100 Years of Skiing at UBC

Yes, you read that right! While 2020 has been a tumultuous year at best, there is one thing we can all celebrate – Skiing’s 100th anniversary at UBC! While the team’s taken many forms over the years – each equally deserving of celebration and acknowledgement – the love of racing and spirit of skibirds remains unchanged.

The UBC Ski Team, 1934.

Looking out from campus, across the Burrard Inlet to the snow-capped peaks of the Coast Range it’s no wonder outdoor recreation – and especially a rampant love of snow-sports – grips the student body. It was from this beckoning possibility; the call of mountains and all they had to offer, that students started the VOC in 1920. Often based out of Grouse Mountain, the club pursued a quiver of outdoor activities, one of which was alpine racing. By the 1930s there were both men and women’s downhill teams competing against other local clubs. 1934 marked the first intercollegiate race against our long-time rivals, the University of Washington. The team still calls Grouse Mountain home and continuously looks forward to competing against long time rivals and friends at the University of Washington.

1939 marked the UBC Ski Teams’ first year as an independent club separate from the VOC; a move celebrated with the team hosting the North-western Intercollegiate Ski Championships at Hollyburn Mountain (now Cypress Mt.).

In just a decade, UBC Skiing would distinguish itself as one of the top teams in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada; attracting both international and domestic skiers – something that still rings true for the skibirds. By 1946, under the help of coaches Peter Vajda and Daisy Johnson, UBC consistently finished as the top 3 individuals at conference races.

The UBC Alpine Ski Team 1957. Banff, Alberta. Back Row: Ray Ostby, Roar Gjessing, Allan Fisher (coach), Peter Miller, Don Sturgess, Dick Thorpe. Front Row: Karsten Holmsen, Bob Davis, John Platt.

The 1940s and 1950s, in many ways, marked the beginning of a golden era in UBC Skiing. Olympic hopefuls like Gar Robinson, and John Frazee both brought the best all-around individual NCAA titles to the school. Ski jumpers, like Ted Hunt, would go on to represent Canada at an international level. Despite strong competition from Europeans who could easily be seen on the World Cup from rival American Universities, UBC continued to make a name for itself.

Led by UBC Hall of Fame inductee Al Fisher (Coach 1956-1969), the team reached new heights. Throughout this era, the team was made up of well-known skiers such as Don Sturgess, Peter Miller, Dave Turner, John Platt, and Inge Andreen. At this point, the UBC Skibirds were known across the country as the pinnacle of competitive skiing at the university level in Canada.

UBC Alpine Ski Team’s legacy of community and merit continued with skiers like Ian Burgess who noted that “Participating in the 1960s on the varsity ski team during university was an experience of a lifetime. We made memories and friendships to last forever,” a sentiment that continues to be echoed by cohorts of skibirds before and after him.

Mike McLellan and Jeff Wilson, 1991.

The teams of the Varsity era, who dominated until the late mid-2010s, turned out excellent results with some of its skiers, like Mike McLellan going on to coach Team Canada and other representing Canada at the  University World Games. Others, like John Platt, Don Bruneski, and Elizabeth Greene, went on to be members of the Canadian national team, to represent Canada at the Olympics, and/or on the World Cup.

In 2011, UBC made the decision not to move to the NCAA and the landscape of varsity sport at the University changed.  Then in 2014, both Alpine and Nordic ski teams made the transition from varsity teams to Thunderbird Sports Club (TSC) teams. This new opportunity allowed the team to pursue  the same level of excellence while opening pathways for more students to participate in a sport we all know and love. This transition allowed the team to further focus on and highlight the spirit that the team was first founded on in 1920 – student leadership and a passion for outdoor recreation that’s meant to be shared.

2011 UBC Varsity Ski Team, and alumni. Grouse Mt.

This reinvigorated passion and vision have continued to shape the team and allow the team to grow our roster size and improve athlete development. Year after year the group still chases the goal of representing UBC and Canada at the USCSA National Championship.

Reflecting upon the different iterations of Skiing at UBC reminds us, as members of the Alpine Ski team that change is constant, and evolution makes way for bigger and better things. We are thrilled about the possibilities that 2020 and 2021 hold – a chance to reconnect with our roots. As we refocus on skiing in B.C, through forging deeper relationships with Grouse’s Tyee Ski Club, B.C Alpine, and local businesses, we’re reminded just how lucky we are. How fortunate that, as student-athletes, we continue to have the opportunity to work with like-minded individuals, and how privileged we are to have such talented and dedicated alumni to help us further develop a sport we’re all passionate about in our province.

UBC TSC Women’s Alpine Ski Team, 2020. Bogus Basin, Idaho.

While racing may look different than seasons before, we do not doubt that the team’s long tradition at UBC remains just as strong as ever — we cannot wait to see what will come next!

*Thank you for all the help from our alumni for providing photos, blog posts, newspaper clippings, and first-hand accounts. As always, we could not do it without your support!