Volunteers: The Lifeline for Ski Clubs Across the Country

September 03, 2020

By Rita Mingo

Volunteers make the world of amateur sports go ’round.

Lorenzo Caterini would never have become a volunteer if he hadn’t had a great affinity for the sport of cross-country skiing.

“I learned to ski on a skidoo highway, there was no grooming per se in Halifax,” explained Caterini. “We used to go to one of our venues, Dollar Lake, and there would be five of us, trying to stomp a five-kilometre loop with our skis and snowshoes so we could ski there. Finally just got tired of it. If something is going to happen, we have to make it happen.”

Caterini has made it his life’s work to better the ski environment in Nova Scotia and for that he was named, along with Richard Turgeon, as Nordiq Canada’s Volunteers of the Year.

Other accolades have also been handed out: the Dave Rees Award goes to Norbert Meier while the co-winners of the Firth Award are Jo-Anne Wolach and Emily Nishikawa.

The Dave Rees Award goes to ‘any man or woman who has made a long-term outstanding commitment to the sport of cross-country skiing in Canada.’ It was created in 1989 and named for Dave Rees, an outstanding contributor to the sport.

Meier was the founding member of The Nordic Advocates Guild (NAG), created by a group of Canmore cross-country skiing supporters in 2001. As vice president of the NAG, Meier used his numerous contacts to help the organization plan and execute fundraisers to support aspiring athletes. He was also president of the Alberta World Cup Society from 2010-2018, playing a huge role in bringing world-class events to Canmore and Canada.

The Firth Award – which was originated in 1985 in recognition of the efforts by Sharon and Shirley Firth – was initially awarded for athletic achievement. In 1990, the criteria were amended to include outstanding contribution, as well.

Wolach and Nishikawa share the Firth because they both have been pillars of volunteering and advancing Nordic

sports in Canada. Wolach, who has been involved in the sport for over 20 years, has done a tremendous amount of work for Cross Country Alberta and is now serving as Past Chair. Her expertise includes helping organize training camps, both regional and international.

Involved in the sport her entire life, Nishikawa is a two-time Olympian (2014 and 2018), a six-time national champion and a 10-year member of the National Ski Team. She now works tirelessly in guiding the younger generation of Canadian skier.

The Volunteer of the Year award, meanwhile, goes to someone who has made a large contribution to local or regional or national development of the sport. This is where Caterini and Turgeon come in.

Caterini, a member of the Halifax Nordic Ski Club, was honoured for his tireless efforts in the Nova Scotia area. In fact, he has been a force in what CBC News has called the “the amazing resurgence” of cross-country skiing in that province.

His contributions are numerous, with regards to trail expansion, public and private sector partnership-building, fundraising, race organization and governance.

“Obviously it’s quite an accolade,” he described. “I look at it more as an indicator that we’ve done something right in the Maritimes, too, that the programs and the facilities we’ve created are being recognized nationally. Obviously, although I do a ton of work, there’s more behind the scenes than just myself.

“The reason I’m so involved, and so interested, is partially selfish because I want to ski and I want to ski close to home.”

Once he realized that improvements were needed, Caterini approached the provincial government and helped in fundraising.

“Now we’re up to five venues for skiing that we groom,” he explained. “We have $150,000 worth of snowmaking equipment to ensure that we have our programs on snow for the entire winter in an area where we face major challenges for skiing.

“We get natural snow and we have a great three to four days and then we go back to bare ground, maybe 20 times a season,” he continued. “We ski in two- and three-day increments, we have phenomenal skiing; we’ll get a 10-degree rainy day that wipes out our eight-centimetre base and then we wait for another snowstorm, deploy our equipment and everyone is skiing for three, four days and then inevitably it’s going to be wiped out each and every time. It’s just the norm here.”

Given the various areas in which he has been involved, picking his most significant contribution isn’t easy, but Caterini will try.

“I think probably the snow-making at Brunello (golf course) is the most ambitious of them all,” he said. “It’s a monumental task to make snow on a small scale with volunteers. To actually pull it off successfully is really unheard of. We’re not doing it on a ski hill with any infrastructure; we’re doing it in the middle of a golf course in the winter time, manning the guns and the cannons for three or four days at a time.

“In my mind, we had a 10-year plan to reach something but we’ve done it in three years. We’re at a point now that all the systems are in place. Everything is paid for; we have our six skidoos and our six groomers. We’ve reached a level now where I’ll be able to step back a little bit and let the next generation take the reins and just maintain. I just got an e-mail today from another golf club in Dartmouth asking us to groom and do snow on their venue.

“The sport is taking off,” he added. “This COVID thing will make people interested in the outdoors again.”

Turgeon, meanwhile, is being honoured for a career in volunteering that spans over 20 years and has led to the development of the sport in the Gatineau and the Outaouais regions. He got involved initially so that his children would learn to love the outdoors and things burgeoned from there.

“One of the things I like is going to the ski club at the end of December, it’s dark and it’s super cold and you have those 30 kids running around on skis and having fun,” said Turgeon, who served as a Jackrabbit coach.

“To me, that’s the essence of what I want to transmit. Go ahead and have fun outside. It’s always been part of my own life, I find it’s very rewarding, and I want every single kid to live that. That’s my main motivation.

“I don’t do this to get recognition but it’s nice to receive it. But I know many people in my surroundings who are very active in the field and giving their time and energy to support racing, making kids active.

“I’m not the only one who deserves it … but I’ll take it for the group.”

Turgeon was on the Board of the Skinouk club based in Gatineau – including its president from 2008-17 – until about a year ago and though his volunteering is winding down, it isn’t ending. He’s on the organizing committee for the 2021 Ski Nationals at Nakkertok in March. The 2021 Nationals is being run by a non-profit corporation ENGNE, which is a consortium of member clubs in the region including Skinouk, Nakkertok, Chelsea Nordic and Gatineau Loppet.

As an avid skier and coordinator of the youth program, he’s thrilled with the growth of the sport in his area.

“I live on the edge of the Gatineau Park, which has more than 20km of trails in my backyard,” he related. “There’s a lot more people skiing in general. All ages, all styles, all level of performance and I think we’re going in the right direction in that sense.

“And in Eastern Canada, I think Alex Harvey has had a huge impact on the number of kids who have turned towards cross-country skiing. It isn’t a sport that is super appealing to start, but to have someone who is good at it and who is in the media has helped make cross-country skiing more popular.”