In November 1990, my best friend and I boarded a train in Truro, Nova Scotia. We were lured by the mountains of Western Canada; our destination was Silver Star Mountain in Vernon. It was the first time either of us had travelled further west than Quebec and we spent much of the trip staring out the train window at the changing geography of Canada. The monotony of northern Ontario and the prairies gave way to the foothills and finally the Rocky Mountains. We were literally awestruck by our first views of the peaks that towered above the train tracks. There was a whistle stop in Jasper and we were the quintessential tourists, taking it all in and trying to imagine skiing from the tops of those giants.
That train trip had several memorable moments but the one I remember more than any other was the feeling I got when I spotted the sign for Blue River. My friend Jeff was sleeping in his seat, I shook him awake to let him know we were in one of the magic places. For us, young skiers from Nova Scotia, our only ties to big mountains were the Warren Miller ski movies on VHS that we watched over and over. That was how we knew who Mike Wiegele was, and how we came to know about Wiegele World.
At the time, I had no way to know what an influence Blue River would have on my personal and professional life. I also couldn’t have dreamed that Mike Wiegele, someone who I held in almost mythical status, would become a friend and colleague for nearly 20 years of my life.
There has, and will be, much written about Mike since his passing. About how he had a dream of building the perfect playground for skiers from around the world. About how he immigrated to Canada from his home country of Austria with nothing more than a love of skiing, his tenacity, and his steadfast belief in what he wanted to achieve.
The Mike Wiegele I got to know so well was perfectly imperfect. Yes, he was a visionary, a passionate skier, and one of the most amazing hosts I’ve ever seen, that is without question. He could also be stubborn, direct and a provocateur extraordinaire. He was uncompromising in his belief that avalanche forecasting needed to be improved; many guide’s meetings ran long because Mike didn’t agree with the forecaster’s assessment of the conditions. That was one of the things that made Mike special; he was never satisfied with doing things a certain way because that’s how they were always done. He was constantly evolving, learning, improving and that passion had a way of bringing out the best in the guides he employed. It wasn’t always easy, but we knew we worked for an owner who expected the best and provided opportunities for his staff to be their best.
For many years I was the grouper for the guiding department. In that role it was my job to put the ski groups and guiding combinations together for the week. Mike knew many of his repeat guests like they were family. He would often make suggestions based on personalities and, wouldn’t you know it, he was usually right. That was a part of his magic, the ability to connect people and bring together like minded folks, regardless of their economic status, countries of origin or any of the other things that make us different. Mike recognized that, as skiers, we had more in common than we had differences.
I’ll always cherish the time I spent in Blue River, especially the quiet moments with Mike, talking about skiing. He will always be a force of nature in my mind, larger than life but at the same time, very down to earth. We shared many breakfast meetings over the years and those are the moments I’ll remember. Where he shared all the origin stories of his remarkable business. I’ll also cherish the days spent chasing him around the mountains; him in his element, never missing a beat. That’s how I want to remember my friend Mike.
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