New thrills draw skiers to the slopes
Wooden skis. Leather boots. Hand-me-down parkas. When skiing legend and Canadian female athlete of the 20th century Nancy Greene Raine first hit the slopes more than 60 years ago, Canadian ski culture was in its infancy. “It was totally out of the ordinary to ski here,” says Greene Raine, nicknamed Tiger in her competitive days for her aggressive racing style. “Most Canadians went to Europe to ski.”
Times have changed. 2012 marks a milestone for skiing in Canada. Two of the country’s pioneering resorts, Sun Peaks and Fernie in British Columbia, are celebrating their 50th anniversaries. From terra incognita, Canada’s mountains have won a reputation as some of the world’s best.
And Greene Raine has been there to see nearly every minute of it.
“My parents put us kids on snow at age three,” she says. In 1967, Greene Raine won skiing’s inaugural World Cup, an upstart Canuck blowing away her European counterparts. Then came silver and gold in the 1968 Olympics, putting Canada’s ski culture firmly in the spotlight.
“What really ties us together as a country is winter,” says Greene Raine. “We celebrate winter. We play in winter, from coast to coast.”
What sets Canada’s skiing apart these days, she says, is choice. “We have very well developed resorts. And you can also go to more family-style, more intimate resorts” like those in the BC interior.
Bucket-list adventure is another Canadian specialty. “The ultimate ski experience is heli-skiing,” Greene Raine says, remembering a magical honeymoon heli-ski trip in the 1960s. Now a global centre for heli-skiing, western Canada has also pioneered snowcat skiing: all-terrain “cats” ferry skiers to hard-to-reach backcountry. “It’s so beautiful and so remote,” she says.
At age 68, Greene Raine has hardly slowed down. On a Friday afternoon, she’s racing to catch a flight to Sun Peaks, where she works as director of skiing and still logs 60 days a year on the slopes. Not to mention she’s been a Canadian senator since 2009, spending weekdays in the halls of parliament in Ottawa.
As for the future of Canadian skiing? Freestyle, ski cross and the half-pipe are all on the upsurge, Greene Raine says, with a new generation of athletes making headlines and new thrills drawing travellers to Canada’s slopes. But one thing hasn’t changed: the people. “It’s not just the skiing” that makes Canada special, she says. “You’re going to find wonderful people to show you how to have fun.”