The most amazing thing about working as a journalist is the chance you get to have great, insightful, curiosity-stoking conversations with people – conversations which you document.
(This has turned me into the kind of person who hates to let a funny or insightful comment go unrecorded – I am forever reaching for my notebook through tears of laughter, to capturing a witty quip or hilarious moment. My workmates are so used to it that they have developed this collective Pavlovian twitch. When something comedic is said in the studio, they jerk their heads around to see if I’m getting it down. My husband has become desensitized to my pen-reaching reflex, although every now and then he’ll yell, “No! no! Don’t write that down. You’re just going to use it against me.”)
I write stories about mountain life. And people. In this small way, I’m doing my best to stop time. Or at least, slow it down, just a little. And when people die, as they are sadly all too wont to do, I am so grateful for the chance I had to sit with them, our attention completely focussed on the single conversation at hand. I think of the late Florence Petersen, Doug Deeks, Bruce Edmonds, Wolfgang Klautt, and Sarah Burke – and feel grateful.
The one year anniversary of Sarah’s passing has just passed, and the twittersphere and interwebs are abuzz with remembering and news of the foundation launched in her honour.
I interviewed Sarah back in 2008, as I was starting to do a bunch of pre-Olympic stories. She was 26 and one of the most recognizable skiers in North America, having won every major competition in superpipe and slopestyle in the previous two years, with golds from the X Games, the Nippon Open, the World Skiing Invitational, Japan World Cup and the FIS World Cup. Powder magazine had named her one of the most influential skiers of the past 35 years, FHM magazine named her one of the hottest women alive, and she was the first skier ever to win an ESPY award for Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year 2007, from the American sports cable channel ESPN.
As for me – I was pretty much a nobody, writing for little publications and grassroots magazines and constantly hustling for another story, another byline. Sarah returned every call or email or request I sent her on frantic deadline, from wherever she was on the road, without any suggestion that my bona fides were less than A-list.
She was a star, but her sport wasn’t yet an Olympic discipline. Going into the winter of 2008-2009, the 2010 Games was a year away and buzz was building about lobbying attempts to get halfpipe recognised as an Olympic sport, something that was looking increasingly unlikely for 2010 because of the molasses-clogged machinations of the IOC.
Sarah, a veteran at accomplishing the improbable, (at 18, she had begun a lonely campaign to have women included in the X Games, competing against the men in order to be part of the field, and then saw women’s competitions added to most of the major events), was 100 per cent behind the campaign to take bring ski pipe into the Olympics.
“All of the top pros would be honoured to compete in the Olympics,” she said. “X Games is great, and a lot of fun, but the Olympics has something to it that makes it pretty special. It’s all the best athletes in the world. You can say to someone that you have an X Games medal and they’re like, ‘Oh cool, what’s that?’ People know what an Olympic medal means.”
Sometime in early 2011, my hard-drive was wiped clear and I lost everything. The first decade of my career, vanished into the ether. All I had left was a couple of notebooks and a box of magazine and newspaper clippings. I channelled Annie Dillard: “Process is nothing. Erase your tracks.”
But yesterday, I pulled out my old notebooks to see if I had any transcripts from those interviews with Sarah. I found 2 pages of my hard-to-decode handwriting with Sarah’s name scribbled across the top and re-read a skip-around-conversation that was rooted in a long-gone time and place. It didn’t amount to much, really.
Just one golden pull-quote, and an enduring sense of admiration for a true trailblazer. Hail the Queen.
“The mountains here at Whistler Blackcomb are a big place. It’s easy to fall into the habit of skiing the same terrain over and over. I came here in 1994 because it was the best. I knew you could ski a lifetime here without getting bored. And the beautiful thing about the mountain is it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. That’s what makes Whistler Mountain such an amazing teaching mountain. The terrain offers endless challenges.”
Finally, as Hobson told me for a Vancouver Sun story this week:
“If you’re happy with the way you ski, that’s great. Go slide around and have fun. Ultimately, that’s what really matters. But if you’d like to ski with less fatigue, better poise, and more grace, try a lesson. It’s such an easy sport to do badly, but it’s a lot more fun to do with finesse.”
Starting January 7, Whistler Blackcomb offers Discover Whistler Days pricing – 30% off Max 4 lessons with any of Hobson’s crew of pros, stacked with the highest concentration of Level 4s on the mountain. (Think skiing’s black belts.)
