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‘It’s that special’: Life took off at Big White for Ian Deans

Deans went to school and met his wife while growing up at the ski resort
Ian Deans grew up in Lake Country and at Big White Ski Resort, making a name and ski-cross career for himself. (@BigWhite/X)

This is part of a series of stories celebrating the 60th anniversary of Big White Ski Resort

“I can’t explain it, it’s that special.”

After practically growing up, starting his career and meeting his wife on the mountain, that’s what former ski cross racer Ian Deans says about Big White Ski Resort.

Deans grew up in Lake Country with a family of skiers who would spend every winter at Big White.

“My parents were avid skiers and we always had a good community of skiers because of that,” said Deans.

Big White opened in October when Deans turned 11. He would ski with friends Kelsey Serwa, granddaughter of Big White co-founder Cliff Serwa and Ned Ireland, son of current Lake Country mayor, Blair Ireland. After skiing, the families got together for dinner with friends and the decision was made that Dean and his parents would move up to the resort for the winters.

“If you ask any kid in Grade 5 or Grade 6, it’s a pretty good time,” said Deans, who went to school there and would ski every weekend. “Looking back, I don’t know how our teachers handled the curriculum.”

Deans and his family would move up to the resort in November or December and move back to Lake Country in April when the mountain would close. During the winter months, Deans would be a part of the racing program.

“The fact that all my friends were a part of the Big White racers was enough for me,” said Deans. “Being evaluated right out of the gate to determine skill level was exciting for me, I had never quantified my skiing ability in that way,”

For Deans, he was coming in at the mid-way point, as many of his classmates and friends started school at the resort at a younger age. But as time went on and he got better, the sport started to become a bigger part of him.

“It became part of your identity, you gained recognition from it,” said Deans, who started to get recognized when he started Grade 8 at George Elliot High School in Lake Country. “I’d have to go back and check but I’m pretty sure I was voted ‘most likely to go to the Olympics’, and that kind of gave me my identity. Maybe a little bit of self-validation of “you’re actually pretty good at this” and people see your commitment to this and see your skill.”

Over the years, he was invited to provincial teams and high-caliber races while competing with Serwa.

But after graduating high school, he took a break from skiing and was accepted into the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s kinesiology program.

During his first year at university in 2012, a friend of his asked to borrow his skis for a race. He obliged but soon after, the friend invited him to take part in another race. Deans did and placed third. Despite school being the priority at the time, he was invited to a national race, where he also came in third place. Eric Archer, the head coach of the Canadian Ski Cross team at the time, was impressed by Deans and told him “You have a future here if you want.” After talking with Archer, Deans was invited to the national skicross development team.

Deans got permission from the UBCO dean at the time and dropped out of university with a game plan for coming back to school at some point.

He worked his way up with the team but as soon as Deans got his opportunity, it was taken away just as fast. In his second career World Cup race, taking place in Telluride, Colorado, Deans blew out his knee, including his ACL and LCL.

“It’s like a right of passage in the ski world but it is also your worst fear as a skier,” said Deans, who had to have multiple surgeries.

But because of the injury, he was able to go back to university after missing just one semester. Deans was working towards his degree while doing everything he could to get back to skiing.

“Some people said it was my choice if I wanted to continue racing and you ask yourself ‘Is this a career-ending injury?’ and to me it wasn’t, you have to get back to the same caliber physically but the mental part took far, far longer.”

Deans finished his degree in 2014 and continued to race competitively for the next five years. Due to timing and rehabbing from his injury, he missed out on the 2014 Olympic team.

In his time with the Canada Ski Cross World Cup, he finished with eight top-30 finishes in the 2015-16 season and a personal-best fifth place finish in the next season.

In 2018, he just missed the cut for the Canadian Olympic team, finishing fifth in qualifying. Later that year, he announced his retirement from the sport.

Deans now lives in North Bend, Washington at the base of the Cascade Mountain Range. He works full-time in sales for a biotech company but found a way back to his roots during the pandemic.

“My racing career ended in 2018 and it took a little bit of time to find my identity after that because you tie all your life’s effort goes to one thing but once COVID hit, we came back to Big White because I was working remotely and we isolated in my in-laws condo and was there for two and a half months,” said Deans. “In that time, I started working with the Big White team on social media and content creation and it kind of kickstarted a quote-unquote influencer career or side hobby.”

While skiing as much as he can, 20-35 days a year he creates skiing content for people to enjoy.

“It’s like a second ski career with less injury risk,” he added.

Deans lives with his wife Chelsea and their two kids. On top of his skiing career, Big White means just as much to Chelsea as it does to Deans.

While living at the resort when he was 14, Deans met Chelsea, who was 15 at the time.

“In the village mall, right above the ticketing counter, that used to be an internet cafe back in the day where you’d pay to use the computer to check your AOL or MySpace,” said Deans. “We were there at 14 because that’s what you do when you’re 14 and Chelsea and her friend walked in, it’s kind of crazy how that works.”

Despite being from Washington State, Chelsea and her family went to Big White every year. Ian and Chelsea dated throughout high school and university, even with Deans travelling the world to race.

“It’s a very special place in both of our hearts,” said Deans. “For us, Big White is everything, we never go anywhere else for the holidays. We come back up frequently, at least two or three times in the winter for multiple weeks at a time and visit Kelowna and Lake Country during the summer.”

Jordy Cunningham

About the Author: Jordy Cunningham

Hailing from Ladner, B.C., I have been passionate about sports, especially baseball, since I was young. In 2018, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops with a Bachelor of Journalism degree
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