The Kelowna Ski Club (KSC) started up sometime in the mid-50’s as a 'Social Club'. One of the founders, Doug Herbert, still resides in Kelowna. The club was a social club for Kelowna (mostly adult) residents who enjoyed the sport of alpine skiing. The clubs’ original location was on the Black Knight Mountain Ski Hill, now known as Black Mountain, and had two rope tows and a ski jump.
When developers Doug Mervyn and Cliff Serwa opened up the Big White Ski area, the KSC was given a parcel of land which was located in the area of the Grey Stokes condominiums in return for the closing of the Black Mountain Area and moving to the Big White ski hill. One of the Black Mountain rope tows was moved to Big White at this time.
Dr. Allan France, retired physician, spearheaded the building of a ski cabin that was also a Bed & Breakfast on the Greystokes site. A full time caretaker was employed and everything seemed to work out well for the club until the first condo complex “The Monashee” was build at Big White. Many of the ski club members purchased units in the Monashee so the ski cabin became less used and started running the club into debt. Big White took over the Ski Clubs’ debt and in return took over the club cabin. Finding little use for the cabin, Big White burned it down.
The current club cabin was originally the Ski Shop & Ticket Office, situated where the ‘Loose Moose’ upper Day Lodge was, which is now the Aspens Condominium Development. It was later moved to where the present ‘VCM’ is and operated as the BW Ski School office.
In the fall of 1996 the owners of Big White Mountain (the Schuman Family) donated a piece of property above the bottom of the Ridge Rocket Chair Lift. Dave Bain assisted in moving the ‘Cabin’ on to the new location. With this latest move, a foundation was put under the existing building by Brad Serwa, in exchange for his children going through the race club's program. At this time a basement floor was added. Brad's daughter, Cliff's grand-daughter, club alumni Kelsey Serwa, has now become a Canadian Hero, winning consecutive Olympic medals for Ski Cross; GOLD 2018 & SILVER 2014.
The club continued to raise funds for renovations and expenditures through its annual ski swap, Bingo, Casino and Gala Event revenues. The ski swap to-date, continues to be one of the club's biggest fundraisers. After the Ski Club had its 27th Annual Ski Swap in October 1997, this allowed for a furnace to be added to the cabin. The summer of 1997 saw siding added but the cabin was still without water or plumbing. The next big project in the fall of 2018 will be new siding to replace the 20+ year old stuff as well as some new stair treads.
With the burning of the cabin, the KSC ‘social club’ era came to an end….and the “Alpine Junior Racing Club” era began (around 1965). During the years of 1968 – 1973, Doug Fraser, Jamie Brown and John Kane were instrumental in the development of the race club and were known as “THE 3 OFFICIALS” in the Okanagan area. Ski racing was governed by the CASA – Canadian Amateur Ski Association – later to be known as the CSA or Alpine Canada as we know it today. Some of the first club racers were: Georg Athans Jr., Ladd Snowsell, Bob Jones, Kathy Parton, Rick Coulthart, to name a few.
During a race, the racer was started by waving a flag at the top of the course large enough for the single hand timer at the bottom of the course to see. Results were produced using ‘daily tables’ received from the CASA. There were only two sets of the daily tables available in Western Canada, so the ski race had to be booked well in advance. The daily tables were the size of house construction plans. Results were recorded by hand and usually took at least a week to finish and send out.
The mountain did not have groomers, so the race run had to be boot-packed frequently during the season. Big White had a T-Bar lift, and the races (only GS’s) took place on what is now known as Roller Coaster. On the right hand side of the T-Bar, the KSC had a developmental Downhill course. The only other Downhill races in BC were at Rossland & Fernie and were very difficult, with many first-time racers ending up getting hurt at these events.
The club did not have any assets in the early 70s, so George Athans Jr. developed an idea to raise money to purchase gates for the races. A SKIATHON – The Skiathon raised $400 to buy the gates which cost about $1 - $1.25 each. These gates were plastic like pipes that hurt if you hit them and if knocked out of the snow, would slide forever, many not to be found until the snow melted when they were eventually retrieved from the very bottom of the valley. Eventually, neoprene-like caps were purchased to stop the loss of the disappearing gates.
The first remote communication was with a heavy portable radio donated to the club for the races. The first cable for communication was donated by BC Tel. The cable was unwound and rewound for each race. Everyone knew to stand clear at the end of a race as the wire was let go and it snaked down the mountain and was rewound on the huge coil. The cable was eventually laid on/under ‘Surprise’ where it possibly still remains?
The first major ski event hosted by the KSC was the Pontiac Cup GS in 1971, this was a National race.
The ski clubs’ first hired coach was Chris Vajda. The mountain was only open on weekends and the only way the ski club could afford the coach was from the generosity of John Hindle, a former Mayor of Kelowna, who provided free accommodation to the coach in his guest cabin on Okanagan Lake. The second ski coach was a former KSC racer, Ladd Snowsell who continued in the ski industry as GM in the Banff area.
In 1970 – 1971 the Nancy Greene Ski League (NGSL) was introduced at Big White. Brian James, who remains active in the ski clothing/equipment industry in Kelowna and at Silver Star Mountain, ran the ski school and was a big supporter of the ski club. He ran the Nancy Greene lessons through his ski school. The first coach with BJ Ski School was Dave Ware who was a Level 3 Instructor and a Level 3 Coach (strong credentials in 1970). The Nancy Greene program remains strong today with 100 (+/-) young skiers receiving lessons each year.
At present the club has coaches; Trevor Haaheim, Head Coach and Program Director, Derek Trussler, Okanagan Ski Team (U16+ ) Head Coach.
Around 1965, with the Alpine Junior Racing Club being the main focus, later (exact date not know) the club became know as the Big White Racers. You may still see some of the old logos on jackets or signage around Big White or Kelowna. Unfortunately it seemed there was confusion between the older aged Racers (U12-U16 formerly K1,K2,K3) and the Nancy Green Ski League younger kids. Many families felt the label of 'Racers' was intimidating for the younger ages. In 2015, the club decided to re-brand to be known as the BIG WHITE SKI CLUB, which encompasses both the RACERS and the BLAZERS (NGSL). The club is a registered Non-Profit and is listed under the original name of Kelowna Ski Club, doing business as Big White Ski Club.
We thank Sandie Hales for her many discussions trying to track down our history
and to Vera Ito and Jamie Brown for the memories.