As Whistler Blackcomb announced today in a press release:
Whistler Blackcomb’s snow school is one of the largest in the world consisting of over 1,200 professional ski and snowboard instructors. Combined, they speak over 26 languages, originate from all over the world and more than 50 of them are certified Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) Level 4 instructors, the most in a single snow school in North America.
On January 12 and 13, Whistler Blackcomb is also offering Never Ever Days, with beginner lessons (plus rental gear and a lift ticket) for just $25 for the first 500 newbies to take up the challenge. They’re even offering a free beer at the end of the day, so you can get a start in the art of aprés. (Register online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/learn to nab one of those 500 spots.)
*Full disclosure: Dave’s my husband. Call me a lazy journalist for going for the easy interview. But he’s been “fixing” my skiing for almost 17 years, so I can say for sure, he’s the real deal.
The failure of the world to explode in cataclysmic fireballs on the end of the Mayan calendar means those New Year resolutions you didn’t bother with suddenly demand a little attention. (It’s not too late!) Today, I told the Liftopia community that any Self Improvement journey should begin with a promise to go skiing. With a group of girls.
For all those she-skiers willing to take up the challenge, here’s the one piece of wisdom I developed after coaching the Roxy Women’s Clinics for a couple of years – all it takes is one simple trick to Ski Like A Man (and it doesn’t involve cojones implants.)
Evolutionary biologists say that women are trained by 10,000 years of vulnerability to saber tooth tigers and cumbersome babies, to avoid risk. Men, to protect aggressively. At the top of a double-black diamond ski run, therefore, the female will go around, and the fella will bash, flail and roar his way down.
Further, the male of a species must out-compete his fellows, in order to attract a willing and receptive mate. Hence, at the top of a double-black diamond run, the male will suddenly be driven by his limbic brain to strut, puff, prance, and throat-call, completely blind to the fact that the once receptive mate is cursing his name to the heavens.
But I do not want women skiers and riders of the world to be dictated to by Neanderthal prehistory. I want us embrace our opposable thumbs, linguistic superiority, and the way our ancestors out-witted the wild.
Do not ski around! Do not curse your beloved!
In the spirit of reportage that has seen journalists don fatsuits, change their race with make-up or go undercover as the working poor, to see how different the world is from inside a different body, I donned a mansuit and a moustache for the day.
I discovered that:
- I could park.
- I knew exactly where on the mountain I was, even when I had no landmarks or signs.
- I didn’t apologise to anyone who bumped into me or nearly cut me off.
- I took a warm up run in steep trees.
- I gave my girlfriend some tips on how to improve her technique, which basically involved, getting forward, being more aggressive, and generally “givin’ er”.
But seriously, the bottom line is that skiing like a man means one simple trick. No facial hair required. It’s just a question of managing your risk strategy.
Step 1: Determine the given risks on any run – the rock, the cliff band, the cornice, the landing, the run-out.
Step 2: Assess whether your combination of skill (with or without the added edge of bravado), makes this fundamentally do-able.
Step 3: If YES to step 2, commit. Risk analysis phase is over. ‘Assessment of risk’ button must be switched to “idle”. Not to be revisited until the run has been completed. Definitely not to be re-engaged halfway down the run, or just before the technical bit.
These are 3 distinct phases that must be kept separate. No bleed is permissible. That’s what the mo’s know. So here’s to Lucy, and her innate wisdom that keeps us alive on a daily basis. And here’s to being able to switch into override when there’s fun to be had on the hill.
Now, go skiing.
Ever since Whistler Blackcomb introduced free wifi to their on-mountain lodges and an app that allows skiers to track runs and share speed, vertical and bragging rights, the connection between real life and the on-mountain escape has gotten stronger.
But, something happened in the fifteen years I’ve been skiing Whistler. Everyone got a smart phone. Now, stopping for a coffee at 10am also involves checking messages, updating one’s status, and posting Instagram photos tagged #whistlerunfiltered to make your friends jealous.
All of which means that when I’m back at work at my computer with streams of information coming at me every which way, I can enjoy a few vicarious faceshots from those posting live updates of their on-mountain hijinx.
In the latest Whistler the Magazine, I profiled three of Whistler’s twitterati, the town’s most influential social media peeps – and asked them about the pros and cons of staying connected.
