SKI - - CONTENTS - By Su­san Reifer Ryan

Com­pete in a lo­cal event to gain an en­tirely new per­spec­tive on your ski des­ti­na­tion.

Owen Owens, age 91, wears bib num­ber 1. At 11 a.m. on a crisp Fri­day in high win­ter, he tips out of a steep race start into the tree­less pitches of Whistler’s high alpine, kick­ing off the an­nual Peak to Val­ley Race. On­look­ers clack their poles, whoop and cheer. Owens is lean, ag­ile, and prac­ticed—a 30-year vet­eran of this race—but what lies ahead is no small chal­lenge: 179 gi­ant slalom gates dot a 5.5 kilo­me­ter course drop­ping more than 4,500 ver­ti­cal feet from the Sad­dle on Whistler Moun­tain to the fin­ish line at Dusty’s Bar.

“It’s a long time to be ski­ing with­out a stop,” says Chris Milne, 59, as Owens flick­ers past. “The fast guys will do it in un­der five min­utes, but for us slow guys it’s a straight eight-minute run.”

The next day at 1:40 p.m., the last racer, Luca Mai, 19, will fi­nally get his crack at the course. Be­tween the first racer and the last, the el­dest and the youngest, a to­tal of 320 com­peti­tors of both gen­ders will trip the timer to see how fast—or even whether—they can fi­nesse what is re­puted to be the long­est gi­ant slalom race in the world.

But leg burn and brag­ging rights are not what make the Peak to Val­ley Race so spe­cial.

“Peak to Val­ley is part of the cul­ture of Whistler,” says Se­bastien Fre­mont, Man­ager of Events for Whistler Black­comb. Lit­tle known out­side the re­gion, the event is an an­nual high­light for the moun­tain’s ski com­mu­nity, and a cel­e­bra­tion of things dis­tinc­tively Whistler.

Started in 1984 by Dave Mur­ray, a renowned Cana­dian down­hiller who be­came Whistler

Moun­tain’s ski school di­rec­tor, Peak to Val­ley mar­ries sig­na­ture ter­rain to grass­roots lo­cal ski cul­ture in a one-of-a-kind chal­lenge that em­pha­sizes ca­ma­raderie and love of the sport. “Ev­ery age and ev­ery ca­pa­bil­ity skis the same course, and ev­ery­body says they’re hav­ing a great time,” says Peter Young, who launched the event with Mur­ray and kept it go­ing af­ter Mur­ray’s early pass­ing from can­cer. “Ski­ing is a life­long sport. That was al­ways Mur’s thing.”

Rac­ers com­pete in mixed gen­der teams of four. Race di­vi­sions are cal­cu­lated by the team’s cu­mu­la­tive age. Fun is the main thing, but strat­egy helps. “Stay on the shiny side and try not to dump speed,” Milne ad­vises. “Stand up be­fore the roll-overs, take a deep breath and get your gas back,” says an­other man. “I don’t know what the trick is,” ad­mits an ath­letic woman in her early 40s, “but I keep hop­ing this will be the year I fi­nally ski faster than the 70 year olds.”

That’s eas­ier said than done. This reporter clocked in at 7:34:23. Owen Owens missed a gate, hiked up to keep his team from dis­qual­i­fy­ing, and still fin­ished with a time of 8:07:36. Rob­bie Dixon, re­cently re­tired from the World Cup down­hill cir­cuit, laid down this year’s fastest in­di­vid­ual time at 4:56:67.

“It was a blast!” says Dixon, 31, liken­ing the Peak to Val­ley leg burn to the World Cup’s long­est down­hill at Wen­gen. “But know­ing what I know now about the course, I think I could have gone faster.”

At Satur­day night’s loud and lively post-race ban­quet, al­most ev­ery­one says ex­actly the same thing. “So much fun, but I could have gone faster!” There’s al­ways next year—whether here or at the hand­ful of other one-ofa-kind com­pe­ti­tions that pair what’s most dis­tinc­tive about a moun­tain with what’s most es­sen­tial to its ski­ing com­mu­nity’s spirit.

Su­san Reifer Ryan lives out­side of Whistler, B.C., where the emo­tional scars of her medi­ocre col­lege-rac­ing past did not keep her from en­joy­ing the Peak to Val­ley race.

Whistler Black­comb's long­est-stand­ing race spans 4,500 ver­ti­cal feet and 180 gates. The av­er­age grand slalom has 35 gates.

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