In a sport that revolves around the winter season, spring invariably brings about new developments in preparation for the coming year. The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) announced in December that its executive director of five years, Pat Cote, would be leaving this spring to go back to school for a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
After a winter-long search, NENSA decided at the beginning of April on Maine native Zach Stegeman as his replacement. Stegeman will start on May 1, and Cote will be on-hand for that first month to help with the transition.
In a letter to the NENSA community announcing his resignation, Cote said the time was right to be moving on — membership numbers were at an all-time high, the organization was offering more services than ever before, and it was as financially stable as it could be. With NENSA in a good place, Cote took the opportunity to go down a new path.
“I will be…embarking on a new career shifting my focus from the delivery of ski programming to the delivery of high-quality patient care,” Cote wrote.
His delivery of ski programming has made NENSA one of the most successful regional nordic ski associations in the country. The competitive, youth and adaptive programs have all grown under his tenure, and despite a difficult economy the organization’s sponsorship has held stable. And though he is quick to give the credit to club coaches, New England’s perennial success at Junior Nationals always gives him something to smile about.
Cote’s departure from NENSA’s leadership position does not mean he’ll be leaving the sport — far from it, in fact. He will continue to coach the Central Maine Ski Club, and has already been asked to be the race director for the Colby carnival on the EISA circuit next season (Cote’s wife, Tracy, is the Colby head coach).
His primary focus is undoubtedly changing, but he says it is a natural step towards goals he has always harbored. The pursuit of a Pharmacy degree takes Cote back to his original ambitions as Dartmouth College undergraduate.
“When I walked onto a college campus 16 years ago, at the time I was thinking medical school,” he said.
NENSA is sad to see him go, but Cote thinks the leadership turnover is actually an essential piece of future success of the organization.
“It’s time for a change; I can feel when I’ve been around too long,” said Cote. “I’m putting the brakes on too many things and stifling creativity a little, so it’s exciting to have new ideas and new energy.”
New energy officially arrives on May 1 with Stegeman’s first day on the job.
Stegeman’s background in skiing, like so many in the ski community, goes back to his own youth racing days. He grew up in Yarmouth, Maine, and continued his competitive ski career at St. Lawrence University, graduating in 2002.
He has worked at USA Triathlon in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as its marketing manager, and moved back to Maine last summer with his wife to assistant coach at Bowdoin College this past season.
He always knew he wanted to come back to Maine, but the central moment of Stegeman’s life as it related to skiing came after graduation, after he had moved to Bend, Oregon to start a competitive post-collegiate ski career.
On a day off of training in Bend, Stegeman suffered a severe neck injury while backcountry skiing. The inflammation in his spinal chord temporarily paralyzed him; he was in a hospital bed in for months.
“That was certainly a defining experience for me on several levels,” said Stegeman. “If I couldn’t be competitive anymore, I had to decide if I wanted to be around sports at all. On one hand it was hard if I couldn’t do them myself, but I love what athletics do for people.”
The outpouring of support he received from the ski community at the time reminded him of why he loved the sport, and ever since Stegeman has been involved in athletics in some way.
Now back in Maine and about to start his new job, Stegeman is “eager and bubbling over” whenever he starts talking about NENSA.
“Nobody can fill Pat’s shoes, but I’m excited to capitalize on the momentum he has built,” he said.
And on a personal level, Stegeman feels that he’s where he’s supposed to be.
“I’m really looking forward to being here for the foreseeable future. I had a great opportunity to do some traveling and to work at some great jobs in some unique places, but it’s always been for a little while. This is my opportunity to say, ‘This is what I want to do indefinitely.’ ”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.