Just another day in paradise for Seppo Makinen

Better Than Yesterday

In February of 2010, the eyes of the world focused on the small town of Whistler, British Columbia.  As Olympic athletes flew down a wild, off-camber ski run, I thought to myself “Seppo would be proud.”

One day, while living in Whistler, I stumbled across a plaque high upon Whistler Mountain in a pub named “Seppo’s.” It introduced me to the dream of a friendly Finnish logger who pioneered North America’s largest ski resort and shaped the face of a future Olympic games.

Seppo Makinen was born in Vyborg, Finland, in 1928. Seppo endured the brutal winter war of World War II before he was even a teen. His home Karelia eventually fell and is now part of Russia. After the war, Seppo made his way to Vancouver. There he met a Norwegian named Franz Wilhelmsen.

Franz had attended the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley and had a wild idea that the remote outpost of Whistler could one-day partner with neighboring Vancouver to host the Winter Olympics.  Whistler however, was rugged, undeveloped wilderness. Nobody believed Franz’s Olympic dream, until he met Seppo.

Franz and Seppo met in the summer of 1963. Seppo proposed that he would hire a crew of Finnish loggers and clear runs on the enormous mountain. It was the beginning of a life-long partnership and improbable Olympic dream.

Seppo was an “unstoppable workhorse.” He tirelessly led his crew to clear runs on a mountain containing 5,020 vertical feet and 4,757 acres of now skiable terrain.

Seppo’s personality was as legendary as his Sisu. It was said “Few people could keep up with Seppo’s work ethic and zest for life, but many people had a blast trying.”  He was “a tremendous faller who would do anything for anyone.” If you called on him to do anything, he would do it. You could wake him at two in the morning.

One of Seppo’s most memorable quotes is his tributes title. It was his standard response to inquiry about how his day had gone.  Regardless of the weather, fortune or toil of the day, his response, always accompanied by a smile was “Just another day in paradise.”

Stories of his humor and hospitality abound. One local recounted Seppo arriving at the tavern after a day of work with five railway spikes. “He hammered them into the wall and that’s where the crew hung their hats.” 

Seppo built himself a massive log house that became the unofficial community hub.  It was full of recycled items such as doors from Vancouver’s old city hall. Visitors were always welcome. “He was always surrounded by tourists but I’m sure none of them could understand him,” said someone who knew him.

One day Seppo dispatched one of his men to cut a run but the man ended up working in the wrong area. “The guy’s name was Jimmy and the run still bears the name Jimmy’s Joker.”  The last run Seppo cut on the mountain is a steep, wild tree decent popular on big snow days. “Seppo’s Run” was also one of my personal favorites.

Seppo also cut a famous run he initially named the Toilet Bowl because it had a rather “pissy turn.” It was later renamed the Dave Murray Downhill. It was on that exact Toilet Bowl that Olympic skiers would be racing down decades later, competing for Olympic gold. Seppo is no longer with us, but I am sure he was smiling down.

Micah Stipech is a counselor at Houghton Elementary School and an assistant hockey coach at Finlandia Univerity in Hancock.