February 19, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

Walking the talk 

Whistler athletes represent in Whistler style

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As for his skiing, Ornulf explains, there was no one else even close. "He set tracks on that mountain that first year that blew people away." He smiles. "There was so much snow that year. So many opportunities to try new runs. But it was Dag who set the first tracks on the peak." He laughs. "That first time, he wanted me to climb with him to the top. But I wasn't ready yet so he went alone. Didn't bother him at all."

Dag Aabye stories are legion among early Whistler enthusiasts. And each is more outrageous than the next. I mean, this is a guy who would regularly meet his ski school charges while walking on his hands with his skis on his feet. "Whistler wouldn't be the same place without him," posits Johnsen. "He's an original."

 

Diamond Jim comes to town

He was a big name long before coming to Whistler. But it was here in the late 1960s and '70s, in the heart of the Coast Mountains, that Jim McConkey left his biggest legacy.

I mean, they don't call the guy Diamond Jim for nothing. Big-mountain legend, skiing innovator, film star, bon-vivant, teacher - and father to the much-grieved sport jester Shane McConkey - Jim's place in the North American skiing pantheon is assured. His connections in the ski business are all-encompassing. From Warren Miller to Alf Engen and Junior Bounous, from Toni Matt to Hans Gmoser and Toni Sailer, Jim has skied, travelled, hunted and climbed with the biggest names in the sport.

Yet he's the first to dismiss his role as a history-maker. "I just happened to be at the right places at the right times," he's told me more than once. "My goals in life have always been to have as much fun as possible and make people happy. That to me is way more important than how much money you make - or how much power you yield..."

Indeed. A funhog long before Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard coined the term in the late 1970s - and a big-mountain freerider decades before that movement got traction in North America - McConkey has always lived on the leading edge of adventure sports. He was a poster boy for the powder skiing revolution of the late 1950s. He was one of the first in the ski-business world to understand the life-changing experiences that helicopters could deliver to high-end skiers. And he was an inspiring mountain mentor to a broad swath of early Whistlerites.

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