Alpine Canada has overhauled its board of directors to add an array of top business leaders with a mission to transform Canada into a leading skiing country by the 2026 Olympics.
The organization elected its new 12-member board at Alpine Canada’s annual general meeting on Tuesday evening, including new chair Tim Dattels, who is a managing partner at global private equity firm TPG Capital Asia. Alpine Canada is the national governing body for alpine, para-alpine and ski cross racing in Canada. Along with the federal government, Own the Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee, Alpine Canada helps develops Olympic, Paralympic, world championship and World Cup medalists.
Now, with a goal to get more athletes on the podium, some of Bay Street’s biggest names have joined forces to try to make Canada one of the top three skiing countries in the world by 2026. The board is modelling the overhaul on the approach implemented by Tennis Canada several years ago, which drew on top business leaders to help make Canada a global tennis powerhouse.
The organization’s 12 new directors include heavy hitters Darryl White, chief executive officer of the Bank of Montreal; Mark Wiseman, senior managing director of global private equity giant BlackRock; Paul Desmarais III, senior vice-president of Power Corp.; and Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck Resources Ltd.
The skiing world is represented by Erik Guay, one of Canada’s most decorated downhill skiers and a former world champion.
“This is a talented group of leaders with a global reach who are committed to creating a plan to accelerate the development of ski racers,” Dattels said.
He said a key goal for the non-profit organization is to increase its funding, which has been stagnant since the Vancouver Olympics.
Alpine Canada recorded a loss of nearly $2.3-million on revenue of $12.9-million in the year ended April 30, as sponsorship money dropped by nearly $2-million. Contributions, which topped $1.4-million in the 2017 fiscal year, were less than $1-million for the second straight year.
The organization had less than $68,000 in cash at the fiscal year-end in April. A note to its financial statements said it increased its bank line of credit from $1.1-million to $1.75-million to “offset operating costs” for the summer of 2019.
Dattels said Alpine Canada’s best Olympic performance came in Vancouver in 2010, “and there was an energy and excitement around that. But now, largely the funding has been flat since 2010 at best.”
In the past, Dattels and other board members such as Wiseman, have taken it upon themselves to personally fund individual skiers outside of the organization. They then decided they could bring their funding and expertise to the organization as a whole and help alleviate the financial pressure that an athlete can experience while training for championships.
“There have been a lot of youth coming up through the provincial organizations to generate a lot of the athletes, but when they hit higher levels, it is Alpine Canada that takes them there,” Guay said. “We want to increase the funding, increase the governance and create a more holistic world for our high-performing athletes.”
Before the success of the likes of Bianca Andreescu, Tennis Canada implemented a similar overhaul, which aimed to increase funding, import international coaches and allocate more capital to highly successful players. Tennis Canada also added big names to its board, such as Roger Martin, then dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto; Tony Eames, the former head of Coca-Cola Canada; tennis executive Michael Downey; and Nova Scotia-based lawyer Jack Graham.
Gearing up for their appointments with Alpine Canada, both Dattels and Guay sat down with Martin to discuss the turnaround Tennis Canada accomplished.
“It’s amazing how [Tennis Canada] created a large funnel of athletes coming into the program at a young level, and then with the elite athlete, deeply focusing on the ones that are emerging at the top of the funnel, and creating very high performance standards for those athletes as well,” Dattels said.
“The one thing that is quite consistent is that without the very best coaches in the world, wherever they are from, it is much harder for the athletes to get to that highest level.”
Canadian ski racers face several challenges that are different from other national sports. Alpine skiing is largely a European sport, Guay said, with many championships overseas, requiring larger travel costs. As well, training schedules and facilities depend on where and when there is sufficient snow for racing, while other countries have year-round glaciers on which to train.
Currently, the organization has approximately 30 Canadian skiers who are top-ranked skiers. Among the best are Erik Read, the son of former “Crazy Canuck” Ken Read, who finished seventh in the season-opening World Cup grand slalom in Austria on Sunday. In ski cross, Canada can count Kelsey Serwa and Brady Leman among its elite, both gold medalists at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
"Looking ahead, we have some very good young racers coming into the higher echelon,” Guay said. “But it’s going to take some time, patience and a lot of hard work to get them to that next level.”
With a report from David Milstead