On June 19, Cross Country Canada (CCC) announced that 52-year-old Jennifer Tomlinson will serve a two-year term as the new chair of its Board of Directors. She replaces Jamie Coatsworth, who served the position for the last four years.
The CCC press release opens with a statement that Tomlinson — a former racing director, volunteer coach and integral member of Nakkertok Nordic as well as former high-performance chair for Cross Country Ski Ontario — is the first women to hold the chair position within its organization. She comes with over four decades of experience in the sport, holds a degree in engineering, an MBA, and has served four years on the CCC board prior to the June announcement.
“I’d like to see ‘the first woman chair’ as not being a big deal and something that is expected,” Tomlinson told FasterSkier on the phone earlier this month. “From my perspective, it is something that was eventually going to happen at CCC. With some of the changes that have happened over the past 10 years, there is a lot more openness in the way Cross Country Canada is operated and governed. It is much more aware of representing the ski community in Canada and ensuring that the people who are making decisions represent the diversity of the cross-country skiing community in Canada.”
The execution and fulfilment of the long-term CCC plan will fall on the shoulders of Shane Pearsall, the current CCC CEO.
“Over the past four years, CCC has reevaluated its governance structure,” Tomlinson explained. “The board seeks advice with CCC’s divisions to establish organizational priorities. The board’s role is to hold the CEO accountable to key priorities determined by the board, and we look to the CEO to develop a plan and execute the plan that will achieve those priorities.”
CCC’s mandate is to serve the broad spectrum of cross-country skiers to ensure that the sport remains viable in Canada. Tomlinson explained the board’s perspective in terms of its stakeholders is a wide view.
“We see skiing as existing from learning to ski to success on the World Cup to being active for life, and our stakeholders start when we first strap some skis on somebody’s feet to hopefully continuing to 95,” she said.
The most high-profile aspect of Cross Country Canada remains it’s World Cup team. Recently, Alex Harvey with his fourth place finish in the Olympic 50 k and Len Valjas, with his seventh place in the Olympic sprint, have been the individual podium hopes for the Canadian team. This past spring, Devon Kershaw and Knute Johnsgaard (half of Canada’s men’s relay team that placed third in the 2017 Ulricehamn 4 x 7.5-kilometer relay) retired. For the women, several career high points are notable but none of the main staples on the current women’s team has had World Cup podium breakthroughs.
Tomlinson explained the CCC board noticed the need for a sustainable development pipeline for both genders.
“As a chair or member of the board, we don’t get into the overall operations of CCC and how they do things,” Tomlinson said of her CCC role. “That being said, one of the key priorities set for the CEO is the development and communication of the high-performance pathway and putting in place a structured program that allows CCC, the divisions and the clubs to work together to contribute to the pipeline and developmental pathways needed to create that sustainable system. The hiring of Nic Lemyre as the high-performance advisor is a key part of establishing the sustainable system.”
Lemyre, a Canadian based in Oslo, Norway, is expected to help CCC solidify and support a devo pipeline.
A sustainable pipeline implies a steady flow of both high-performing athletes and cash. In contrast to the funding situation in the U.S., CCC receives a significant portion of its funding from government sources. That government funding has been in decline when compared to past levels of funding. Tomlinson said the board expects CCC to develop a plan to better cope with inconsistent and lower levels of government funding.
According to Tomlinson, the board approved a measure in February to help address funding concerns for developing Canadian skiers.
“The board approved the creation of the Nordic Canada Development Fund, modelled after the NNF in the US,” Tomlinson said. “There are some differences, particularly with respect to its governance, but the fund is established and it does have some money in it. The seed money came from capital that CCC had set aside from the better years. CCC is in the process of developing an integrated fundraising campaign for building the fund. The intent of the endowment fund will be to fund camps and racing opportunities targeted at developing cross-country skiers U18 to U23 who will benefit from more integrated camps and different levels competition.”
Another new initiative Tomlinson touched upon was the potential of a 2026 Winter Olympics in Calgary that could foster synergies between CCC and related nordic sports. Without mentioning details, Tomlinson explained that CCC is pursuing investigating a strategy to bolster the viability of nordic sport across the board, “to see how we can make 2026 a real milestone for nordic sport in Canada.”
Tomlinson appeared grounded in the overall CCC mission that fosters a healthy lifestyle beyond podiums.
“One long-term goal for the organization is community development and alignment,” she added. “… that goal is about growing cross-country skiing in the nation, not solely about getting people on the podium. Making the sport more accessible and get more people outside to celebrate winter.”
Another benchmark she highlighted is related to accessibility. According to Tomlinson, three years ago, only two venues in Canada had viable snowmaking capacity. She said that number now stands at five venues with the hope that other clubs can further collaborate to build the nation’s snow-making infrastructure.
Keeping an eye on other sports and national governing bodies (NGOs), Tomlinson said she will draw on some of her past exploration of Swim Canada, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the French Ski Federation, amongst others, as she leads CCC’s board.
“I don’t think there is any one model that will work for us given our particular circumstances,” she said. “But there are a lot of great ideas and great programs that have already been in place that we can learn, borrow and benefit from. The CCC team can create a unique approach that can work for Canada and Canadian skiers.”
She also made it clear that she and the board agreed that CCC had to improve its ability to convey its message and listen to and incorporate feedback from its divisions and clubs.
“Communication has been a weak point for CCC,” Tomlinson stated. “We as a board agreed that that needed to be one of the four priorities for the organization to ensure that it is communicating with stakeholders across the country, ensuring that people understand what CCC is doing, and how they can help.”
Tomlinson will continue her work as a management consultant based in Ottawa while she serves her two-year term as board chair.