@MikeDSki To tweet or not to tweet?
That is the question. I am starting the change the way I view social media. My wife has definitely challenged me on all the time I spend checking my twitter feed. Time with my family is the most precious thing, and social media is starting to become a time suck. So I’ve stopped checking some of it during the day, and miraculously, I do get a lot more work done…
@GAYWhistler What do you like about twitter?
Twitter is like the ticker feed of the Stock Market but for news… Tons of bytes of information that keeps me updated on the happenings around the world, that you are able to dive into with attached links to read the bigger story if it piques one’s interest.
@michelleleroux Do you tweet when you’re on the mountain riding?
Yes, I love Instagram for this. I can post a photo to that app and then share to Twitter and Facebook, essentially letting me make friends in all three channels insanely jealous with just one post.
For more in-depth soundbytes from Mike Douglas, Dean Nelson and Michelle Leroux, as well as a closer look at the amazing portraits that Bonny Makarewicz shot for the story, pick up a copy of the mag from newsstands, the Whistler Visitor Info Centre, or download a digital copy here.
I think of myself as a yoga-slacker. Headstands intimidate me, yoga wear makes me self-conscious of how anti-fashion my sweat-drenched wife-beater tank top is, and I’m not a big fan of the full length mirror scene either. Despite this, I hope to be sitting, as lotus-like as I can, on the grass at Whistler Olympic Plaza, on Thursday 23 August, to hear Krishna Das do his chanting singing thing, for the kick-off of Wanderlust. Amazingly, it’s free.
I love Krishna Das because at the end of one yoga class, the teacher powered up her iPod, and as we wound down our poses and settled into savasana, the corpse pose, the collapse-on-your-back-and-try-and-catch-your-breath-at-last pose, his voice filled the studio. I heard a friend behind me gasp in happy recognition. The song was familiar and ethereal, his voice is so deep it’s a kind of slow rolling thunder that moves through your body, and I would do anything to find out what it’s called. So I can hear it again.
The New York Times has called him the Chant Master of American Yoga. He’s otherwise been called yoga’s “rockstar.” This does make me feel like a bit of a groupie. But hey, if you’re going to get caught up in something, why not a giddy trip that takes you closer to enlightenment?
Mindful partying is the lovely combination sauce that Wanderlust aims to be seasoned with. I had the chance to chat with co-founder Sean Hoess for this article for the Vancouver Sun. (He’s a fugitive lawyer, too, so I was inclined to trust him off the bat.)
We wanted to create a festival that is literally about balance. Sean Hoess
With his college room-mate and business partner Jeff, and Jeff’s wife, yogi Schuyler, Hoess wanted to create an place you can drop into and possibly have a transformational experience, as well as a lot of fun, in a beautiful place. Sounds like a fine intention to me.
On the corner of my desk is a pile of borrowed books.
I leave them there, taking up valuable real estate, to remind me to return them. Some day. Preferably soon.
One, Ski Faster, by Lisa Feinboer Densmore, sits in a manilla envelope with Doug Deeks’ name pencilled on the label.
I’ve been meaning to return it to Doug for more than two years.
I discovered this morning that I left it too late. He passed away earlier this week.
Doug loaned me the book just before the Olympics when we sat down at the Wildwood after his Rotary meeting so I could interview him for a profile in Enterprise magazine.
He was excited about serving as a volunteer gate judge, and I confessed that I had landed a gig covering the alpine ski racing events for NBCOlympics.com, but had kind of bluffed my way into it.
“Do you know much about ski racing?” went the phone interview.
“I’ve been a ski pro for the last decade.”
(Not a lie. Not strictly.)
“So, Doug, as an aside, what’s the different between Super G and slalom?”
He was not a big man, and there was something twinkly-impish about his face that made me trust him with my dark secrets and complete ignorance.
“I’ve got this book that you might find helpful,” he said.
Talking to Doug that morning made me realise how many talented people concentrate in Whistler… and what a huge number of them are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, enjoying a fine Second Act, skiing around with a bunch of 20-somethings who have no idea just what they accomplished in their remarkable lives.
Here’s the article. Good passing to you Doug.
Late Bloomer, Still Peaking
Senior ski champ Doug Deeks (81) has an enviable seat at Whistler’s downhill Olympic events.
