By Louise Hudson
Watching the Winter Games is inspiring enough to skiers and snowboarders alike, but how about actually skiing with an Olympian to motivate your mountain mojo?
Whistler Blackcomb gets the gold in sheer quantity of Olympians who guide around the 8,171-acre resort. Emanating from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the ‘Ski/Ride with an Olympian’ program offers a lengthy line-up of limelight locals who are happy to teach the technique to tourists. Like Spanky’s Ladder, the price is somewhat steep – a full day private lesson with a gold medalist such as Ski Cross champ Ashleigh McIvor ringing up at $2500. But, voted ‘Whistler’s Favourite Winter Athlete’ for the 5th year, McIvor is also a born and bred local, with five-star insight into big mountain experiences at Whistler Blackcomb.
Justin Hartwell manages the Olympian program which, he says, sells out during high season, despite private day rates starting at $995, and has already shown a hike in interest this winter. “For a lot of the athletes that we have in the program, they competed in 2010 on this mountain,” says Hartwell. “So, it’s really quite cool because you have that insight into what it’s really like, and they can tell you their stories from the actual runs you’re skiing.”
Snowboarder, Mercedes Nicoll, has been working with the program for the past three winters. “I think a local’s experience is a game changer. I grew up in Whistler, so it’s always fun for me to be able to guide people around,” she says. “Having been at three Games, I get to share my Olympic experiences with everyone, giving them the inside scoop, what it’s really like to compete at the Olympics.” The program appeals to people celebrating a signature birthday and also to corporate groups, she says. And it is also highly effectual in ski progression: “One guest said he didn’t care to do black diamond runs and by the end of the day he went down a black diamond on his on,” says Nicoll, who is the most decorated rider on the Canadian Women’s Halfpipe Team with credits from Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.
How about skiing the Dave Murray Downhill with his daughter, Olympic freestyler Julia Murray? “Ripping down my Dad’s run and telling people about the Crazy Canuck history is always fun,” says Murray, whose fiancé is Olympian Davey Barr. On a couple of signature seasons, she was booked by the same group for 30 days: “I really got to see their improvement, that’s for sure.”
With over 30 years’ experience at Whistler, Darren Chalmers – snowboarding’s GS star from Nagano 98 and Salt Lake City 2002 – has been teaching tips for “everyday freeriding” since 2011. “Personally I like people who come ride with me to have an experience that will push their normal limits and boundaries,” he says. “I show guests how to refine their technique in a way to get the most control and comfort out of their riding. Many guests want to do some serious mileage on the mountain too, so you need to watch their fitness and how tired they get and take some mandatory breaks.” With a bias towards advanced intermediates, Chalmers favours Blackcomb Glacier, Whistler Peak, and the Harmony area when there is fresh pow or takes advantage of great grooming in the Crystal chair area.
On retirement from pro-skiing last year, Whistler Olympian Robbie Dixon decided to help showcase the home ski town he loves. “There is always a way to ski this mountain. No matter what the conditions, you can go out and have a good time,” he says. “And I love being able to show that to people.” Although initially starstruck, most people are genuinely excited when they meet him. “I get them stoked on a sweet day of ripping on the mountain,” he says. “I get a lot of questions about what my experience racing was like and how amazing it must have been to represent Canada at home in my backyard.”
Big White, co-founded by Cliff Serwa in the 1960s, has been his grand-daughter Kelsey Serwa’s home hill for 28 years. The Ski Cross Silver medallist from Sochi 2014 is also a veteran of Vancouver 2010. Hoping for more medals in South Korea, her Olympic Coaching Program will re-start at Big White after the Games when her competitive schedule permits, possibly with a ski cross camp at the end of the season. Serwa has run inspirational ski lessons there for the past two seasons.
Sun Peaks has had an Olympian hosting program featuring Nancy Greene for decades. As Director of Skiing, she guides around the mountain up to six days a week when her role as Senator allows. While still an ace skier herself, she is not picky about performance. “Everybody is welcome, if they can ski in control on a green run I’ll take a run with anyone,” she says, emphasizing that her guiding is free. While maxing the mileage with guests, giving technique tips and advising on equipment, Greene is always on the alert for feedback: “For me, it is a little way to ask them about the resort to see how we can improve and pass the information on to management.”
2006 Olympian, Christina (Lusti) Lustenberger, is an underco