A Club on the Move

by Norm Laube, with input from Dirk Rohde

The Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club, although a relatively new cross country ski club, has its roots steeped in local and national skiing tradition. The club skis at the Hollyburn Ridge cross country ski area of Cypress Mountain, one of three alpine ski mountains in Greater Vancouver.

Hollyburn Ridge was one of the original nordic ski areas starting back in the 1920s, when Vancouverites were known to take a ferry across the Burrard Inlet and then hike for over 4 hours up the hill to the base of the ski area. Started by Scandinavian immigrants, Hollyburn had a rope tow and a notorious ski jump in those early days and many cabins were built from the 1930s to the 1950s. The historic Hollyburn Lodge, originally an overnight ski lodge, still stands today and is a focal point for the cross country area where the Cypress staff serve up delicious hot meals and skiers can warm up by the wood stove from the often damp conditions.

With the popularity of alpine skiing in the 60’s and 70’s, interest in cross country skiing waned as the focus at the ski area was in creating the Cypress Bowl downhill ski area located just 5 minutes north of Hollyburn. The cross country area, now located in the Cypress Provincial Park, continued to be used by ski tourers and recreational skiers – there was no grooming at this time. By the early 1980s, Cypress Bowl Recreations Limited (CBRL), the operator of the downhill area, took over the operation of the cross country area and began to improve the trail system and set tracks.

In the early 1980’s Cross Country Canada, supported the creation of the Jackrabbit Ski League program, in honour of Hermann “Jackrabbit” Johanssen, the legendary Norwegian immigrant to Canada who was still cross country skiing and performing amazing physical stunts as he gracefully aged to over 100 years. In Vancouver, the idea of the program was embraced by Sally Thomson in 1985, who found a willing ski area partner in Seymour Mountain. Although, Seymour had limited ski trails the program started on a small scale with some 70 Jackrabbits participating in two sessions on Sundays. Realizing that the program was going to grow, Sally negotiated successfully to relocate the program to the Hollyburn Ridge ski area of Cypress. Needing help in running the program, Sally recruited Reidar Zapf-Gilje and Richard Routledge who collectively grew the Jackrabbit program to some 150 skiers by 1990.

The program then took a unique turn when CBRL offered to support the program directly through assigning employee Monte Chan to oversee the administration and running of the sessions. Monte was sent to Edmonton to take the Jackrabbit Course Conductor course and CBRL provided weekend ski passes for the Leaders. Over the next 5 years Monte and Velvet Bailes grew the program to close to 300 skiers, which in 1992 was the biggest Jackrabbit Ski League program in Canada. By the 1993 season, CBRL had to limit the number of Jackrabbits to 60 per session (2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday) due to the congestion created by too many groups on the trail network. By 1996, the Jackrabbit program became completely volunteer run as CBRL wanted to focus on its own ski school programs. In 1997, the Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club was incorporated as a society and over the next 5 years the Jackrabbit Ski League program was led by club presidents Tom Bell, Linda Bell and Erin Kenny, with support from long-time volunteers Richard Rickard, Monte Chan and Dirk Rohde.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the volunteers realized that a new wave of energy and committed families was required to carry the club forward. Under the leadership of Norm Laube and Brad Gilbert, the club set about redefining its future based on the CCBC full service club model. The club also realized that a model of sporting excellence had to be achieved to attract and keep kids and families committed to our wonderful sport with all the other competing activities offered in Greater Vancouver.

Based on a foundation of coaching excellence, the club focused its energies on building and retaining a strong group of qualified NCCP Level 1 and 2 coaches. In support of this committed group of coaches, significant effort was then put into creating a strong sense of a club atmosphere. Over the next several seasons the club worked at enhancing and growing its programs and benefits including:

  • Expanding the Ski League program to 7 weekends;
  • Creating sponsorship partnerships with Cypress Mountain, Sigge’s, Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak and Ryders Eyewear, and others;
  • Developing an interactive website;
  • Hosting an annual ski swap at Sigge’s;
  • Applying for and receiving Provincial Gaming Revenue funds;
  • Starting a fall family hiking program; ยง Partnering with Nordic Racers to co-host CCBC Fall Dryland Training Camps, the Holly Burn Sprint Race and the National Ski Team Evening;
  • Hosting in partnership with Cypress Mountain the 2010 Legacies Now Ski Tournament;
  • Offering a parent Learn-to-Ski program through Cypress Mountain;
  • Creating the Rabbit Challenge program for Red Badge and higher level skiers who ski twice a week and participate in racing;
  • Fielding a racing team that has successfully competed at Coast Cup, Midget Championships and the BC Championships;
  • Initiating a backcountry touring/winter camping program;
  • Acquiring club uniforms through Louis Garneau, club toques and club t-shirts;
  • Starting an annual on-mountain Registration Day in conjunction with our Annual General Meeting;
  • Creating a club mission and vision statement and a strategic planning process

Now with over 500 members, the Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club is truly evolving into a full service club. Next season we are offering a Midget program for 12 and 13 year olds who want to focus on improving their fitness and skiing ability in a fun team environment through participation in the BC Cup series. Our parents are becoming active participants who are improving their skiing ability and competing in races as well. Another long-term initiative is the partnership we are working on with the Greater Vancouver YMCA, Nordic Racers, BC Parks and Cypress Mountain to develop a club cabin. We are also looking forward to supporting CCBC and our fellow coast clubs with the 2010 Winter Olympic developments at Callaghan Valley.

Our greatest reward is when we receive compliments from our parents who have repeatedly confirmed that we offer a superb family participation sporting activity – a truly unique and positive experience relative to other activities they are involved in. We look forward to continuing to build on the strengths of our club in the years to come.

A version of this article was featured in the 2004/05 edition of Cross Country B.C.’s magazine Ski Cross Country.