There are some things you must know about Larry, for he is no ordinary man. He is one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever met. — Brittany Webster, on Highland Trailblazers Ski Club founder Larry Sinclair
Larry Sinclair was, in a word, dedicated — to his sport and to young skiers, and not just in helping them become top-level athletes, but making them the best people they could be, according to former Cross Country Canada (CCC) President Richard Lemoine.
And the longtime coach, national-team wax technician and founding member of the Highland Trailblazers Ski Club knew his time was limited. Fifteen days before Sinclair, 59, passed away on Jan. 25 after battling cancer, the NorAm and Junior/U23 World Championships Team Trials were held at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon, Ontario.
“We all knew that Larry was very sick and while we were all hopeful, we knew he faced a huge challenge,” Lemoine reflected in an email. “Despite this, Larry dedicated his efforts to making sure that our trails were ready to be homologated – that included spending weeks laying out some new trails and wielding a chain saw to cut down hundreds of trees.”
The races were a success “and many athletes commented on how the trails were a true test of athletic abilities that separated the very good from the very best,” he added. There were no free rides at Highlands, something Sinclair was proud of: “You have to work to get around the course and grunt your way up every last hill,” Lemoine wrote.
That NorAm weekend, Lemoine and Sinclair’s brother Shawn, the chief of competition, reminisced while watching some of the races. How would Sinclair be remembered? Shawn noted that his brother had created a race site at Highlands, and that the ski resort it had become was an afterthought.
“It was if Larry hung on to make sure that the races were a success. That was the last time he was able to make it to the resort he so loved and dedicated so much of his life to,” Lemoine explained. “Larry touched many in his too brief stay on this planet. He was a mentor to not only athletes but also to many ski coaches and officials. He was also a stalwart in the community for many other causes.”
“Larry touched many in his too brief stay on this planet. He was a mentor to not only athletes but also to many ski coaches and officials.” — Richard Lemoine
A competitive provincial and national skier from Collingwood, Ontario, Sinclair became a coach in the late 1970s, starting his career with the University of Guelph ski team, according to a CCC press release. In 1989, he coached Canada at its first World University Games appearance in Sofia, Bulgaria, and additionally led several junior and provincial team trips to Europe.
Sinclair went on to join Team Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, as a wax tech. He served as the head coach of Ontario and Southern Ontario for several years and received the Heinz Niederhauser Coaching Award for his excellence in coaching.
He helped create Cross Country Ontario (CCO) to promote the regional development of the sport and enable direct access to provincial funding. In the ’90s, he instructed coaches and course conductors and also mentored athletes and coaches as the founder of Highlands Trailblazers, with a nordic facility that’s developed into “one of the finest, all privately funded, cross country facilities in the country,” according to CCC.
“It was a family operation with any profits in a volatile, weather related business, going back into the further development of the facility itself,” the release stated.
“While Larry was such a force in the skiing community he was even more dedicated to his wife Pat and his cherished daughters Kelly and Megan,” Lemoine wrote. “I had the honour of being a good friend of the entire Sinclair family and saw the love and attention he lavished on his daughters.
“We truly lost a great person,” he added. “He will be truly missed. Perhaps the best way to sum up his and his family’s dedication to the sport is that in lieu of flowers the family has requested that donations be made to the ski club he founded so many years ago – the Highlands Trailblazers.”
A two-time Olympian and 2013 Senior World Championships team member, Brittany Webster, 27, grew up at Highlands. She remembered Sinclair as “a person with a huge heart who puts everyone and anyone before himself. He has single-handedly developed the Highlands Nordic facility through his sheer love of cross-country skiing and has devoted his life to sharing his passion with others,” she wrote in an email.
Webster first met Sinclair when she was a “keen yet very novice” high-school racer.
“For all Larry knew, I was yet another one of the thousands of high school racers he had seen pass through his club on their way to a University career path who would occasionally drag out their skis once every few years to go for a jaunt on the trails,” she wrote. “The amazing thing was that he treated me just like everyone else, like gold.”
He gave her a 60-percent discount on her first pair of race skis, helped her out with a “great set of boots” and let her use the facility essentially for free.
“I could not even ski,” Webster wrote. “This is the kind of person Larry is, he does anything for anyone in hopes that they will one day share his and their enthusiasm for cross-country skiing with their young ones.
“Perhaps he did not expect it, perhaps he did, but I took Larry up on his offer and went to Highlands Nordic every weekend I could. As Larry saw me develop into a somewhat decent provincial racer he began to develop his race program as best he could to accommodate me,” she added. “With no money and no race program in place, Larry found a way to hire a full-time coach for our little club. His time, effort, and dedication to me took me places I would have never dreamed.”
Three years later, Webster was the top Canadian at 2007 Junior World Championships in Tarvisio, Italy, placing sixth and ninth in two individual distance races.
“I travelled the world racing in different countries, but always always made the effort to come home to Highlands Nordic,” wrote Webster, who now trains with the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, Alberta. “It is a very special place Larry has developed. It is my home, they are my family.”
Sinclair started his days at 5 a.m. and worked until close, 7 p.m., after which he would meet Webster and review her video technique sessions with her.
“Larry takes no days off. Even a few years ago, when he suffered through many chemo treatments to treat his stage 4 cancer, he was up at the crack of dawn getting ready for a 10 hr day at the Nordic Centre,” she recalled.
Whatever spare time he had, Sinclair mulled ways to give back to his sport and his family, she added.
“Every year I return back home I see new changes to the facility,” she wrote. “[Eight kilometers] of new race trails have been built over the last 3 years, there have been additions to the chalet, new wax trailers, and new equipment for the athletes.
“It goes without saying that Larry’s commitment to me, and my dreams has gotten me to the Olympics. Without him I would not be an Olympian. His legacy continues as he mentors young kids just like me and is developing a facility and program that is raising eyebrows and collecting medals all over the country.”
Light the Trails for Larry
After Sinclair’s passing, Lemoine initiated an online campaign called, “Light the trails for Larry,” which initially aimed to raise $9,000 to light at least 3 kilometers of trails at Highlands — part of Sinclair’s vision to provide the public with more hours on snow.
“Larry reached out to the larger community and an affordable solution was found – a mixture of low voltage LED lights – deep cycle batteries – solar panels to recharge the batteries,” the fundrazr.com website explains. “The cost per light is approximately $300 – much cheaper than any other system. A light is required about every 100 metres.”
The first part of the plan is to illuminate 3 k of trails, and eventually, 8 kilometers, which would cost approximately $24,000. Contributors of $300 or more will be recognized with a plaque at the chalet. As of Wednesday, more than $18,000 had been raised.
For more information, visit https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/7wDpf/sh/64UK15.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.