The Whistler Nordics Club took an unusual step last year in hiring a full-time coach, taking its athletes and membership to another level that is more in line with the opportunities presented by the Olympics.
“I was talking to a mother of one of our junior skiers last season, and she said her kids were getting some coaching from two gold meal winners on the Swedish team,” said club president Tom Barratt at the Whistler Nordics annual general meeting on Oct. 15. “To me that’s a big step from what we did before (Whistler Olympic Park). That’s comparable to having Wayne Gretzky coaching your kids to play hockey.”
Through sponsorship and membership, the Nordics grew to 225 members last season, while hosting development programs for children and adults. Several members of the club are also in the process of becoming trained volunteers and officials, helping out with the 2010 Winter Games and all of the test events taking place at Whistler Olympic Park. That capacity has made it possible to build on programs, which were previously coached by volunteers.
Still, Barratt says it’s important to remember what the Whistler Nordics are all about.
“It’s important for a club our size that we don’t take on more than we can chew,” he said. “We are going to have more and more opportunities this size as we come up to 2010, but we have to stay calm and remember that we’re just a little ski club.”
Financially, the Whistler Nordics have seen their budget double over the past two seasons to almost $60,000, chiefly because of the decision to hire ski coach Marie Lundgren for their Skills Development Program.
At the same time the club’s income has almost doubled as a result of higher dues, Twoonie Races, sponsorship from Haywood Securities and other fundraising initiatives. Like other organizations, the Nordics have also seen their annual grant from the municipality cut by about 30 per cent. They also applied for a provincial gaming grant, and received $7,000.
While the Whistler Nordics have increased fees slightly this year, fundraising will also be huge priority to keep Lundgren as the head coach.
“It’s expensive but it’s also really worth it,” said Barratt.
There are a few changes to programs this year. Youth programs once held on Thursday have been moved to Tuesday, while all weekend programs have been moved from Sunday at Lost Lake to Saturday at Whistler Olympic Park.
There are several reasons for the move to the Olympic Park. For one, the Callaghan trails are open longer and allow programs to start several weeks earlier. As well, the park offers free passes for children on program days.
The facilities are also first-rate, with a full-service lodge opening at the end of November, and additional recreational trails offering more variety to skiers.
Maria Lundgren also announced the creation of a new Sea to Sky Devos (Development) team, which will have five female skiers this year and is open for skiers from Squamish to Pemberton. The skiers will be invited to join the program, which Lundgren sees as a stepping stone to the provincial team and possibility to the national team. As well, the program will build capacity for the Whistler Nordics.
“It also gets the kids to take more of a leadership role,” she said. “You never know how long they are going to stay with the club and in competitions, and this will keep them in racing a little bit longer while also getting younger people out to help coaching. This club lives by its volunteers.”
The Whistler Nordics are also bringing back their popular Masters program for intermediate and expert skiers, running over 12 weeks. All participants will get a customized program leading up to the Whistler Loppet. To take part, it’s suggested that the skiers should be able to go from the ticket booth and once around the lake without stopping.
Back for a third year is the Nordic’s weekly Twoonie Race series. Ten races are planned from Dec. 18 to March 5.
The Nordics are looking for more sponsors to help out, and are also planning to branch out with their starts and post-race parties because of the increased cost of renting out the Lost Lake Warming Hut. The races averaged 50 skiers last year, including members of the youth program.
Following presentations, the Whistler Nordics board for 2008 was decided. Tom Barratt will return as president, with Margo Murdoch as vice-president. Cheryl Morningstar is the club secretary, Nicola Mckay is Teasurer, and Lorraine McTavish the club registrar.
For more information on programs and registration, visit www.whistlernordics.com.