by Michel Beaudry | December 06, 2012
Whistler Piqué Magazine
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
- John Quincy Adams
Imagine a 13-year old kid so enthralled with ski racing that he manages to convince his parents to leave their comfortable Vancouver lifestyle behind and move up to Whistler full-time. Picture that kid spending every second of his spare time on the hill, training, skiing, bashing gates — doing whatever it takes — to become an elite ski racer. Watch him subsume everything else in his life to that one goal. Everything.
"That's pretty much how it was for me," says 32-year old Jamie Finlayson. And then he laughs. "We moved up to Whistler full-time in 1993. My younger sister, Heather wasn't so excited about living in the mountains. But she eventually..." He pauses in mid-thought. Takes a long breath. "You know," he says, "I can't thank my parents enough for what they did for me back then. They made huge sacrifices to make my dreams come true. They really made it happen for me."
But it's not like the family wasn't already deeply connected to the place. "Whistler always played a big part in our lives," says Finlayson. "I mean, I have pictures of me in a rucksack on my dad's back — with the unfinished village in the background..."
So why ski racing? "I'm not really sure," he answers. "I guess it just comes down to being allowed to go as fast as you possibly can in a controlled environment." He shrugs. "Even as a little kid, I was ski racing's number one fan." He laughs. "I remember watching the Calgary Olympics in 1988 and deciding right there: 'That's what I want to do.' Funny, eh? I was only eight years old..."
Still, coming up to ski on weekends was one thing. But living up here permanently? "Our timing was really good," says Jamie. "Ski racing was very popular in those days and the Whistler club was really strong. As a matter of fact, a number of other WMSC families moved up here full-time around the same time we did. He smiles again. "And for me, it was so exciting. Skiing was such a big part of my life in those days. Being up here meant that I could ski and train to my heart's content."
And he wasn't alone. "We had a really competitive group of skiers in those days. Britt Janyk, Jeff Hume, Travis Williams, Paul Boskovich — everyone in the group was super competitive." He lets out a happy laugh. "I mean, everything we did turned into a contest. We'd even fight to see who would be the he first one on the course."
It was also during this time that he met his future business partner. "Craig Glenday was my coach back then." A long pause. "I don't want to get ahead of myself," he says, "but ski racing has brought me everything: my career, my wife, my life even."
Hang on to that thought. We'll get back to it...
Meanwhile, young Jamie was steadily moving up the ski racing ladder. It wasn't easy. And it wasn't always smooth — injuries, growth spurts, bad races — they all played a part in his maturation as a high performance athlete. "I really didn't come into my own until I started racing FIS," he admits. "And even then, it was pretty intimidating to be competing from the back of the pack."
One particular Nor-Am level downhill remains etched in his memory. "It was in Lake Louise," he recounts. "And I drew the very last bib." He laughs. "It was minus 40°C and I was standing at the top trying to stay warm when I noticed that the volunteers were already dismantling the start hut." More laughter. "It certainly put things in perspective for me."
But the young racer refused to be denied. By the winter of '97-'98, Finlayson was a member of the Junior National Team. "That was such a rush," he says. "Suddenly you're training and racing with your heroes — you know, people like Thomas Grandi and Brian Stemmle. It was a really exciting time."
The next year, he says, the junior team even got bigger... and better. "A whole new group of talented skiers joined us. Guys like JP Roy, and Eric Guay and Julien Couisneau." He sighs. "It was a really fun year, you know. But it was also frustrating." It was all about the gear, he says, and who got the fast stuff. "Unfortunately that wasn't me."
Alas for Jamie, that was the least of his worries. "I was 18-years old when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis," he says. A genetic disorder that attacks your spine and joints — in essence a chronic inflammatory arthritis — the debilitating disease first struck the young racer during a summer training camp at Mt. Hood. "By the time I got back from that trip," he says, "I could barely walk!" Jamie was then subjected to a battery of tests and MRIs. "I was finally diagnosed with AS and I was prescribed anti-inflammatories." He sighs deeply. Shrugs. "It wasn't awesome, I can tell you. I was just getting on track with my ski racing when this hit..."
But Jamie is nothing if not determined. "I was still on the junior squad for the '99-2000 season." And then he laughs. "There were just two of us on the team that year — me and Jan Hudec." Still, his new medical situation brought all sorts of complications for the Whistlerite. "It was really annoying," he says. "I couldn't train as hard as I wanted to anymore — and I saw that my racing suffered for it." He was still skiing well, mind you. Just not fast enough to remain on the Canadian team. "It was a disappointing year all around," he admits.
Except for one thing. "I met a special girl that winter. We were set up by Eric Guay and Julien Cousineau." He stops. Takes a breath. Smiles. "Her name was Natalia Kaltenback and she was a member of the Ontario Ski Team." Another ear-to-ear grin. "We got along so well," he says. "For me, it was love at first sight..." I'm guessing Natalia was pretty impressed too. For it took barely a year for her to decide to move to the west coast. They were married in 2006 in Pemberton...
But where was I? Oh yeah... Jamie didn't give up on his ski racing dreams right away. But he knew in his heart that his quest to become a world-class racer was pretty much over. So he enrolled at Langara College, did some coaching with the WMSC... and gave his race points away. But he was still too much in love with the sport for a cold-turkey withdrawal. Still, he knew he'd have to let go eventually.
Highly-motivated athletes like Jamie often struggle with life after they retire from competition. But Finlayson was lucky. He had another sporting passion to focus on. "I've been addicted to climbing since I was introduced to it by my ski coach, Jason Blair, in 1995," he says. And shrugs. "Climbing has always come naturally to me. Being high up in the air like that — some people say it's scary, but I find it quite safe."
Time passed. Jamie eventually earned his undergraduate degree from UBC — he was even nominated as athlete of the year for his ski racing prowess on the collegiate circuit — and started work on a Master's thesis at SFU. "But the mountains kept calling," he says. And by 2007, he was ready to listen. "Natalia and I had a little place on False Creek. The market was really hot back then so we decided to sell it and buy a home in Squamish instead." That's when Jamie got really serious about climbing.
"Once we moved," he recounts, "I set a goal for myself. I wanted to be able to climb 5.14 within three years." Regrettably, there's no room here to go deep into the arcana of climbing terms. But let's just say that climbing overhanging pitches in the 5.14 range requires Spiderman-like skills.... and nerves of steel. "I lost 40 pounds when I quit ski racing," he says. And laughs. "Most of it was below the waist. So my climbing improved pretty fast." He smiles. "I finally reached my goal this summer... on a line called Pulse in the Cheakamus Canyon. That was very cool."
And work? He laughs. "Another ski racing connection," he says. "I'd done some framing in the city, even some renovation work while I was attending grad school. I liked working outside; I liked the physicality of it. Besides, the pay was good." It just happened that his old junior coach, Craig Glenday was renovating his Squamish home and wondered if Jamie might be interested in helping him complete the work now that he was living in the area. "So I said sure."
Things must have clicked nicely. For when the house was completed, Craig and Jamie decided to launch Coastal Mountain Custom Homes together. "We started the company in July of 2010," says Finlayson, "and our first major project — a 1950s bungalow on Hospital Hill that we made super-modern — won the 'Best Built Green Renovation in B.C.' award." He smiles. "You know, it's pretty satisfying to be recognized already as award-winning contractors."
Indeed. And to think this whole story started with a little kid and his ski racing dreams...