The Peak to Valley Race may have started as an idea brainstormed at the top of Whistler Mountain decades ago, but the annual gathering has certainly grown since then.
The 30th running of the Peak to Valley brought out hundreds of skiers from across the country to test themselves against the longest giant slalom course in the world, running from the Whistler alpine to the Creekside base. The two-day event, held Friday and Saturday (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1) this year, has been a winter staple in the resort since the mid 1980s, but Stephanie Sloan recalled how the concept came to her and late husband Dave Murray all those years ago
"We were standing at the top of the peak one day, skiing and having fun, and we looked between our skis and we could see Dusty's," Sloan said after finishing up her run on Friday, referring to the popular bar at the base. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to do a race from the peak to the valley?' And so, that was the germ that hatched this whole thing."
So with this past weekend's race marking 30 editions of Peak to Valley Races, this one was a little extra-special for the former freestyle ski champion.
"It's so great that it's lasted this long," said Sloan. "It's such a challenge. And, skiing from top to bottom with nobody else on the hill? That's pretty nice."
Skiers in the Peak to Valley organize themselves into co-ed teams of four, with start days and bib numbers arranged by age from oldest to youngest. The times for all four skiers are then added together to determine a team total.
This year, longtime local Grace Oaks had the honour of being the first out of the start hut on Friday. It was just her second time leading out the field, but her 19th consecutive year participating in the race.
"Oh God, it's so much fun," Oaks said when asked what keeps her coming back. "There's so much camaraderie. Sometimes you only see these people once a year."
Because of the length and challenge of the 180-gate course, many racers are in rough shape when they reach the bottom - thighs burning, gasping for breath. That was hardly the case for Oaks.
"It was good. It was nice and solid," Oaks said of her run. "I ski every day. I haven't missed a day since opening, so my legs felt fine.
"I just go as fast and secure as I can, because I don't want to miss any gates."
The Peak to Valley may have been around a long time, but it sure didn't take long to get to the bottom this year due to blazing fast conditions on the course. Last year, Davey Barr became the first individual to break the five-minute mark since the mid-'90s, but he was one of four to do so this weekend. Barr's former Canadian ski cross team member Stan Rey went under five minutes on Friday, as did Ryan Oughtred, who had the fastest run overall at 4:54.04. Scott Hume was the lone racer beating the mark on Saturday.
Barr and Julia Murray, daughter of the event's visionaries, and Luke and Clay Dolan made up the Capital Home Energy team, and the foursome set the fastest time overall for the second year in a row at 20:22.21. They edged Hume and Oughtred's Hoopla crew by 14 seconds for the quickest team time and first place in the 149-and-under age group, based on combined ages.
Murray had the fastest women's time from Friday, while another Canadian ski cross great, Aleisha Cline, took that honour on Saturday. Olympic gold medallist Kathy Kreiner and former Canadian World Cup skier Kelby Halbert were among some of the other "ski celebrities" who raced this year.
"Queen of the Peak to Valley" Cate Webster from Whistler Blackcomb's events department said the 77 teams that came out for this year's race was a "fantastic" number and she credited the work of everyone who works on the event for putting another great race together.
"It brought back lots of different memories of different races that we've had," Webster said of celebrating the 30th annual race.
TOP TEAMS BY AGE GROUP
149 and under - Capital Home Energy (20:22.21) - Davey Barr, Julia Murray, Luke Dolan, Clay Dolan
150-174 - Better Than Gold (23:04.12) - Randy Smallwood, Jordan Williams, Leslie Firstbrook, Rob Boyd
175-199 - Shake and Bake (24:14.25) - Angus Crawford, Bruce Alexander, Peter Doering, Judy Ameli
200-224 - Raven Madness (23:15.51) - Jamie Edwards, Wendy Harrison, Robert Mitchell, Peter Lyall
225-249 - Team Spirit (23:49.94) - Kary Firstbrook, Brian Cameron, John Townsend, Geordie Trusler
250 and beyond - Jule's Jewels (25:41.28) - Terry Daly, Jules Lajoie, Bernard Kahlert, Butch White