CBC Digital Archives

The Crazy Canucks, more famous in Europe

Greatness in skiing is often determined by how well you stack up against the Europeans. Few have fared well in that respect, but a select group of Canadians have managed to compete successfully against the best the world has to offer. CBC Digital Archives takes a look back at names like Wheeler, Heggtveit, Greene, and of course the remarkable "Crazy Canucks."

They burst onto the European ski scene in the '70s, flying down the most challenging hills with a kamikaze flair. Within a year of competing on the World Cup circuit these fearless Canadian boys were beating the Europeans at a game they'd never lost. Dave Irwin, Ken Read, Dave Murray and Steve Podborski were the Crazy Canucks – young, wild, and skiing as fast as they could.

The four members of the Crazy Canucks - Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Dave Irwin and Dave Murray - are very popular in the mountainous regions of Europe. Their appeal is clear in this 1979 CBC-TV clip from The Fifth Estate, which catches the foursome traveling from one ski town to another and being welcomed warmly by the locals. "They're full-fledged stars there, and they're on the level of movie stars over there," says Canada's alpine team coach John Ritchie. He believes the Canadians are not just celebrities - they are a genuine threat to European ski supremacy.
• The name "Crazy Canucks" came from a headline in a European newspaper. According to Read, it read "The Canucks: They ski like crazy." The name stuck, accurately representing this daring Canadian team.

• At the end of this report, Parker forecasts that at the 1980 Olympics, the team has "four guys, all capable of winning a gold." That didn't happen, but Steve Podborski did earn a bronze medal, the only Olympic medal ever earned by a member of the four Crazy Canucks. However, "Jungle" Jim Hunter - sometimes considered a member of the group - won bronze at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics. Hunter joined the Canadian ski team in 1970, before the height of the Crazy Canucks' success.

• From 1978 to 1984 the Crazy Canucks earned 107 top 10 World Cup finishes, and were in the top three 39 times.

• As illustrated in this clip, the Crazy Canucks were involved in a unique controversy in January 1979. After Ken Read won a race in Morzine, France, he was disqualified because his new racing suit was deemed illegal. Italian officials had protested its use. (See this CBC-TV clip and the accompanying text.)

• Ken Read was born in Ann Arbor, Mich. and raised in Vancouver, Kingston, Ont. and Calgary. In February 1978 he became the first non-European to win a World Cup downhill event. In 10 years on Canada's alpine team, he won five races and reached the podium (a top three finish) 14 times. After retiring in 1983, he became a broadcaster with CBC-TV Sports and a columnist with "Skiing" magazine, "Ski Canada" magazine and the Calgary Herald. He also started the "Breath of Life" ski challenge that would go on to raise nearly $3 million for Cystic Fibrosis research. Read stayed active with Alpine Canada as well. He served as its president from 2002 to 2008, leading the team from a FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup ranking of 14th in 2002 to 6th in 2008.

• Steve Podborski was born and raised in Toronto. Between 1978 and 1984 he earned 20 World Cup podium finishes. He competed in two Olympics and brought home a bronze from the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. In 1981 he became the first non-European to win the World Cup downhill championship title. He was the last of the Crazy Canucks still active when he retired in 1984 after the Sarajevo Olympics. Podborski has worked with the Canadian Olympic Association since then, sitting on the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee. He was a skiing commentator for NBC during the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games.

• Dave Irwin was born in Thunder Bay, Ont. He was considered the craziest of the Crazy Canucks and was known for his spectacular crashes. Irwin collected nine top 10 finishes in his career before retiring in 1981. His lone win on the World Cup circuit was a huge one. In 1975 he beat Franz Klammer by the huge margin of 1.61 seconds, ending Klammer's 18-month long domination of the World Cup downhill. In 2001 Irwin suffered a severe brain injury after crashing during a recreational run. After a lengthy and remarkable recovery, Irwin formed the Dave Irwin Foundation for brain injury and has acted as its chairman. The goal of the foundation is to raise funding and awareness for brain injury. Irwin and his family live in Canmore, Alta.

• Dave Murray, a native of Vancouver, earned three World Cup podium finishes before retiring in 1982. Though he never won a World Cup race, he placed second twice. In 1988 he founded the Dave Murray Ski School in Whistler, B.C. Two years later he died of  cancer at age 37. His school remains one of the most renowned ski schools in the country, attracting visitors from across Canada and around the world.

Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: March 6, 1979
Guests: Dave Irwin, Steve Podborski, Ken Read, John Ritchie, Andy Shaw
Host: Ian Parker
Duration: 9:54
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.
World Cup race footage: International Ski Federation

Last updated: February 13, 2014

Page consulted on February 13, 2014

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