my Mountain News

Man from Le Pas

Sun, 12/12/2004 - 12:00 am

By Jonathan Wiesel, December 2004 SKITRAX

I don't know who gave him the nickname, but when I first met Norm Crerar 20 years ago at Silver Star Resort in B.C., he was already called "le Grande Fromage" (The Big Cheese).

A Burly redhead (six feet tall, 190 pounds) with a bristling red mustache, Crerar is a force of nature. He has strong opinions about everything from skiing to politics- in fact, he ran for Member of Parliament in 1997. At times disconcertingly blunt and subtly sardonic, he's also observant, quick-witted, and thoughtful.

Crerar's ski credentials are staggering. He may be the only person in the world to have been a member of both Nordic and alpine National demo teams. He's been instrumental in creating CANSI, has been president of Interski, and has been certified as an alpine instructor in France and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the U.S.

Crerar is a rarity in this age of specialization- a mover-and-shaker in both the cross-country and alpine ski worlds. He's been a guide and instructor, writer and administrator, racer and resort owner. That's pretty much amazing for a guy born in 1939 in the flat Canadian Shield country of Le Paz, Man. (that's just east of the Saskatchewan border, approximately 100 miles/62 kilometers south of Fin Flon).

Crerar grew up in a family with nine kids, "doing lots of stuff outdoors", including canoeing and occasionally running a trap line. He was a three-way skier as a youngster- they had 180 foot rope tow for downhill as well as a 20-metre hill. His first skinny skis were cut-down wooden alpine boards. Specialized cross-country bindings and boots were nonexistent, so he nailed running shoes to the skis, stepped into them, and off he'd go.

Crer has a pronounced competitive streak and an equally strong sense of humor. In 1958, he won Saskatchewan's Senior Cross-country Championship ("The real winner was disqualified for not paying his dues"). In 1967, he was part of the Manitoba canoe team who won Canada's Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant- a 3,300 mile race from Rocky Mountain House, Alta, to Montreal, Que. (The team's time was 531 hours and six minutes, 80 minutes ahead of British Columbia's team).

He started teaching alpine skiing at Sunshine in Alberta in 1965, then in Vermont and New York, and spent eight consecutive summers as an instructor in New Zealand in the 1970s. In 1982, he became one of the owners of Silver Star, where he stayed for almost 14 years.

Cross-country was put on the backburner until 1971, when he saw a "people's race" with 400 participants in Austria and got hooked on loppets. He's been hard at it ever since.

In the off-season, Crerar guides canoe trips and builds canoes, but still finds time to play golf and fly-fish. He's director of the Atomic fall camps at Silver Star, which he co-founded 17 years ago with former U.S. and Canadian National coach Marty Hall. He prefers Nordic to alpine and classic to freestyle, loves modern Nordic Equipment (where you can actually wear your boots), and feels cross-country areas such as Silver Star are "as good as anything in the world."