Update on Open Letter

Q & A on Club Changes and Development

Talking with club volunteer, Holly Jones, about the ongoing work to get the Inuvik Ski Club up and running.

Holly Jones, Olympian Jess Cockney, and former National Team Coach Anders Lenes at the 2017 Top of the World Loppet.
  • Where are things with the club's operations?

I am still working to gather feedback from skiers, recreation leaders, and community organizations. Once we've connected with everyone we need to speak to, we will invite those interested to a group meeting. There, we will talk about a vision and do some long-term planning, as well as implement some short-term initiatives to help make this season work. This could take some time, but luckily we have a couple volunteers who have offered to do grooming, so the trails will be ski-able for those who own skis and want to get out.

The current volunteers had an honest discussion about how we have been feeling about the club. Two key ideas came up; first, everyone agreed that the workload was pretty overwhelming and that we were taking on tasks that we didn't feel adequately skilled to take on. Second, we think the club, like anything in life, has to make some changes in order to grow and improve.

  • Why can't the club keep running while it makes changes?

To me, it is important that this process is given the attention and time it needs and deserves. Taking the appropriate time and dedicating all our available resources to working with skiers, community members, and recreation leaders to make long-term changes is, I feel, the only way to operate as the community society that we are.

  • What are the major issues the club is having?

The availability of skilled volunteers is probably the largest issue. I think that's an issue every organization in town can relate to. The ebb and flow of people who are available, interested, and skilled in what you're doing creates a lot of uncertainty from year to year. I grew up in a place that had that uncertainty, and to me, it's a sort of natural predator to community programming. It's important that we gain an understanding of how we might operate self-sufficiently and turn what might be a weakness, into a strength.

We need people on the board with experience and skills in finance, governance, sport development, and management to advise decisions and to mentor newer board members. Coaching capacity is also low -- that's partly due to new coaching regulations brought in by our national sport organization. But it was also identified that coaching is not being viewed as a profession by sport organizations, which puts pressure on volunteer coaches to fulfill the roles of professionals, which then decreases the quality of the coaching kids receive.

I spoke to a Fort Smith Ski Club board member who made a great point: "Ski clubs are so unique in that they have to both maintain a facility and a field of play along before anyone even thinks about skill development programs; it's such a huge challenge."

Most of these issues are not things that can be solved by just adding money to the equation. To make sustainable change, we want to look at the structure of the club, it's operating procedures, and it's involvement with other organizations, get an understanding of the issues, and then think creatively about how we can innovate and do things differently in the future.

  • What does an "appropriately skilled" volunteer look like?

Most organizations do volunteer orientations and training to help ensure that volunteers know what their roles are, and so that organizations can understand what volunteers want from their experiences. We want to make space to do this type of training. Coaches in particular, because you're often working with young kids, need to be both knowledgeable about athlete development and qualified to interact with developing athletes. I think Cross Country Canada's programs for ski skill development are some of the best sports programs in the country. Jackrabbits is actually based on the Long-Term Athlete Development Model, which describes the things that athletes need to be doing at specific stages and age ranges. For example, a ski coach would need to know that really young skiers, or anyone with limited sport experience, must focus on building physical literacy (like being able to comfortably run, jump, throw, slide, etc) before they can move into learning sport technique and building strength or endurance.

  • Why did you use the word "settler" in the letter?

The history of the Inuvik Ski Club is really important to it's operations today. The club's existence is directly related to the residential school system, and recreation in the schools was one of the tools used to destroy and replace traditional values and practices. Crystal Fraser (Gwichyà Gwich'in) talked about this when she presented at the NWTRPA conference held here in September 2017 -- acknowledging the past role of the club in colonialism, and the fact that it's operations have been overseen by majority non-Indigenous peoples, is the first step in becoming a more inclusive and healthy organization.

The term refers to the populations in colonial states (like Canada, Australia, and the U.S.) that are descended from the settlers who came to lands and replaced indigenous populations while, over time, developing a distinctive identity and sovereignty. It's language that we can use to address the much larger, systemic issue of decolonization.

  • Why the online format?

It's inclusive, it's inexpensive, and it's easy to do anonymously. We've also set up a phone line (number is 867-688-6620) in case people want to give their answers that way. Hopefully this helps everyone wanting to participate.

  • What do you want the outcome of this letter/initiative to be?

Success, to me, would look like a multi-year action plan that incorporates the ideas that result from the engagement we're doing. We know there are some symptoms, let's identify the cause/causes, treat the illness, and then make a plan to keep healthy for the future.

Ultimately, I want a club that I can be proud of being involved with. And, maybe selfishly, I want some excited kids to coach, a fun group of ski friends, and some fast trails to blast down!

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