Pisten Bully Propels Nakkertok on Road to Success
By: Cross Country Canada (2008/08/19)
The expression "if you build it they will come," may be the key ingredient to any successful business or sport venture.
But the widespread idiom made famous in the Hollywood film Field of Dreams isn't necessarily the reason for the success of Nakkertok Nordic, the largest cross-country ski club in the national capital region located in Cantley, Québec, just north of Ottawa in the Gatineau Hills.
Nakkertok was founded in 1971 by a small group of families interested in cross-country ski racing. It began as a very amateur operation, but even so produced a number of national-level skiers in its early years. Members today trace Its more recent success to 1999, when the club was forced to make a major-league decision - and it wasn't building a new cross-country ski venue.
We bought a Pisten Bully machine to make the trails and tracks," recalls Jim Bradford who joined the club in the late 1970's with two young sons who were keen on beginning to race. Jim later became club president in 1990 for two years. "It was a very risky decision as the machine caused us to go into debt for the first time, but we never looked back, and paid back the loan in two years.
With some of the slickest trails in the country, cross-country skiers in the nation's capital began to flock to the club from Gatineau Park. While racers in the club always held a steady stream, it was the focus on growing the number of jackrabbit skiers which sprouted the bright future.
With a club membership peaking at 480 during Bradford's reign, only slightly over 100 of those were jackrabbit skiers. Bradford credits the executives following his reign as critical to the club's successful operation. Two Olympic cycles later, with Jim McCarthy holding the president's reign in 1996-2000, the club had 900 members and 250 young jackrabbit skiers.
Growing significantly into the turn of the century, the club appreciated the need to begin running its operation like a business. No one realized this more than two second generation club members who represented the growth cycle Nakkertok was experiencing.
Sue Holloway and Geoff Tomlinson became the first dual presidents in 2002," said Bradford. "This was a very important time for our club because they were the first to develop a strategic plan which we continue to benefit from today.
Bringing a youthful approach to the club's executive, Holloway and Tomlinson focused its business plan on five major goals, but none more important than switching to a stronger focus on member retention than on recruitment.
We focused really hard on following our strategic plan and completed 85 per cent of it," said Tomlinson, who inherited a $100,000 operating budget with Holloway and grew that to $220,000 which it stands at today. "Our executive did a great job, but the key to the success of our plan, was the second tier support of people who bought into our goal and helped implement it.
Holloway certainly has the respect of more than just her fellow members. An early member of the Nakkertok racing team, Holloway skied for Canada in the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, and was a member of the paddling team at the 1976 Summer Olympics. She later won Olympic silver and bronze medals in paddling at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games.
The dedication and experience Holloway and Tomlinson brought to the table continues to help generate passion in cross-country skiers in the Ottawa region today.
At the end of the day our primary goal was to get kids outside and active, while meeting new friends," said Tomlinson. "The vehicle driving all of this was teaching them good ski technique.
With nearly 1,000 members retained from their era, including a large number of children, the club continues to provide both a friendly family atmosphere and high level of competitive racing that its founders established it on.
The club's network of trails extends nearly 75 kilometres across Nakkertok South and North. Nakkertok South provides an array of trails groomed with a state-of-the-art Pisten Bully, including a loop of lighted trails for night skiing. Nakkertok North offers a peaceful solitude of wilderness skiing with breathtaking hills, backcountry trails and ski cabins for overnight and daytime use. A 24-kilometre backcountry trail links the two areas.
Led by Margo Crawford these days, the club has invested in much more than a Pisten Bully for its membership to establish itself as one of the premier clubs in the country.
Over the last three years, a race course was built along with a stadium and a new dazzling chalet which serves as the centre-point of Nakkertok South.
With a strategic plan continuing to underlie the day-to-day operation, mixing growth of young skiers with new resources has allowed Nakkertok to develop and improve results at the national racing level - the plan is working!
In 2005, the club took another step in its strategy, and hired a high-performance coach for the first time in the fall of 2005 for the first time. Mike Viera has worked full-time with the racing team, and also contributes time to the rabbit racers.
With its racing program at 120 young skiers, the club was one of four across the country to benefit from the AltaGas Club Incentive and Coach Mentoring grant awarded by Cross Country Canada last year. The $10,000 grant increased its coaching capacity and athlete development. Since receiving the funding, Nakkertok skiers demonstrated the greatest overall improvement at this year's Haywood Ski Nationals, moving up from eighth in the overall standings in 2007 to second place in 2008. With more than 65 clubs scoring points across Canada, club aggregate totals represent the strength of racing programs in Canadian clubs.
Sue Holloway, Richard Weber, Chris Jeffries and Perianne Jones have led the way for Nakkertok skiers to reach Canada's National and Olympic teams, and judging by the club's steady rise to the top of the national racing scene, there are sure to be dozens more following in their tracks.
But while Olympians are the highlight of any community, Nakkertok's notoriety around the country will always be recognized for the principles the club was built on - good respect for people, a volunteer spirit and families working and playing together because they simply love the sport.
No discussion of Nakkertok's success would be complete without mentioning our land-owners: the earliest landowners were the Weber and Holloway families, founding members of the club, dedicated skiers and ski-parents. In 2003, good fortune struck again when the Webers sold most of Nakkertok South to Dirk and Claudia van Wijk. Their vision and their will to work with the club has been phenomenal. It doesn't get much better for a ski-club than to have its owners doubling as cat-operator, trail-builder, wax-tech, or event chair. And they still love to ski!