Skiing in Believing

Cross-country ski coach Dave Battison helps kids excel in sports and life.

Skiers on Vancouver Island know they are fortunate to have someone like Battison working as an employee of their club. It is one of few cross-country skiing clubs in Canada with the combined funding and foresight to have a full-time coach—especially one with such amazing credentials.

Dave Battison leads a group of Strathcona Nordic skiers at Mount Washington.  The 150-plus skiers in the club range from ages 4-19.

Dave Battison leads a group of Strathcona Nordic skiers at Mount Washington. The 150-plus skiers in the club range from ages 4-19.

Photo by Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Like the girls on his junior racing team, Battison was active in sports at a young age. He grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, where he was inspired by then head coach of Sudbury’s Northland Athletic Club (NAC), Terry McKinty and fellow athlete, Alex Bauman. (Bauman went on to become a Canadian Olympic champion swimmer and multi-world record holder.)

The Northland Athletic Club was a multi-sport club, enabling Battison to train in cross-country running, indoor track, cross country skiing and other outdoor sports. But it was the skiing that became his passion, and in 1980 he became one of the original six members of the NAC’s first cross-country ski team.

Although deep down he knew he wanted to earn his living in sports, Battison felt he needed a “real job” to fall back on. He graduated from high school and then went to school to become a certified athletic therapist and paramedic. He was able to secure work as a paramedic for a while but, because of provincial budget cutbacks, by the age of 24 he was without a job. While it was frustrating at the time, this setback turned out to be a golden opportunity.

In 1991, Battison was hired to coach the Laurentian Nordic Ski Club’s cross country ski team and he began working with the Laurentian University men’s and women’s cross country ski teams.

“While I was with Laurentian Nordic, we earned 53 national medals and were best team in Canada for two consecutive years,” Battison says. “We also put five athletes on the national junior team and sent many athletes to the World University Games. Some of these racers have gone on to represent Canada on our 2010 Olympic team.”

Battison’s next career milestone was to be appointed assistant coach of Canada’s National Junior Team. He took the team to four World Championships in Scandinavia. Then, in 2001, he moved to Canmore, Alberta, to become head coach for the Rocky Mountain Racers. This posting resulted in him bringing skiers to Mount Washington to train and race several times over the next few years.

In 2004, Battison was invited to come to Vancouver Island to take on the newly created position of head coach for the Pacific Sport Regional Training Centre. Part of his job was to further develop the Strathcona Nordics Ski Club (SNSC) at Mount Washington. He, his wife, Laura, and their two little dogs welcomed the move to Campbell River.

The SNSC was formed in 1999, through an amalgamation of several Vancouver Island ski clubs—the Vancouver Island Rabbits, the Courtenay Biathlon Association, the ICCS Racing Team, the Campbell River Discovery Nordics, and members of the former Nanaimo Nordics and Vancouver Island Nordics. The club is incorporated as a non-profit society under the BC Society Act and is dedicated to skier development and the promotion of Nordic skiing for fun, fitness, recreation, and health. SNSC is also working to improve the infrastructure and facilities for Nordic skiers, not only on Mount Washington but other areas of Vancouver Island. This season they are realizing a long-term goal—sending officials and skiers to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

“The SNSC board of directors had a clear vision of what they wanted me to do,” Battison says, “and there was plenty of potential with the existing trails, athletes and facilities. They needed a professional to put it all together, and I am honored that they chose me.”

Battison explains that the focus of the SNSC program is not just to develop athletes, but also to develop a welcoming club that anyone can join. And join they do! Most of the current 500-plus members come from the Comox Valley and Campbell River, but there are a dedicated group who travel regularly to Mount Washington from areas around Nanaimo and Victoria.
The club and its activities are organized and run by volunteers and supported through membership fees, fundraising, and sponsorships from organizations such as CIBC Wood Gundy, Pacific Sport, Ski Tak Hut, the Government of British Columbia, Mount Washington Alpine Resort and several others within the community.

Kids start with the Jack Rabbit program as young as age four and there are currently more than 150 kids skiing with their volunteer coaches on the ski trails each weekend. The Learn to Race program is for kids age 10-14 and the Junior Racers program is for those aged 14-19. From this pool of skiers, a High Performance Race Team is selected, representing Vancouver Island athletes and performing at the national level. There is even a Masters race program, where the eldest member is older than 65.

“We have limited sponsorship programs for kids who may not be able to afford to ski at the competitive level,” says Battison. “If someone is a really dedicated and talented athlete we find ways to help them, but the onus is still on the family to provide some level of financial support. We do rely heavily on sponsorship dollars and government funding, and are able to keep our costs amongst some of the lowest across the country.”

With Battison’s leadership, a strong board of directors, a dedicated team of volunteers and its ever-enthusiastic athletes, SNSC is making a name for itself both as a racing team and a host venue. SNSC race organizers and officials received international acclaim for their work in hosting 2009 International Paralympic World Cup races at Mount Washington. These same race officials will be off to officiate at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

As my interview with Battison drew to a close, I asked him the same question that I had directed at the girls: Why cross-country skiing?

“This is one of the hardest sports to do well and I like a good challenge,” he says. “A basketball player, for example, goes to the gym and works in a controlled environment. He or she work on skills development and personal fitness, but the basic environment stays the same.

“In cross-country skiing, however, there are other factors you need to contend with—many of which are out of your control. The weather, the terrain, snow conditions, the wax on your skis, your equipment; all combine with your individual fitness and endurance levels to determine your success. Despite all that, in the long-term, your coach, your club, and the people you train with are your most valuable assets. You can’t train for cross-country skiing alone and be successful.”

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