North

Facing 'overwhelming' workload, Inuvik Ski Club temporarily closes

Citing a number of issues, including a lack of money and coaches, the Inuvik Ski Club has decided to suspend its services until January.

Club sent letter to members last Monday, plans to re-open in January

'I'm not the expert,' said Holly Jones. 'I have a lot of experience in skiing as an athlete and a coach previously, but I haven't run a club before.' (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Citing a number of issues, including a lack of money and coaches, the Inuvik Ski Club has decided to suspend its services until January.

The club, which is well-known for starting the formative Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) program in Inuvik in the late 1960s, issued an open letter to members last Monday listing a number of problems. It said there are not enough skilled volunteers and program participants, there have been financial issues, occurrences of theft and vandalism, and difficulty keeping up with trail maintenance and coach development.

"The workload is really overwhelming for a group of maybe three to four people to tackle, and we felt not perfectly equipped to take on those tasks," said Holly Jones, the club's volunteer program co-ordinator.

"The club needs to go through change in order to grow and develop."

The Inuvik ski club in December (which is in darkness in the winter months). The club is usually making and maintaining seven trails, as well as providing programs and renting out skis. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

In the meantime, the club will spend time developing a plan for its future. Jones said they've sent out a survey to gauge public opinion.

"What do we want out of recreation in Inuvik? What do we want out of skiing in Inuvik? And what do we want out of these trails, and how can we make more of a ski community?"

They hope to use the results to restructure the organization. In the meantime, the temporary closure does have a silver lining.

Jones said the financially-strapped club is usually making and maintaining seven trails, as well as providing programs and renting out skis, but "not having the lights on and keeping things running" will help save money.

Asking for help

The lack of coaches has already had an impact on the club's younger members. Last year, the club was forced to drop its Jackrabbits program, held for kids aged four to 12. Jones said typically 30 kids would take part in that program.

Jones is currently the club's only licensed coach, and after Cross Country Canada started to require all coaches for the Jackrabbits program be licensed last year, some past coaches no longer met the qualifications.

Sharon Firth and Holly Jones at the Inuvik Ski Club earlier this year. Firth was home for the ski loppet's 50th anniversary. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

The issues facing the club are new ones for Jones, who only moved to Inuvik three years ago.

"I'm not the expert," she said. "I have a lot of experience in skiing as an athlete and a coach previously, but I haven't run a club before.

"I'm going into this asking for help."

'Heartbreaking,' says ex-Olympian

One of the N.W.T.'s most famous skiing alumni says the sport needs long-term commitment in order to succeed in communities like Inuvik.

Sharon Firth and her late twin sister Shirley participated in the TEST program in the 1970s. Indigenous students who attended residential school were taught and competed in cross-country skiing; many of them went on to national championships and Olympic Games.

Twin sisters Sharon and Shirley Firth competed in cross-country skiing at four Olympic games. (Canada's Sports Hall of Fame )

Firth, who now lives in Yellowknife, said most of the N.W.T.'s communities are struggling with their cross-country ski programs, which she said is disappointing as the territory has produced Indigenous Olympians in the past, and has the potential to do so again.

"This is where the raw talent is," she said. "This is where the gene pool for cross-country skiing is, in all our Northern communities ... and for me it's really, really heartbreaking to see no one carrying on the legacy."

Firth said it is important that community members and parents play a part in supporting the club and getting youth involved.

This is where the raw talent is.- Sharon Firth, ex-Olympian

She says there needs to be a focus on sports in communities, rather than centring it in Yellowknife.

N.W.T. communities "should be leaders again for cross-country skiing in Canada," she said, but it will only come with increased funding commitments.

"We had coaches. Our coaches were paid coaches and it was long-term. You can't make something happen just by going year by year," said Firth. "You need long-term commitment."

Jones agrees with Firth, and said if she could she would be coaching in Inuvik full-time, but "it's not really well-promoted as a profession."

Jones is planning to have services running again by the end of January.

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