• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Heinz Niederhauser

      January 18, 2008

      heinz-3-1.jpg

      Nordic skier, coach, master ski waxer, pastry chef, mentor, father and beloved husband. Born August 27, 1935, Switzerland

      On the first weekend of January, cross country ski racers descended on the ski trails at Highlands Nordic, near Collingwood, to compete in races that would select Canada’s team for the world junior and under-23 teams. As usual, Heinz Niederhauser, one of Canada’s great cross country ski coaches, was on site to help the Ontario Nordic ski team do its best.

      It was there, on Saturday January 5, that he took a break between races to ski one of the loops at Highlands. “It’s a great day for a ski,” Heinz said to one of the coaches on the trail. Moments later, he collapsed in the snow.

      Heinz, who at 72 was still a handsome man with a sturdy, athletic body, died doing what he loved to do – cross country ski and coach young athletes, from the club level to the Olympic greats.

      Heinz was born in Switzerland, the son of a chocolate maker. After training as a pastry chef in Switzerland he immigrated to Finland to work in the factory of one of the biggest chocolate and pastry companies in the world. There he married a Finnish girl, and in the late 1960’s he immigrated to Canada to work as a baker in Southern Ontario.

      When he arrived in Canada, cross country skiing wasn’t very popular here; the only cross country skiers in those days were immigrants from Europe, primarily Scandinavia, where cross country skiing for fitness and sport had been popular for over a century. Yet it was then, just as the fitness boom was fueling an interest in cross country skiing in North America, that Heinz discovered his lifelong passion for the sport.

      Heinz quickly moved from racing to instructing and coaching. He developed and coached the Southern Ontario Division team, instructed and examined Canadian Ski Association Instructor and coaching courses, conducted clinics for high school teachers and athletes, and initiated many races in Southern Ontario.

      In the late 1970’s, he became the Technical Director for the National Ski Team. Cross country skiing was really beginning to blossom and it needed trained leaders, coaches and instructors, and Heinz was at the forefront in all of these areas. He launched the Coaching Certification program by running the first coaches’ courses in 1977. He was one of the three founding fathers of the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors. He started the first Junior National Team and the first sport science committee for the National Team.

      He coaches plenty of great cross country skiers, including several stars of the national ski team like Jenny Walker, Kate Brennan and Perianne Jones. Marty Hall, former National Team coach, wrote: "Gatineau Park will never be the same--it was my time to be with and see Heinz--the king and his court---so many skiers, coaches and athletes were mentored, coached and touched by Heinz in so many good ways---not only in sport but in life--could there be any more vibrant encounter each and every time you met up with him at one of the cabins, trails or parkways---he always made your day better."

      He was a rigorous coach. At national ski team training camps, he would insist that cross country skiers begin the day with a run in the dark at 6:30 a.m. Heinz was always the first one up and the leader of the morning run and stretches. These were not optional runs, they were mandatory, even for those veteran senior skiers on the team that had never done it before. That was Heinz’s way – we all did it, there were no exceptions and we all did it on time. Everything about that camp was organized in the way that only the Swiss can organize.

      After the 1980 Olympics, Heinz returned to the club and division level as the coach of the Ontario Ski Team and the National Capital Ski Team. He also started the Ottawa Ski Racers Ski Club and helped many athletes make the National Team.

       In the 1980’s, he moved to Lowney Lake, west of Ottawa, where he ran a campground, installed swimming pools, did income tax returns and baked fantastic desserts for his campground guests and other local cottage and home owners.  His specialty was chocolate tortes, or anything chocolate. He started the Lowney Lake Nordic Ski club primarily for the children of his second family, Jana and Sven, who became very accomplished ski racers.

      There have been many words used to describe Heinz: Enthusiastic, motivated, kind, encouraging, passionate, dedicated, persistent, hard working, knowledgeable, fun, difficult, and a role model. He was all of these and more. He was a loving husband to his wife Blanche and to five children from two marriages.

      Heinz loved cross country skiing and people. He loved to help people and he genuinely cared about others. Throughout his skiing life, he always tried to help others to become better skiers and people. He lived his life at 100% forward speed, always challenging skiers, coaches, and administrators to be better.

      His legacy will live on long after he is gone. It will live on in the skiers that he has coached, in the coaches that he has trained and in the structure of the sport of cross country skiing that he has made better. Like ripples flowing out from a rock hitting the water of a lake, the legacy of Heinz Niederhauser will live on in cross country skiing for as long as there are skiers in Canada.