Museum Musings: Whistler’s early summer ski camps

What comes to mind when you think of summer camp? Childhood memories of sailing and swimming in lakes, learning the art of archery, and forming unbreakable bonds over campfire light are probably among the many things one might ponder. However, if you were lucky enough to grow up in Whistler, your mind might dart to a certain unconventional summer activity: skiing.

Summer skiing in Whistler is nothing new, and summer ski camps on the Whistler glacier have been around since the late 1960s. In 1967, the organizers of the summer ski camps on Whistler Mountain and owners of the Highland Lodge, Roy Ferris and Alan White, recruited Toni Sailer, a medal-winning member of the Austrian ski racing team, to pioneer Whistler’s summer ski camp. For more than a decade Sailer spent his summers in our Canadian mountain town, coaching young ski racers at the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp.

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While the motivation behind developing the ski camp program on Whistler was largely driven by the need for competitive skiers to stay in shape and to improve their techniques between competition seasons, as word of the camps spread recreational skiers also became active participants.

A regular day at the summer ski camp started early. Everybody was up by 6:30 a.m. to give time for a good breakfast before hitting the slopes at 8 a.m. Four hours of intensive training were followed by lunch and a rest period.

The camps weren’t just for skiing; a multitude of activities such as sailing, water skiing, swimming, horseback riding and volleyball in the afternoons rounded off the kids’ summer camp adventures.

Summer ski camps on the Whistler glacier have been around since the late 1960s.

Much like today, the camp was open to two-plankers of various skill levels. There were four types of instruction: advanced racing, intermediate and novice racing, recreational and freestyle, and skiers of all levels could receive personalized instruction by internationally known athletes such as Nancy Greene Raine, Wayne Wong and Jim McConkey.

These early ski camps also inspired many young skiers to enter the competitive world of ski racing. In the summer of 1968, 14-year-old Dave Murray attended the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp. From that point on, Murray quickly rose to fame as one of the Crazy Canucks, the Canadian ski team that took the European-dominated ski racing world by storm with their reckless riding style.

When Murray retired from competitive racing he became the lead instructor of the summer ski camps. In 1984, the name of Whistler’s most popular summer ski camp was officially changed to the Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camp, and its fame grew to attract many skiers from Europe and Japan.

During the late 1980s, the popularity of snowboarding on Blackcomb Mountain was also growing, prompting a need for the development of summer camps that catered to this new breed of mountain rider.

The Snowboard Shop Camp of Champions (established in 1989) was one of the first summer camps to accommodate snowboarders, and by 2008 60 per cent of Whistler Blackcomb campers were snowboarders, indicating a mass migration away from camps dedicated to the traditional snow sports.

Regardless of your sport, perhaps these old tales of Whistler’s summer ski and snowboard camps will inspire young adventurers to get up there for some off-season riding!

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