By his own admission, Doug Deeks is a late bloomer.
“A late bloomer and a lousy student,” he says with a good-natured chuckle. Having held such titles as principal flautist in the Montreal Junior Symphony Orchestra, assistant auditor general of Canada and master ski racer, Deeks’ underachieving high-school marks are easily laughed off.
Being a late bloomer isn’t such a big deal either when you’re 81 and “still peaking as an athlete.”
Deeks, who will serve next month as a volunteer gate judge in the Olympic alpine events, hadn’t set foot on a slope until he was 24. He bought his first pair of skis while working as a student auditor with Coopers Lybrand in the early 1950s: “Up until then, living through the Depression, my family didn’t have the money.” Ever since the first time Deeks and a colleague walked up Mount Royal, the highest point in Montreal at 234 metres, and surreptitiously maneuvered to its base, he was hooked.
For almost a decade (until marriage, children and work temporarily suppressed his inner ski-bum) Deeks was part of a group of friends who avidly skied the Laurentians and Appalachians.
Ironically, it was in those eastern peaks that he made his first connection to Whistler, BC. Former ski buddy Jack Bright had been recruited to serve as the then start-up resort’s first area manager. “Whenever I’d come out to Vancouver on business, Jack and I would get together, and he’d keep me apprised of what was going on.”
Deeks and wife Joan had meanwhile decided to retire somewhere fun while they were still physically and mentally active. After a “serendipitous” career, Deeks was comfortable taking chances, but he nevertheless performed due diligence even while planning their retirement move. In 1987, he and Joan hit the road on a downhill tour of the West. “We went from ski resort to ski resort, then went home and said, yep, Whistler is the place to be.”
In the early 80s, the BC resort town was still finding its feet. The North Shore Credit Union had been the only financial institution willing to open a branch after Whistler’s first bank, housed in a trailer, was hitched up to a vehicle and driven away in what might be the smoothest bank robbery of all time.
Jack Bright was instrumental in bringing the credit union to Whistler in 1984, and in 1991 encouraged Deeks to run for its board, a position he held for the next eight years. “It was the first financial institution that stayed and supported many of the businesses here,” Deeks recalls. “A lot of people would have had difficulty getting a mortgage if it hadn’t been around.”
The credit union’s community-building ethos sits naturally with Deeks. He helped to establish Whistler’s Seniors Ski Team to address a gap in services offered by the ski school. The program, which initially left the school’s management nonplussed, now has a membership of over 200, and the organisers are fielding inquiries from other American resorts wanting to know “What’s going on up there?”
Deeks spent last summer mixing concrete and putting together 3300 lbs of playground equipment with his Rotary Club for the isolated First Nations community at Skatin.
This winter, he will volunteer as a gate judge for the Winter Olympic Games, getting as locse to the action as a person can safely be to ensure each skier keeps to the regulation path through the racecourse.
Deeks got into ski racing himself when he was 65. “I figured if I didn’t start then, I never would.” He trains at the gym three days a week and averages 105 ski days a season. In April, he will take that appetite for speed to the Canadian Masters Nationals at Sun Peaks, trading his volunteer uniform for a speedsuit.
Doug Deeks figures he’s been a late-bloomer long enough. This spring, he’s ready to be first out of the gate.
Reprinted from Enterprise magazine, January 2010
Since the article ran, Doug and Joan were featured as local “power couples” in Whistler the Magazine, Doug won the 2012 Kokanee Valley Race series in the 80+ category, sharing the rank with Werner Himmelsbach, and was honoured for his work with the Skatin First Nation by a Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
He was truly an inspiring human being. (PS Thanks for the crash course in ski-racing, Doug. I did manage to pull it off. Thanks to you.)
Last week, I took my brake-clenching, rear-wheel-skidding ways to the TREK Dirt Series’ Whistler Camp to see if I could benefit from a little mountain bike tuition.
It fit with my summer resolution, to ride, as much as I write about riding. And having worked on projects for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and Crankworx, I’ve been writing a lot about mountain biking.
The TREK Dirt Series is 12 years old, and runs mostly women’s only clinics, with a couple of co-ed courses thrown in for variety.
