In 2016, we wrote an article on Jim McConkey where we mentioned him bringing in his collection of 16mm ski films. At the time, we were unfortunately unable to view them as we did not have the necessary equipment. Well, it has been a long time since 2016 and in the at time we were able to acquire the right equipment for digitizing 16mm film thanks to the support of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and have now gone through and digitized Jim McConkey’s collection, finding some very interesting videos.
“Diamond” Jim McConkey was an accomplished ski instructor for many years before he came up to Whistler. Born in Barrie, Ontario in 1926, he quickly fell in love with skiing and moved out west in 1948 to ski the bigger mountains in the Rockies. He worked as the first ski school director in Park City, Utah, and eventually moved to Tod Mountain (now operating as Sun Peaks) to run the ski and rental shop at the mountain. In 1968, he was invited to open his own ski and rental shop in Whistler, as well as running the ski school. He ran the Whistler Mountain ski school until 1980, and the ski and rental shop until 1985. Jim also ran the second heli-ski operation, through Okanagan Helicopters, where he could take clients skiing on the glaciers around Whistler Mountain.
Throughout his career, Jim made lots of ski films in places all over North America, with accomplished filmmakers such as Warren Miller and Douglas Sinclair. In 2016, Jim stopped by the museum and brought with him his collection of old 16mm films, which we were then unable to view. However, the museum recently acquired the RetroScan, a piece of equipment that allows us to scan these 16mm films into a 4k video format and, using some other software as well, we were able to get both the video and the audio off these 16mm films and finally take a look at them.
Jim collected a wide variety of ski films over the years and has films from all over the world. As of right now, we have 12 films digitized from his personal collection, films such as “Marker Ski,” which is footage of the 1977/78 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup that took place in Austria and Germany, specifically at ski resorts such as Garmisch and Kitzbühel, and includes some of the skiing greats, such as Ingemar Stenmark, Phil Mahre, Klaus Heidegger, and Franz Klammer. Other films in his collection range from a Japanese ski team skiing Barbeau Peak, the largest mountain in eastern North America, in a film called “Brilliance of Fantasy,” to instructional ski films such as “Ski the Outer Limits,” “Invitation to Skiing,” and “Ski Total.” He, of course, also left us with some of his ski films that he starred in throughout his career.
Jim personally starred in quite a few ski films but the ones we have digitized are “Alpine Ski Technique,” “Ski Nanny,” and “Snows of Garibaldi.” “Alpine Ski Technique” is an instructional ski video that was filmed at St. Jovite and Whistler, where Jim is the high mountain expert ski instructor and gives tips on jumping on skis, as well as showing off some great skiing accessed from a helicopter. Earlier in his career, when Jim was still at Tod Mountain, he starred in an episode of journalist Bob Cram’s television show “Ski Nanny,” where Jim takes Bob skiing in some deep powder at Tod Mountain. And finally, we have “Snows of Garibladi,” a Doug Sinclair film, which, according to Jim in a 2022 oral history conducted by the museum, was one of his favourite films to make. In this film, Jim goes heli-skiing with one of his instructors, Guy Barvoets, and it isn’t hard to imagine why this was one of his favourites – the high mountain skiing looks incredible and the aerial shots of Jim and Guy skiing unmarked glaciers are breathtaking. Jim is and always will be one of Whistler’s greatest icons and the footage we’ve seen so far certainly backs this statement up.
Liam McCrorie is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this summer through the Young Canada Works Program.