Hall of Famer
Keith Nesbitt’s initial exposure to organized ski racing was in 1946 when he entered his first ski race as a competitor representing the Morin Heights Ski Club. It would lead to a lifetime’s involvement with the sport of skiing, one which was enormously productive and profoundly influenced the course of alpine ski competition in Canada.
Not long after, he represented his club at the Laurentian Ski Zone (part of the Canadian Amateur Ski Association) where they held the race draws. Two years later, in 1950, now familiar with the workings of the Zone, he was asked to organize the zone’s schedule of races. He responded positively, thinking that he would only commit to a 3-year involvement. In his own words, “I overshot that by 27 years, retiring from the Canadian Ski Association in 1977”.
In the early 1950s, Canada’s Olympic and World Championship Ski teams were still being selected from trial events such as the Canadian Championships and Quebec Kandahar. The athletes received little or no funding. In 1954, a number of women racers financed by their families went to Europe, hired a coach, trained and raced actively for five or six weeks. The improvement was astonishing, resulting in Lucile Wheeler’s Bronze Medal in Downhill at the 1956 Olympic Winter Games held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and two gold medals at the World Championships in 1958.
Inspired by this success, the Laurentian Ski Zone, with Keith Nesbitt as its Chairman in 1955 and 1956, and Chairman of the influential Quebec Division in 1957 and 1959, helped create an International Competitions Committee (ICC) in 1957. The ICC program was designed to select Canada’s best racers, coach them, and have them compete in the most prestigious races against the world’s best competitors. The funding aspect remained an issue as, at the time, there were no resources available from any source other then personal funding.
The Laurentian Ski Zone, committed to go ahead with the program with or without the assistance of the Canadian Amateur Ski Association (CASA), submitted its plan to the CASA at its Annual General Meeting. A coach, Pepi Salvenmoser, who had successfully coached the woman’s team earlier, had already been given a contract to coach the national teams for 1958 and 1959. Initially, the CASA turned down the proposition, but when it was revealed that a coach had already been hired and that the Zone would proceed alone if the CASA would not participate, the CASA was eventually persuaded to adopt the ICC program. Thus the National Alpine Ski Team program was born.
Although the National Team Program was successful, it remained chronically underfunded. Following the 1964 Olympic Winter Games held at Innsbruck, Austria, the program underwent fundamental changes. As Alpine Technical Chairman of Canada in 1965 and 1966, Keith Nesbitt was thoroughly involved in the implementation of the revised program. Based in Nelson, British Columbia, the team would be coached by Canadians and funded by a new national fundraising program known as the National Ski Team Fund. High school and university courses were also available to the athletes in Nelson. While the new approaches were successful, competition for the Canadian team was restricted to events with United States teams. There was little exposure to the best in the world. The Europeans could not be persuaded to come to North America if no major competition were available.
Recognizing the problem, Keith searched for event sponsors and was successful in enlisting the support of duMaurier to fund the duMaurier International Races which, in the third year of the sponsorship, became World Cup events. He persuaded the Bank of Montreal to take on the sponsorship for a further five years by which time Canada had become a recognized stop on the World Cup circuit. As the Eastern Canada Skier noted “Technical alpine chairmen tend to remain shadowy figures whose name appears annually when elected. Nesbitt, in that capacity for the entire Canadian Amateur Ski Association has lent, if not glamour, at least a monumental amount of prestige and respect to his position”.
In 1967, he became Executive Director of the Canadian Ski Association (its name now changed from the Canadian Amateur Ski Association) a position he would hold for ten very productive years until 1977. As additional support for the National Ski Team, he developed the official supplier programs which became a major fundraiser. He also initiated the National Coaching Certification Program, the first for any sport in Canada. Both of these programs were created to strengthen Canada’s ability to compete with the rest of the world and to provide the national team with the best equipment available to do it.
There is no doubt that without the enthusiasm, dedication and guiding hand of Keith Nesbitt, Canada’s emergence as a contender on the international skiing circuit would have happened at a much later date, if at all. The effect of the creation of our National team, major international races and world cup racing with the resultant exposure, greatly popularized and accelerated the development of the sport in Canada.
Please Note: The ski information gathered here is compiled from a number of sources; it may not be inclusive of all accomplishments.
Copyright © 2021, Canadian Ski Museum. For Personal/Educational use only. All Rights Reserved.
[L to R]: ?, Dave Murray, Keith Nesbitt, Luc Dubois. Alpine Canada Alpin.
Canadian Ski Museum Chair, Erle Bergh, and inductee Keith Nesbitt at 1991 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. CSHFM Collection.
Keith Nesbitt (left). CSHFM Collection.
Ed Champagne, John Fripp, Keith Nesbitt during “Ski with the Legends Race” at Mt. Cascade in 2000. CSHFM Collection.
Master of ceremonies Peter Duncan (left), Glenn Pushman, and Keith Nesbitt (right) at 2002 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. W.P.McElligott 6302-21.
Keith Nesbitt and inductee Lloyd Langlois at 2002 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. W.P.McElligott 6302-15.
Keith Nesbitt, Canadian Ski Museum Chair, with Inductee Bob Richardson at 1997 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. CSHFM Collection.
Keith Nesbitt, Canadian Ski Museum Chair, with Inductee Liisa Savijarvi at 1997 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. CSHFM Collection.
Keith Nesbitt and Inductee Fraser Pullen (right) at 2004 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. W.P. McElligott / 6086-22.
Anne Heggtveit and Keith Nesbitt at 2007 Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Valberg Imaging – Andrea Cardin.