I taught women’s only ski clinics for a few winters, so I’m a big proponent of the all-girls’ environment for developing technical skills and confidence in gnarly terrain. Science researchers have updated the “flight or fight” theory to take the absence of testosterone into account. When women are confronted with stress, instead of experiencing a hormonal cascade that would trigger fight or flight, as a man would, the sudden release of oxytocin is more likely to inspire a “tend and befriend” reaction.
In challenging situations women will seek out social contact, especially with other women, and will urge each other on – a revelation that validated a lot of what I saw on the ground at women’s only ski clinics.
So, that was the theory.
Two days in armour and full-face helmets, taking theory into the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the Air-Dome, it proved out.
The best learning comes from doing, so the best way for you to really get what TREK Dirt Series has to offer, is to sign up for one yourself. They cover the entire gamut of ability levels – the 75 women last weekend included rank beginners and advanced riders.
But here are 3 of my big take-aways from the weekend (in addition to the myriad of tips that have changed the way I ride.)
1. Your best marketing tool is always people.
When you show up to any program and the room is full of event sponsors, fans and believers, as well as the participants, it’s hard to not be impressed. Their presence is a basic testament to the quality of the camp.
In addition to 13 coaches, last weekend’s clinic was staffed by a support crew of volunteer “sweeps” made up of past participants, boyfriends of coaches or past participants, friends of the camp, and sponsors, who had volunteered to ride tail-gun and help pick up the pieces.
When the hanger of my derailleur snapped off during an Airdome session, one of these champions ferried me and the bike down to Whistler Blackcomb’s G1 Rentals to swap the bike out, and had me back before I’d missed more than one turn at the foam pit. And when I spent one frustrated hour as the rest of my gang moved up to the big leagues, trying to get my timing right at the Bike Park’s little drops training zone, our sweep Steve stuck with me, offering non-stop encouragement until I managed to put it all (come in fast, stay neutral, pre-load and explode) together. The high-five he gave me after he chased me down Crank it Up, airing over the little jumps and cranking around the berms, showed that he was as stoked as I was to have finally got it together.
2. Look where you want to go.
Looking where you want to go means staying committed at speed, all the way through a turn, to where you’re going. Keeping focussed with your eyes means your scapulae and hips and bike will follow, and you’ll maintain traction all the way through a corner. Looking where you want to go also means not looking at what you’d rather avoid – obstacles, people, or the big tree that is coming up super fast on your right.
3. Put your love and hate into it.
After Sarah Leishman bullied and berated us into never making any sudden speed adjustments (“imagine riding chainless, two pedalstrokes only, now go”), Revelstoke’s Casey Brown, current Canadian DH champ, taught us how to keep our stuff together in the air.
She had all kinds of awesome tactical advice, but the thing that stuck with me, after I attempted my first fifty drops with no real desire to actually get air between my tire and the ground, was something her dad tells her:
“Put all of your love and hate into it.”
The tally of carnage for our gang of 5 riders, Mackenzie, Sarah, Caitlin, and Kim, included 3 endos, one grazed shoulder, one broken hanger, one cut-up calf, and one bruised snatch (see #2: look where you want to go, and never at the big tree that is coming up super fast on your right.) Shit-eating grins? 5 for 5.
Thanks to our coaches, Sarah Leishman, Casey Brown, and Penny Deck, and to our sweeps and supporters, Ayden, Fiona and Steve. Thanks also to the TREK Dirt Series for hosting, and Whistler Blackcomb for the chance to try a Giant Glory just like the big boys ride.
So I had fun. But to the question that really counts: did it work? Did I actually get any better?, I leave to my regular riding partner to judge.
On Monday, we hit our usual trail for an evening ride.
“Wow. You are riding so much faster,” he said.
“You’re just saying that.”
“I think I’d know. I’m the one usually getting eaten by mosquitoes waiting for you.”
In Vancouver, New York and Zurich, they have Creative Mornings, a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types who can get up early.
In Whistler, we’ve got The Point.
It’s a slightly less hi-fi version of the urban hipster creative klatches. But well worth putting on your radar, if only because the old Youth Hostel venue on Alta Lake might truly be one of the most [vocabulary falls short] spots in Whistler. [Genuine? Original? Stirling? Precious? Un-bogus? Spec-freakin-tacular?]
At least, that was the verdict from a gang of local writers and editors, who moved tables and chairs onto the dock for Thursday night’s Freelance Writers Symposium.
