The popular ski school program run by the Cariboo Ski-Touring Club (CSTC) at Hallis Lake may have to shut its doors if more volunteer ski coaches can’t be found.
The ski school program, which sees about 1,200 visits annually from students all across Quesnel, has seen an increase in popularity in the seven years since its inception; however, volunteers to run the program have been steadily in decline.
Schools that participate in the program typically bring a group of about 60 students to Hallis Lake three times during the ski season. To ensure safety, positive learning outcomes and satisfy insurance regulations, students are put into groups of eight to 10, each of which requires a volunteer coach and parent chaperone.
With the volunteer coaches at an all-time low, CSTC manager and co-ordinator Cassidy Haber worries that the program may not be able to survive if more volunteers can’t be found.
“This year, we have maybe six or seven volunteer coaches in our pool, and in previous years, we have had 18-20,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where the program is almost nonfunctional just because our volunteer situation is in such dire straits.”
One of the issues with retaining volunteer coaches has been the demographics they have typically come from.
“Mostly retirees, particularly retired teachers, have been our volunteers,” said Haber, who added, “There is this generation of people that crossed country skied a lot here and they are now aging out of being able to teach young kids. Then there is an age group of people that don’t really cross country ski, like myself, I didn’t until last year, so I think that is part of the problem we are seeing. A lot of the youth coming to the age where they can volunteer their time either don’t ski or maybe don’t want to volunteer their time.”
The lack of interest from the younger generation is a real worry for CSTC publicity director Ron Watteyne.
“To keep this club going is tough now because we find there are less and less young folks,” he said. “They seem to be doing other things, and we don’t typically see a lot of younger folks out there. If we were to take the demographics of the ski club, you’re looking at mostly people pushing towards the retirement age, and there’s a lot that are retired like myself.”
If the volunteer pool were indeed to shrink past the point of being able to support the ski school program, the club may suffer additional windfall, as the funds raised from the school program support other parts of the club.
“We have worked really hard to grow the club, and a big part of it was putting in the ski rental shop,” said Watteyne. “We wouldn’t have been able to do that or to maintain it without the revenue from the school program.”
Watteyne worries that without the rental shop, access and interest in cross country skiing may decline.
“If we don’t have the ski rentals, people who don’t already own the equipment won’t have access to it and may never end up experiencing the sport,” he said.
CSTC Ski School manager Cathy Walsh has seen firsthand the positive effects the program has had on children in the community, recounting a memory of one of the groups she coached in a previous year.
“One of my favourite groups was a group of Grade 7s — in the group there were two 13-year-old girls who may not have been the most athletic and were perhaps a bit insecure; you could just tell that this was just not a happy experience,” she said. “There were tears at first, but they stuck with it and they did it and they were so proud of themselves, and everybody else in the group was proud of them. They got over their fear and they got down the hill, and it was just magic.”
To become a volunteer ski coach with the CSTC, individuals must complete a short online course, as well as an “on-snow” course, which will run Jan. 16-18, the cost of which the club will cover, as well as a criminal background check.
Coaching duties include setting up and tearing down equipment, and leading a group of about eight children, with the help of a parent chaperone from the students’ school, through a predetermined set of fun games designed to build and develop their skiing skills. The program runs on weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon, and volunteers are provided with a small stipend.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer coach is encouraged to contact the CSTC coaching co-ordinating director, Peter Van Leusden, by phone at 250-992-7206 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.