What it feels like to ski

Adam Stein

Adam Stein

Nancy Greene-Raine, the Olympian who took the ski-racing world by storm and won the hearts of
Canadians, shares insights

If you happen to be skiing at Sun Peaks and an enthusiastic woman stops you on the mountain and starts offering free advice, do yourself a favour – listen carefully, and do what she says.
Because there’s a good chance that the person addressing you is Nancy Greene-Raine, who is one of B.C.’s most energetic and famous personalities. Nearly five decades after she won her last race, Greene-Raine still boasts the most illustrious ski-racing career of any athlete – male or female – in Canadian history.

Coming out of the small yet highly competitive Red Mountain Ski Club based out of the same Kootenay town as today’s RED Mountain Resort, Greene-Raine took the nascent ski-racing world by storm during the 1967 and 1968 seasons – the first two years of the World Cup. Competing – and beating – powerhouse French, Austrian and Swiss squads, Greene raced in three Winter Olympic Games. The crowning achievement of her career was at Grenoble in 1968, when she took home a silver medal in slalom and a gold medal in giant slalom.

Her victory resulted in a countrywide celebration of Greene’s life and her skiing accomplishments. It also inspired hundreds of youngsters to become interested in ski racing. In response, the Nancy Greene Ski League (NGSL) was founded to give young skiers an introduction to ski racing in a team format. Greene-Raine – who still holds the position of the honorary chairperson of the NGSL, which is a program of the Canadian Ski Association (now Alpine Canada Alpin) – believes that children’s competition should promote participation and fun, with less emphasis on winning.

Also in response to Greene’s success, streets in North Vancouver were named after her, as was a provincial park near Rossland, B.C., where she grew up. In 1999, Canadian sportswriters and broadcasters declared her Canada’s Female Athlete of the 20th Century.

What’s not so widely known is the role that Nancy and her one-time coach Al Raine have had in creating the modern Canadian resort village. Al and Nancy were married soon after the 1968 Olympics and spent a year studying the success of resorts in the Swiss Alps. There, they stayed in the car-free village of Saas-Fee and Zermatt. Their idea of how Canadian resorts should evolve took off from there.

After a highly successful career owning and managing Nancy Greene’s Olympic Lodge in the then-new Whistler Resort in the 1980s, the Raines moved to Sun Peaks, 45 minutes from Kamloops, B.C. Like Whistler, Sun Peaks is built around a pedestrian-friendly, car-free village where skiers and snowboarders (and most importantly, families with young kids)
can walk to and from their hotel or condo accommodation right to the ski lifts. No buses, no rental cars, no shuttles. Al Raine also lent his expertise to the creation of Whitewater Ski Resort.

In the 48 years since she retired, Greene-Raine has seen an enormous upsurge in visitors coming to British Columbia from all over the world. “Whistler Blackcomb is the best known [destination],” she says. “Interior resorts are also getting attention, especially as people make their second and third trip to B.C. And there are always skiers looking for those hidden gems that are a bit out of the way.” Greene-Raine adds that heli-skiing remains the dream trip for good skiers.

“As an international destination, B.C. is doing a good job on the service side, with excellent quality lodging and meals and amenities. More specifically, skiers are beginning to understand that resorts in the interior of the province have similar snow to Colorado and Utah, and are at a much lower altitude. This is especially important as baby boomer skiers start to age,” she says.
When B.C. talks snowfall, it’s often in world record-breaking numbers. It amounts – in good snow years – to 1,200 to 1,400 centimetres. The coastal region, home to Whistler Blackcomb, sees the most snow. This snow tends to stick to the surface, making it possible to ski in steeper and rougher terrain.

Sun Peaks Resort, SilverStar Mountain Resort and Big White Ski Resort lie to the east, where the snow gets drier and lighter and is commonly referred to as “champagne powder.”
Further to the east, in the Columbia Mountains and the Rockies, the “Powder Highway” links RED Mountain Resort, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, Fernie Alpine Resort, Whitewater Ski Resort and Kimberley Alpine Resort. The area boasts the highest concentration of lift access to powder skiing, cat-skiing and heli-skiing in the world.

But back to those ski lessons. Listen up when Nancy Greene-Raine tells you the secret to improving your skiing. “For me, it’s all about being in balance understanding how to stay in balance, and feeling the terrain through the feet,” she says. “I tell people who don’t ski that it’s like riding a bicycle, you need to balance on it, then learn how to steer and how to slow down. Then you’re off. And when you go down a hill, that’s what it feels like to ski. Gravity is doing the work, and you’re just enjoying the ride and the scenery. And the good thing about skiing is you don’t have to pedal up the hill.”

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