway," explains Johnsen. "He was still a teenager back then, but already he'd dedicated his life to becoming a ski stuntman." So much so, he recounts, that people would worry for the young daredevil. "He built a jump in the middle of the hill. His goal was to master Stein Eriksen's famous swan-dive-to-front-flip. And he would go at it from dawn till dusk." Ornulf lets a chuckle escape. "I don't know how many times he landed on his head. It was a lot though."

Pound for pound, says Johnsen, "Dag Aabye is the strongest guy I've ever known." Hyperbole? Maybe. But I doubt it. "Each morning, the guy would do 50 handstand pushups," explains Johnsen. "Now I could do five or 10 in my prime. But 50? I've never seen anybody come even close."

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