“The panel”, magazine editors Feet Banks (Mountain Life), Mike Berard (Coast Mountain Culture), Adam Levitt (SBC Wakeboard) and Kate MacLennan (BC Business) gave no-holds-barred insights on what editors want.
Here’s an unofficial post-mortem of the top 10 insights, scribbled down in between moderating duties and laughing my ass off.
Life as an Editor
1. As an editor, I just can’t get enough… “time to fix up your shit,” says Feet Banks. So, make your deadlines. “I can always fake your shitty talent, but I can’t go back in time.”
2. Brutal truth? Grammar and punctuation aren’t as important as creative thought. “I can make your writing better. It’s harder to think of a good idea,” says Adam Levitt, SBC Wakeboard’s one-man-writing-editing-blogging-photographing-show.
How to Get Your Big Break
3. Put yourself out there. Make your own opportunities. Make friends with wordpress. Better, yet, learn to code. Then you’ll never be out of work.
4. Know what makes a pitch. That would be an insight. A fresh angle. A story. A hook. A reason to care.
This is an example of a non-pitch:
“I’ve got an idea for an article. Crankworx.”
5. Know what kind of writer you are and play to your strengths.
6. Be Google-able. (See #3.)
How to Stay Off the Black List
7. “Learn the difference between there, they’re and their.” ~ Feet Banks
How to Get on The Gold List
8. “Packaging is everything,” says Kate MacLennan. Send a pitch with sidebar ideas, suggested pull-quotes or a vision for the image, and you’re gold. And PS, write your own headline. “It drives me crazy when writers don’t even try to put in a headline. Yes, headlines are hard.” (Adds Berard: Headlines are mostly what we get in fistfights about at CMC.) “But at least try.”
9. Every magazine today needs more… “intelligence” “air-brushed naked chicks” “features” “illustrations.”
10. “The only rule: make everything awesome all the time.” ~Mike Berard
The Bonus Round: Advice for PR Peeps
Never call an editor. Email, email, email.
“Unless I’ve seen you naked, don’t call.” Feet Banks
Thanks to The Pointman, Stephen Vogler, for the hospitality, ketchup chips and for all the work you’re doing to incubate and house Whistler’s creative mojo.
The Symposium was the brain child of Stephen Vogler and Feet Banks and kicks off a summer of juicy culture events taking place at the Point. You could call them Creative Lazy Saturday Afternoons, a much more Whistler-esque approach to creative networking.
Workshops are also kicking off this week on Tuesdays (improv theatre sports) and Thursdays (kick-starting your creative writing).
Support them. It’s a magical place to hang out. (If we don’t, the muni will abandon the pilot project. Who knows what could happen to the space. It’s not as if there’s an abundance of opportunities or FREE spaces for creative people to get together in Whistler, make stuff, soak in million dollar views and jam.)
The most particular client feedback I’ve received this year, came, unexpectedly, for copy for ads for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. (If they’re that particular about a word, you know they really care about the dirt.)
I was writing the copy for a series of ads for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, that would pick up where last year’s Elements of Perfection campaign, written by Mike Berard and Origin Design and Communications creative director Danielle Kristmanson, left off.
Instead of digging down to the primal elements of rock, dirt, root and air, that make up the riding experience at the Whistler park, the 2012 series of ads looks at more theoretical elements, like Team Work, Elevation, Dedication or Anticipation.
And the guys at Whistler Blackcomb wanted it to be perfect. They could not have been more particular in their feedback than if they had been poetry editors. It was so fun to geek out on words in that way, and it showed me what respect the marketing and Bike Park crew at WB, like Mike Crowe, Darren Kinnaird, Rob McSkimming and Brian Finestone, have for riders. What they wanted to give them, was not so much an ad, but poetry.
My colleague, Gary Martin, designed the ads beautifully.
And I went hunting for the perfect words, to pin down the feeling of mountain biking in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, in all its different guises.
TEAM WORK. I ride for me. I might drink one more round for the guys, I might work for the Man, I might call home every Sunday for my mom… but I ride for me. And yet, behind the solitary satisfaction of my ride is a team, a crew, an army of accomplices, of trail wizards and dirt monkeys, of gear tinkerers and mountain planners, product designers and suspension re-builders, engineering gurus and parts-makers and components manufacturers, each and every one perfecting their element, making their contribution, adding something vital to the mix. There is no blueprint for the perfect ride. Just passion. Perfectly aligned. At my favourite bike park in the world.
