Luppens looks back on Black Jack tenure

Kids having fun in Black Jack’s Skier Development Program. - Submitted photo
Kids having fun in Black Jack’s Skier Development Program.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Black Jack Ski Club celebrated a successful year with a delicious potluck and an AGM in which president Wannes Luppens stepped down — as required by club bylaw after a three-year tenure — and new directors stepped up.

“It was great,” said Luppens about his time as president. Four years ago he was building and facilities director, and the year before he was chief of venue for both the Canadian Masters Championship and the NorAm and Junior World Qualifier.

“It was a pretty busy five years, and very rewarding,” he said. “Standing in front of everyone at the AGM I thought, going into this I would only have known a couple faces. Coming out of it, I know every single person there.”

“That’s the really neat part: You meet a lot of really good people. They make the club happen,” he said.

Looking back, Luppens saw several big accomplishments. “Number one is the membership,” he said, “going from 503 to 717, a 43-per-cent increase.”

This is important to a club that relies much more heavily on regulars and seasons passes than tourists and day tickets.

The club also earned many grants in that time, allowing upgrades to trails and facilities.

“The new cat was definitely the icing on the cake,” he said, referring to the new groomer the club bought with a massive campaign and many generous donations last year. The groomer was “awesome” he said. “The survey results show that, my own experience shows that, word of mouth shows that.”

An online survey Luppens administered every year to members found that the quality of the skate lane and classic tracks needed “obvious improvements” last year.

“With the old machine, tracks were wimpy, hardly making a groove, especially in harder conditions. And the skate lane often had a groove down the middle,” he said.

This year, “people were really impressed by the grooming,” he said, giving a “shout out” to the drivers for a job well done.

“And snagging Dave Wood from the national team is right up there in terms of accomplishments,” Luppens continued.

“That’s going to leave a real legacy if Dave is here for some years,” Luppens speculated. “And underneath Dave is a whole squad of volunteer coaches. Ultimately, the club is very recreationally based, that’s where our bread and butter is, but we’re also training up these volunteer coaches, putting a real foundation in place.”

The latest step has been the introduction of the cross-country ski academy to the Red Academies, an initiative Wood spearheaded.

“Training begins in about a week,” Wood said, explaining that “training is done in the summer, in the winter you go to the races.”

A sign of the times is George Grey’s retirement in spectacular style with a neck full of medals.

“He gave the club a lot of publicity and blazed the way for our up and coming younger skiers,” Luppens said, pointing to Black Jack heros Rebecca Reid in Canmore and Geoffrey Richards in Callaghan Valley, both training full time.

Wood was also the guest speaker at the AGM, using the time to tell his friends why he came to Rossland and the strengths of the area.

Wood said in a separate interview: “Many people think it’s a step down from the national team program, but I don’t think so. Clubs are where your champions are produced. Finally they get along to the national team, but the good work needs to be done at the club if there’s a hope for somebody to be an Olympic skier or champion.

“I think the community here is very good,” Wood continued. “There’s a great spirit in Rossland for the life here. You don’t see that in very many places.”

About Luppens, Wood added, “Wannes had to step down due to the bylaws of the club. In some ways that’s a healthy thing, but he was a hell of a good president. Under his leadership, the membership grew. We had big events here, a lot of capital  improvements. He’ll be a tough guy to replace.”

Luppens was quick to turn the appreciation over to others, from the great team that makes Black Jack happen, to the kiosk attendants “who were up there every day, the friendly face of Black Jack,” to the “great support from both Kooteny Nordic Sports and Gericks.”

About Kootenay Nordic, Luppens added, “it’s great to have a nordic presence right downtown. I think that bodes well for the club.”

Although Luppens has stepped down, he said, “I know I’m going to be involved in some capacity. I’m a pretty keen skier and I’ve met some great people.”

Nevertheless, he looks forward to a breather. “I’m going to take a step back and decide how I want to be involved,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy figuring out what to do next.”

Luppens was pleased that of the 9 current board members, seven are staying on, leaving the club with “good momentum, all the know-how is staying with the board.”

Luppens will be replaced as president by Charlie Wieder, previously the building and facilities director. VP Iain Reid also reached his three year maximum, but has stayed on as director of special projects — the position of VP remains open for now. Sabra Norton is staying on as secretary for her third and final year, and treasurer Juliette Franklin just finished her first year. Rob Spiller has joined the board as director of races.

Even as the season comes to a close, there’s still time for skinny ski enthusiasts to put the wax on a few more times: The last day of grooming at the club is April 17.

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