Between 1972 and 1976, while Toni Sailer was the director of the Austrian Alpine ski team, he would disappear each summer just when his ski-federation bosses expected him to supervise off-season training of Austria's finest. Instead, he would fly 9,000 miles to the Whistler Mountain glacier on the west coast of Canada. Whistler is an expansive bowl 6,500 feet above sea level that is never without snow. It lies just beyond the small town of Garibaldi, some 70 miles north of Vancouver.
This is an article from the June 1, 1981 issue
What could Sailer be doing on that mountain in the Canadian wilderness, they would wonder back in Vienna. But Toni was doing what he loves best—coaching. His charges there weren't the temperamental stars of a national team. They were young boys and girls, 10 to 18, who were at the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp picking up pointers in slalom and giant slalom racing, or they were whole families in recreational classes, still perfecting their stem Christies.
Sailer's camp has been flourishing for 14 years. Many of his pupils are too young to remember that he was skiing's first triple-crown winner, in 1956, when he took all three Alpine races at the Cortina Olympics. At Whistler nobody asks for his autograph, though in Europe he's still a celebrity. For Toni, summer coaching has always been his R and R. "Whistler Mountain is my island," he says.
Camp Director Alan White started Whistler in 1966 with Art Furrer, a Swiss coach, mainly to attract summer business for the hotels in what is primarily a winter resort. Because of the glacier, a summer ski camp was possible. They had 38 kids the first year. But in 1967, after Sailer joined, there were 80 students; 160 came the following year. Since then, Whistler's summer population has grown steadily. Last year 360 youngsters took part in three one-week junior camps and 200 adults attended sun/ski weeks. "We're the biggest camp in North America," says White. "We have more kids participating and more coaches teaching them on an individual basis than any of the other summer camps. Furthermore, while most camps are strictly for racers, we offer recreational and freestyle skiing along with instruction for novice, intermediate and advanced racing. Very few camps have sessions for adults. We take singles, couples, parents with their children—everyone—and many return."
"When I first came here," says Sailer, "there were bears walking around on the road. There was only a gravel road here. But every year there were a few more houses, a few more people, and they asphalted the road piece by piece. Now the bears only come out at night. Here life is quiet and organized, a break from my usual pace. I can enjoy skiing at a different level, coaching kids, and I can play golf or go sailing or fishing."
Sailer made enough money starring in a string of forgettable ski movies following his Olympic triumph to allow him to take summers off. But he needs to get away from the celebrity life, and that is nearly impossible in Austria. In 1976 he and Gaby Rummeny, a former German golf champion, were married in Vancouver without a single fan, reporter or photographer in sight. "It was the only place I cared about where we could have privacy," he says.
Sailer is 45 now, but he is still dashing, trim and tanned as he directs his advanced racing classes. Watching a youngster negotiate a slalom course halfway down the giant bowl, he mutters, "Too soon. Too close. No, no, NO! Not good!" Later he tells the boy, "Don't go so straight. Make more round turns, nice round turns on the outside ski. You go straight to the gate and then you have to turn hastily. Practice an extreme high line so you can feel the difference."
That night at a videotape session, Sailer explains, "Only five racers in the world don't go too straight to the gates. Phil Mahre is one of them. The perfect one is Stenmark." To Sailer, who has an almost superhuman "eye" for a racer's technique, it's clear why Ingemar Stenmark is the greatest slalom and giant slalom racer ever, and why Mahre won the World Cup this year. "They take the higher line, which—believe it or not—is the faster line," Sailer says. "If I schuss down from one meter above you, I'm going to be faster. I may have a longer way to go, but I have one meter more of the steepness."
Sailer has a staff of a dozen coaches, including Nancy Greene Raine, who won gold and silver medals for Canada in the 1968 Olympics and was the overall World Cup women's champion in 1966, '67 and '68. She heads the camp's novice and intermediate racing sessions. Wayne Wong, also a Canadian, won the North American freestyle championships several times and the European championships in 1973. He heads the freestyle classes. For those who don't care to race or hot-dog, there is recreational leader Bob Dufour, an experienced ski school director. Anybody who has a few basic skills—you must at least be able to turn properly—and who is in shape to hike a bit (through deep snow some days) can participate and probably improve.
Whistler Mountain has a portable T-bar lift that is installed for the summer season far beyond where the regular chair lift ends. To reach the T-bar, one must hike 20 minutes after alighting from the chair lift. A typical day at camp begins at 8 a.m., when the students arrive at the glacier. They free-ski for an hour, then are divided into groups for serious instruction: recreational skiers to the left, advanced, intermediate and novice racers on slalom courses down the middle, freestylers on a mogul run to the right. The sessions last 3½ hours. One day a week a luncheon is brought in by helicopter and served on snow tables that have a panoramic view of Garibaldi Lake.
Glacier skiing is best in the morning, when the bowl is usually bathed in 70° sunshine, so afternoons are occupied with soccer matches, swimming, sailing or sight-seeing. In the evenings there may be question-and-answer sessions with the coaches or analyses of the students' racing styles as they view their videotapes. Does Sailer spend as much time with the hopeless cases as with the talented kids? "Life in the mountains is tough," he says, "but never hopeless."
Leslie Rice, 16, from Osburn, Idaho, who took part in last year's advanced racing camp, says, "I had been to a lot of camps, and I was looking for something different. The coaching I found at the Toni Sailer Camp was what I wanted. You get individual attention. Toni talked to me a lot. He has been through it all. He understands what I'm striving for. Many camps I've been to based themselves strictly on racing. At Whistler, it was fun to watch the other events, freestyle and everything."
Fourteen-year-old Craig Wilson from King City, Ontario, is another serious racer. "Just the fact that you come here in the summer and ski," he says, "even if you don't ski that well, helps tremendously when you get back into the racing season. It keeps you in shape. I like the personal atmosphere. You become friends with all the coaches and counselors. It's a combination of a ski camp and a regular summer camp, where you have all sorts of activities. You have to work hard on the glacier in the mornings, but when you come back you can learn how to use the trampoline. I want to go into World Cup racing someday. I never saw Toni race, but it's a goal of mine—to do as well as he did. The good thing about the camp is that Toni is always here. This isn't like some camps where the star only visits once or twice. Toni is there at the bottom of the course to pull you aside and tell you how to correct your mistakes. And you don't have to call him 'Mr. Sailer.' "
This year's sessions for juniors start on June 18, June 25 and July 2; adult sun/ski weeks begin July 11 and 18. Everybody stays at the brand-new Black-comb Lodge in Whistler Village, a jewel of a ski resort that opened last Thanksgiving and is located just north of the mountain. Applications should be addressed to: Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp, 2120 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6M 1Z1. Toni says, "You need the exercise, I need the exercise. And then we can have the Wiener Schnitzel."