My Whistler – Chelsea Walker

Adaptive Sports Advocate, Organizer

Story by David Burke

Maria Lundgren
Image Courtesy Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025 - Jeremy Allen

Name: Chelsey Walker
Occupation: Director, Whistler Operations, Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025

Chelsey Walker, who grew up ski racing, was working as a heli-ski guide 18 years ago when her mother, a special education teacher who worked as an adaptive ski coach for the fledgling Whistler Adaptive Ski Program (WASP), noticed an ad for a job as the program’s first executive director.
Chelsey, who had recently suffered a back injury that curtailed her activities, was 30. “We had not [had] the world’s greatest season in 2004-‘05, and it was time for me to move into more full-time work,” she said. Her grandfather, Stan Ferguson, was visually impaired, and Chelsey and her siblings used to guide him on skis around Mont Tremblant, so helping to introduce those with disabilities to sports and recreation seemed a good fit.

Under Walker’s leadership, the organization branched out to offer programming to locals and guests in Nordic skiing and summer sports, including canoeing, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking, and even sailing — it even switched out the “Ski” in its name for “Sports.”
In 2021, after WASP had begun helping current and former soldiers suffering physical and psychological wounds access sports as part of their return to more normal lives, Walker helped author a bid for Vancouver and Whistler to host the Invictus Games — including, for the first time, some winter sports. Some 550 Invictus Games athletes will descend on the two communities from Feb. 8 to 16, 2025.
“Being able to leverage events like this to [come to] town makes everyone look at these issues and find ways to improve the guest experience,” she said.
“It makes the resort a better place, and not just for people with disabilities. It makes the resort a better place for everyone — available and accessible to every user.

When and why did your family move to Whistler?
We first started part-time in Whistler when Blackcomb opened in 1981. We moved up full-time in 1989 so my siblings and I could ski race full-time. My family has always been involved in alpine sports, and being in Whistler allowed us to live in a small-town environment with a close-knit mountain community.

How did your family become involved in adaptive sports? How did you come to head up Whistler Adaptive? 
My grandfather was visually impaired. He was also the general manager of Mont Tremblant during his career, which was the largest ski area in Canada at that time. His leadership in the snow sports world directly influenced my perception that anything is possible with the right adaptations. My mom, a retired special education teacher, was volunteering with Whistler Adaptive when they were looking to hire their first executive director. She said I should apply, so I did. I am a firm believer that anyone should have access to sport and recreation.


Image Courtesy Whistler Adaptive Sports Program

Photo Joern Rohde

Whistler Adaptive really expanded its programming while you were executive director. How so, and why?
We worked really hard to expand Whistler Adaptive programming into four-season offerings, which catered not just to those visiting Whistler but also to be as full-service as possible for locals. So we added a ton of community programs in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton, including physical literacy, swimming, water sports and mountain biking. It only made sense that all locals had access to programs that created a healthy environment and a strong sense of community.

Can you briefly summarize how you got involved in the Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025 bid and taking on your current role?
I had been working with the military community providing adaptive camps starting in 2010. In 2015, the work we were doing in Whistler caught the attention of the Invictus Games Foundation. My friend Martin, who worked with Help for Heroes (U.K.), and I met with them and showed them how transformative winter sport can be as part of a journey of recovery. I joined the bid team in 2021 and we were awarded the chance to host the Games in April 2022. I was very fortunate to be asked to join the team as Director of Whistler Operations that spring. My role oversees all of our Whistler venues, sports (Alpine skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, biathlon, and skeleton) and operations and we can't wait to welcome our competitors in 2025!

Favourite ski runs? 
Now that I'm a mom — Crystal Zone is great with kids. Ridge Runner, Rock & Roll, Backstage Pass. Gandy Dancer will always have a soft spot for me as that is my home ski racing hill.

Favourite Whistler hangout?
Tea and bannock at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre
or [sitting] behind the fireplace at The Brewhouse. |