A Ski Coach’s R&R


Before Whistler became a year-round destination resort there were few visitors and events throughout the summer. Residents made their own fun with regattas on Alta Lake, softball, fishing and hiking all popular pastimes. Along with mountain biking, today golf is a very popular activity in the summer with the local golf courses often booking up well in advance. However, before Whistler’s first 18-hole golf course officially opened in 1983, the Squamish Valley Golf Course was the closest place to tee off. Still, summer residents would make their way along the narrow and windy highway to have a hit.

Although skiing is not thought of as a summer sport, summer ski camps in Whistler have kept athletes on the snow year-round since the resort opened. The first summer ski camp was run by Roy and Jane Ferris and Alan White in 1966 with Art Furrer as a guest coach. Alan and Roy owned Highland Lodge and the summer camps were initially conceived as a way to bring visitors to Whistler during the quiet summer season.

The summer ski camps became known as the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps in 1967, after Toni Sailer was recruited during a ski demonstration at the Seattle Center. Toni Sailer was an Austrian skiing superstar who had won gold in all three alpine events at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Toni would coach the Austrian ski team during the winter months then disappear to Whistler where he enjoyed living in relative anonymity, rarely being swamped for autographs like when he was back home in Austria.

Toni Sailer (right) and Tim Ferris on the t-bar in July 1978 during the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp on Whistler Mountain. Alex Douglas Collection.

A legend in his own right, Jim McConkey moved to Whistler the year after Toni Sailer to take over the Whistler ski school and ski shop. He became good friends with Toni, who said that he took the job in Whistler specifically so he could play golf in Squamish. Before Whistler had its own golf course Toni would coach each day until noon, then go to Squamish Valley Golf Course which also opened in 1967.

Jim McConkey still comes to the Sea to Sky to golf today; however, before there was the pick of local golf courses he was a member of the Capilano Golf Course. Toni Sailer was a big name in sport, and the Capilano Golf Course said everything would be on the house if Toni visited. Jim and Toni started golfing together at Capilano on the days between summer ski camps. One particularly memorable visit was a trip that they took with Earl Noble. Earl owned a big lumber mill in North Vancouver and had a helicopter. They golfed together at Capilano in the morning, then they flew to the Victoria Golf Club for another round in the afternoon. According to Jim, “Toni never forgot that, he just thought that it couldn’t get any better. 36 holes!”

Don McQuaid teaching tricks during the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps in 1977. Alex Douglas Collection.

The Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps were ahead of their time and quickly began to offer four types of instruction – Advanced Racing, Intermediate and Novice Racing, Recreational and Freestyle. Along with Toni Sailer and Jim McConkey, personalised instruction was offered by internationally renowned skiers, including Nancy Greene Raine and Wayne Wong.

In 1984, ski racer, Crazy Canuck and former camper, Dave Murray took over the summer camps and they became known as the Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camps. Campers continued to be coached by internationally renowned athletes, having a blast and creating lifelong memories. This continues today with Momentum Ski Camps on Blackcomb Glacier, run by Olympic skiers John and Julia Smart and their talented coaches.

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