A life on skis

She’s the grand dame of the Nelson ski scene, the doyenne of local powder hounds. Nelson’s Edna Whiteley celebrated her 90th birthday with a surprise party at Whitewater on the last day of the season.

Edna Whiteley

Edna Whiteley

She’s the grand dame of the Nelson ski scene, the doyenne of local powder hounds.

Nelson’s Edna Whiteley celebrated her 90th birthday this month with a surprise party at Whitewater on the last day of the season.

She was asked if she would cut the cake honouring season pass holders — of which she is one — but didn’t realize it would be a tribute to her.

“I came in and here were old friends and relatives and everybody that knew me from the ski hill,” she says. “It was a total surprise.”

Whiteley, known to many for her years as a Welcome Wagon hostess, got her start on skis when “you just put your foot into a strap. There was nothing else holding your foot to the ski.”

The lifelong Nelson resident was largely self-taught and recalls skiing down back alleys. “Then I got better equipment. In high school, I was with the Nelson Ski Club and we skied at the golf course and had a cabin there.”

One day in high school, when ski conditions were prime, she had a light schedule, with one subject in the afternoon, a number of study blocks, and gym class.

“I said to [principal] L.V. Rogers: ‘I’d like to go up skiing.’ He said go. So I went up, and a chap up there taught me how to turn. Just the two of us on the hill.”

Later, a ski jump was built on Ymir Road.

“There was a hill there and we developed that and had our first rope-tow. Then back to the golf course. Then to Silver King, and now to Whitewater. It’s a wonderful hill.”

Whiteley spent time as secretary of the old Silver King club (her brother Jack Steed suggested the name). She and late husband Fred also rented ski equipment through their sport shop.

Although a toe problem kept her off the slopes until late in the season, “usually I start out skiing three times a week, and I was out ten or 12 times this year.”

Whiteley’s birthday is April 3. Several family members were home to celebrate “and they were all skiing. Some of them hadn’t skied for several years and have a new love for it again.”

The Whitewater celebration was a week later. The resort charges $25 per for a season pass for “super seniors” over 75, and Whiteley isn’t the only one.

“There’s quite a number in their 80s,” she says. “But I don’t think there’s anybody 90 yet but me.”

Nor is she ready to retire from the sport.

“I’m hoping to ski next year, if I’m feeling like I am right now. I’ll keep active.”