February 19, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

Walking the talk 

Whistler athletes represent in Whistler style

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And we wouldn't have it any other way.

 

A downhill star for the ages

Sometimes local heroes die young. But it's particularly hard when a young community loses one of its first homespun stars. Such was the case for Whistler and Dave Murray.

Ski racing ruled supreme at Whistler in the early1980s. From club racing to adult racing - from 10-year-olds to 70-year-olds - everyone, it seemed at the time, was keen on learning how to run gates. And that enthusiasm, in large part, was due to the vision and drive of Whistler's earliest ski champion.

A founding member of the Crazy Canucks, the now-legendary group of Canadian downhillers who first imposed themselves on the World Cup circuit in the mid-70s, Murray was the embodiment of the laid-back West Coast athlete. With his long blond hair and curly beard, his facility with the ladies, his guitar-playing and windsurfing, Murray sometimes acted more like a beach bum than a ski racer. No doubt about it, this guy was different.  Even the nickname his teammates had bestowed upon him - Maharishi Yogi Mur - illustrates how far from the conventional ski racer model he'd strayed.

But get him on a downhill course and the easy-going hipster would turn into a hard-charging dragster. Although he never had the good fortune of standing on the top step of the World Cup podium during his 10-year career, he did finish second twice and third once. During the 1978-79 campaign, he even led the Canadian squad in overall results, finishing third in the World Cup downhill standings.

Murray was named director of skiing at Whistler Mountain upon his retirement in 1982 - a position that appeared more honorific than practical at the time. But Murray had other plans for the job. He was convinced that ski racing in Canada was getting too elitist, too narrow in scope, and needed to develop a broader base of participation. After all, he was a latecomer to the sport himself (he didn't start to race seriously until he was 16). And he knew from experience that racing could appeal to a much broader group of skiers. Murray knew intuitively, too, that if he could entice more skiers into racing, he could also foster greater interest on the part of potential sponsors.

Along with his business partner, Don McQuaid, Murray formed the Masters Group and introduced the then-revolutionary concept of "adult racing" to Whistler and completely changed the face of skiing in the region. Suddenly dentists, lawyers, accountants and businessmen in Vancouver were buying stretchy downhill suits and signing up for mid-week ski racing "camps" with Murray, McQuaid and their all-star cast of coaches. When the world's best came to Whistler to race these new enthusiasts were out in force to watch and learn.

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