ELEVATION. At elevation, every element is laid bare. Granite thrust up from volcanic rage. Shale scattered like primordial bones. Wind whistling and sniffing like a prehistoric beast amongst the lichen and dust. I leave behind the soft green cloak of forest and ride the current of this stark and silent place. I roll over packed stone and rock-dust beneath the salute of ancient volcanoes. My arms vibrate with the chatter of rubber. I lean into the perfect arc as the entire world rolls away. My senses heightened, my soul gets lift. I revel in the effort. I glory in the ride. I chase perfection. I come back again and again to find it at my favourite bike park in the world.
Dave Clark is the organiser behind some of Whistler’s most significant fundraising events – the Balding for Dollars bash, the Dusty BBQ Championships Tasting Series, SWELL and the Whistler Half Marathon.
I interviewed him recently for an article about the sold-out-in-record-time Whistler Half Marathon and we got a little side-tracked. Here’s what I learned about Accidental Awesomeness from our long-and-winding conversation. It all began with a good head-shaving.
1. Do not look askance at a man with a handlebar moustache.
In 2002, I was working at the mountain. I saw a Balding for Dollars event in Squamish and thought, maybe I can get a couple friends on this… I mean, kids with cancer? It’s not what being a child is meant to be about. It’s so intrinsically wrong. So I thought, I’m going to go and shave my head and raise a hundred bucks. I put a note in the employee newsletter, thinking I could rally a few other people to get involved, we could all raise $100. Then Mike Varrin phoned. He said, “I don’t think we’ve ever met before, but I’ve got this bad ass moustache, and I want to shave your head, and anyone else’s, in the bar.”
2. The universe responds to positive juju.
It wasn’t quite what Clark was planning. And it meant having to relinquish a degree of control over the program. But he went with the flow. The Hairfarmers were playing, the bar was packed, and a couple of guys in the corner getting their heads shaved turned into a movement. Guitar Doug and Grateful Greg shaved their decade-old beards. “People were like, ‘Where can I give my money?’ And we raised $6500. And that’s how it all got rolling. The next winter, Dusty’s called and said, ‘Do you want to do this fundraising thing at the BBQ Championships?’”
3. Your weakness is your strength.
Dave Clark’s vulnerability is his family’s battle with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They could struggle in silence and shame, as many do. Or they could own it, claim it, try and make a difference. In August 2002, Taster passes were sold for the Canadian BBQ Championships, with proceeds benefiting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, the organisation Clark believes is best positioned to find a cure for IBD in his lifetime. Last August alone, the sale of taster passes raised $9455. In October, Dave was recognised by the Foundation for his fundraising efforts, which have seen the Whistler Friends raise more than a quarter of a million dollars, and declared an Unsung Hero.
4. Listen up.
The #1 thing, if I had to put a sticky note on my laptop as a reminder of the key learning I’ve taken away from organising events, is to LISTEN. Listen to your partners, volunteers, athletes, the community, and ultimately collaborate with them to make it the best it can possibly be. If you surround yourself by people who are very good at what they do, and passionate, you’ll achieve great things.
5. Passion + People is a winning combination.
I don’t think there’s anything stronger than your own personal convictions, and it’s proven over and over again. And a community of passionate people. Whether that’s two or six people, it just takes more than one person, with a shared passion, and a willingness to do things outside the box, to have the agility to say, hmm, that’s not what I was thinking, but we could chanage up the plan.
There’s no just-add-water formula for greatness. But Dave’s recipe strikes me as a pretty solid formula: take genuine passion, informed by your own vulnerability and hope, and put it out in the world to mix it up amongst good people. Then, don’t be surprised if help comes your way, in shapes and forms that you’re least expecting…
The 10th annual Whistler Balding for Dollars is just around the corner. The GLC’s Ultimate Hair-Farming Apres takes it down to bare skin for the BC Children’s Hospital, Saturday March 24 2012. Over the last decade, $153,000 has been raised by the Whistler event, in support of kids in Vancouver’s oncology wards.
40 days is a good amount of time to grow some hair and garner some pledges… don’t you think?