Hometown Hero: Kevin Pettersen – Creating Nordic Magic in Prince George

January 26, 2023

It is closing in on 14 years since then-Caledonia president Doug Cadden tapped Kevin Pettersen on a shoulder, wondering if he’d be interested in joining the local Ski Club’s board of directors.

“And I’m thinking: ‘This is the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants. The people who had built the Nordic Centre here in Prince George (B.C.) up,” Pettersen is reminiscing of that day in 2009. “I just thought: ‘If there’s any small thing, I can do to keep the ball rolling …’”

A light laugh.

“That was probably a good perspective to take at the time because if I’d had a look at the list of things we’ve aspired to, and done, since I started out back then I probably would’ve turn and ran.

“The thing is, though: Once you get involved, it becomes a passion.”

Through the passing of the years, since that initial approach, Pettersen has donned more hats at the Club than a milliner – as vice-president, president, past-president, chairman for any number of prestigious national and international events, and now, as chairman of competitions – helping to drive the growth of Caledonia Nordic Ski Club.

Born in Quesnel, B.C., a 105-kilometre drive away, Pettersen grew up Prince George, returning home with wife Jacqui to raise their family after finishing post-secondary education.

“Getting involved with the Nordic Centre, we said ‘This is a piece of our community we really want to invest ourselves in because it’s such a positive place.’

On this particular January day, early 2023, he has some free time to chat on a late-week training day for the Nordiq Canada Selection Trials and accompanying Nordiq Cup.

So, a bit of a breather, then?

“To be honest,’’ Pettersen muses, ”when the competition is actually on, my job kinda gets easier because there’s so much that needs to happen before the competitions. Then I’m in perpetual grant-writing mode, it feels like.

“Even with this competition going on I’m still doing things for 2024” – when Caledonia will host the FIS Para Biathlon World Championships and Para Nordic World Cup Finals.

“And I’m working on a Canadian roller-ski application, too.

“But just being here, a part of the competition, the energy, the magic – magic is a word I use a lot, let me warn you – pushes me to continue to press hard on things.

“We really don’t take it for granted when we host these events, believe me. And we have strong backing from our community partners. Everyone is seeing such tremendous benefits from working together and using nordic sports as a catalyst to build something that can attract the world.

“Now a really strong recognition of what we have here has developed.”

The burgeoning ambitions began in earnest when Caledonia bid and landed the rights to play host to the 2015 Canada Winter Games, proving the Club could handle large events.

“At that point we needed a strategic plan that would give us focus for the next 10 to 15 years,’’ says Pettersen.” So we could make sure what we were investing in at that point would bring us to the next level.

“From that point, we were thinking: ‘OK, we don’t want just temporary facilities and buildings.’ If we’re going to do this, let’s do it with a target for world-level events.

“So that was our target, our philosophy, from about 2011.

“We developed our goals, our targets, around that. What we see is a symbiotic relationship between what we do and our community; what we have at our Club, the membership at our cCub and hosting these events.

“They all work well together so that when we have a strong membership, as we do, almost 2,500 to 3,000 – that gives you an amazing community to draw from, to be able to rally around and do big things.

“People get really excited, really invested, in big things, in terms of bringing everyone together. These events are big, in every way. Big to organize. Big financially. But they’re also big in terms of community spirit, in keeping volunteers really excited and engaged.

“And then what happens is that we really look for the legacies that come with these events that we wouldn’t really be able to get any other way. Snowmaking being a prime example.”

One initiative at present has Pettersen and Co. working on strengthening the connection between education and athletics. An example: Caledonia has teamed with the University of Northern British Columbia to offer a $2,000 UNBC tuition credit to all participants in the just-completed 2023 Trials and Nordiq Cup.

“That’s just really come full-steam with getting the academic side front and centre,’’ says Pettersen.

“We really want that so badly. We want to be part of growing not just the athlete, but the whole person. And whatever path they choose, whether that be to continue on skiing in a very high-performance path, or add academics to that high performance,

“For me, it’s fantastic, to see academics and sport becoming more and more aligned.”

Oh, yes, there are Tylenol 3-calibre headaches that come part and parcel with the pull-and-give of backroom/boardroom negotiations. A myriad of frustrations. Obstacles.

“There are definitely times where it feels like you’re fighting tooth and nail to push things through or get people to understand your vision,’’ Pettersen acknowledges.

“But I think, for me, this is, in a sense, the field of play for me. I use the athlete analogy – for me, this is those times when they’re so laser focused; they have their eyes on the prize; when they’re in the zone, so to speak. No distractions.

“It’s the same when you’re getting initiatives for, say, a snow-making system in place or funding for moving our biathlon range.

“For me, I get very, very laser focused at those times. I know we have a very strong strategy, a really, really strong vision.

“That provides me the strength that what I’m presenting isn’t just an idea from left field. We know. We’re prepared.

“No different than athletes when they go out and compete.

“What’s the saying: Anything worth having is worth fighting for.

“It’s not just about getting handed money hand over fist. We’ve had to work for everything. But the key is that by having to work for things it gives you the energy and fortitude.”

And the rewards are, naturally, ample, for someone so invested in community and smitten with the joys of cross-country skiing, for himself and his family.

“When you stand out there on a Tuesday night,’’ marvels Pettersen, “and see all the kids at Jackrabbits or all the school kids out with their classes, it’s … magic.”

There’s that word again.

“And you think ‘We’re starting kids out on the right foot here, with a healthy, active lifestyle.’

“That’s the tremendous payback.

“It all comes back to that.

“Then when you host events like this, we see the other end of the spectrum – the heights those kids can reach; the dreams they can fulfill.

“They all started out somewhere, in Jackrabbits or things like that.

“So, you get to see the incredible people they’ve become, too.”