Two months out from the double hip surgery he received in January, local ski instructor Wayne Deane was progressing well with his recovery, even walking without crutches weeks ahead of schedule. Still, he wasn’t quite ready to return to the slopes.
But a longtime client-turned-friend was in town. Deane couldn’t join them on the mountain, so they met for a Sunday coffee instead.
Deane said goodbye to the client; and called his wife, Pam, to tell her he would be home shortly, while walking to his truck.
He never made it home. Deane, who celebrated his 59th birthday in January and worked for Whistler Blackcomb’s Snow School for more than 28 years, suffered a fatal heart attack in the parking lot.
“You don't expect it," said Bart Barczynski, Deane’s friend and general manager of adult programs and private lessons for Whistler Blackcomb’s snow school. "He was a very fit, strong guy."
Despite the recent surgery, Deane “was on the mend,” Barczynski added. “I've never actually seen him this happy, ever. He was beaming because he was so excited about getting healthy. He was hurting—that's why he got the hip surgery, and I guess he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. He was making all these plans of getting back into mountain biking, getting back into, obviously, skiing."
Instead, Whistler’s community is mourning the shocking loss of the beloved ski instructor and rallying to support Deane’s wife and three daughters following his death on March 12. A GoFundMe created late Monday night raised nearly $25,000 of its $30,000 goal in less than 24 hours.
“His passing has left a void that cannot be measured or expressed in words,” the campaign’s description reads.
Remembering Wayne Deane: An 'amazing dad' who 'would have done anything for his friends'
Deane was born in Penrith, Australia, raised by his mom alongside two brothers and one sister, before finding his way to the Sea to Sky, where he and Pam raised their own three daughters: twins Cassidy and Chantal, and the youngest, JJ.
“He was an amazing dad, first and foremost,” said Barczynski. “His family came first to him.”
Introduced by a mutual friend, the Deane residence was where Barczynski landed on his first night in Whistler, in December 1996, despite the fact that Pam and Wayne’s twins were just a few days old.
Deane was “so proud of his kids,” said Barczynski. “I watched his daughters grow up from tiny little babies to really awesome, successful, kind women. If you judge parents by their children, I think Wayne and Pam are the greatest people on Earth.”
Still, Deane always “called it how he saw it,” Barczynski continued. Pam would, jokingly, call her husband “grouchy,” which Barczynski equated to Deane’s “happy state”—a put-on outward persona he would use to mask the love, kindness and generosity he extended to those around him.
“He loved the town, he loved his friends—he would have done anything for his friends,” he said. “There’s many times that he's helped me, that I will never be able to repay him.”
Deane found community within a crew of locals who have “grown up together,” since rolling into the resort about 30 years ago, explained friend and colleague PJ O’Heany. “We're all from somewhere else in Whistler. We've all got awesome families, and we create our own chosen family. And he was a big part of it.”
From Australian surf contests to Whistler's slopes
As his daughters made their way through Whistler’s ski, soccer and basketball programs, Deane often took on the role of coach, said O’Heany. But outside of his family, Deane earned his own set of athletic achievements through his passions for skiing, surfing and mountain biking.
Deane competed as semi-pro surfer in Australia, and on a European tour. After moving to Canada—beginning with a stint working as a chef in Toronto, said O’Heany—he traded the surfboard for skis, going on to achieve the highest level of ski instructor certification possible.
In a 2021 post for Australian website Snowaction, Deane named West Cirque, “a perfect 500m slope of 45-50 degrees,” as his all-time favourite spot on the mountain “because there are not many people daring enough to ski it,” and described his preferred maximum-vertical thigh-burner run as Ruby Bowl, in the Spanky’s zone—"one of the toughest runs on the mountain."
Barczynski remembers Deane standing at the back of the crowd during instructors’ morning meetings, “because he wanted to turn around right away and be there to grab the first gondola to go up for the morning session,” he explained. “I would say [skiing] was like a religion for him.”
That passion made Deane an obvious choice when fellow instructor O’Heany was looking to recruit staff for YES Tours, the Whistler Blackcomb-affiliated ski instructor training and improvement program he founded in the ‘90s. Deane was an instructor with YES for the last 12 years.
Deane was “instrumental” in Whistler’s ski instructor training programs, said O’Heany, helping budding instructors through exams and keeping in touch with his former students as they rose through the levels.
O’Heany said he’s received more than 40 emails from clients from around the world expressing their condolences. “Everyone felt his genuineness,” he added. “He had a huge heart.”
Though his first priority on the mountain was always with his clients—ensuring their safety and making sure “they got what they needed, whether it was skiing or entertainment,” said O’Heany—he was also “a fantastic team player” for his fellow instructors.
Deane’s friends and colleagues made the difficult decision to teach their usual lessons on Monday, but not before a few morning powder laps in Deane’s honour. “We thought he’d want us to keep going,” said O’Heany.
“He’s going to live a long time in our memories, because we're going to have lots of clients coming back every year who would have skied with Wayne or would have known him—we're going to talk about him for decades.”
His laugh and bear hugs, in particular, will be “sorely missed,” O’Heany added, his voice cracking.
For now, the GoFundMe's organizers are grateful to see its total climbing, and hoping to see the fundraiser surpass its goal.
"People are asking what can they do, and we figured this would be the best thing to at least take [away] the burden of all the expenses that are going to be associated with his passing," and to offer a cushion for the family in the months and years ahead, said Barczynski.
Seeing the tally grow as quickly as it has is "incredible," he added. "I had no doubt the whole community would rally around Pam and the girls, but just to see it come to fruition, it's moving. We all know how much the community loves him, but I don't think they knew, so it's such a nice example for them to see how many people loved him in Whistler, and how people are just so willing— not just from Whistler, but from all over, anybody who's ever come in contact with Wayne or Pam or the girls, can't help but support them."