• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Ski club pioneer to be inducted to Sports Hall of Fame

      April 2, 2012

      George LaFeuvre rests on a massive trail groomer - a far cry from his days of grooming with snowshoes.

      As George LaFeuvre stepped off the train the bitter February air tore through his lungs, a common greeting from the harsh winters in Labrador West. That he would be inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame 51 years later was likely not on his mind, at least not as much as finding a warm bed.

      Still in its infancy in 1961, Labrador City was known as the Carol Project, and Mr. LaFeuvre made his way to what the workers called Campsite. A small warehouse sat in a mostly vacant area, where Mr. LaFeuvre learned to order and send out equipment to engineers or mechanics.

      As the city slowly grew with the mine, Mr. LaFeuvre and his wife settled into the area where they would remain for 32 years. Within a few years he was introduced to cross country skis by his friends, equipment he had never seen in his hometown of Burin, a small fishing town on a peninsula on the south coast Newfoundland. He and his wife gave it a try, and slowly learned basic techniques until later on when an instructor was able to give pointers on correct procedures.

      The small city didn’t have many experienced cross country skiers, except for a family from Estonia and another few from Norway who grew up cross country skiing, so it was up to the small crowd to establish trails. Without the aid of any other equipment they would make a morning march over a couple kilometers with snowshoes, and spend the short afternoons skiing over the freshly-packed snow.

      The Menihek Nordic Ski Club was founded in 1975, two years after the launch of the first Great Labrador Loppet, a major cross country ski event between Fermont, Quebec and Labrador City and currently the only Loppet in Canada were skiers travel between two provinces. Mr. LaFeuvre joined the club executive as the trail maintenance director, which he held until 1993 when he moved to New Brunswick.

      As the club grew in membership, so did the need for better ski trails. Money was raised for an Alpine double track ski-doo, and with homemade drags and tracksetters developed by Mr. LaFeuvre, membership with the club grew even faster.

      Of course, a lot has changed since Mr. LaFeuvre marched in his snowshoes.

      “When you’re involved with it to the degree and length of time I was, there’s a lot to learn,” he laughed.

      In both 1983 and 1985, Labrador City was awarded the final World Cup Race for the season, and each time Mr. LaFeuvre was Chief of Course for the events.

      After assisting Nova Scotia with trail grooming for the 1987 Canada Winter Games, he caught the eye of officials of the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, where he would work as Assistant Chief of Mechanical Grooming for six weeks.

      Mr. LaFeuvre found a big difference in the equipment.

      “We were primarily doing it with a snowmobile,” he said. “At the Olympics, there was more advanced equipment which took quite a bit of getting used to.”

      His involvement in the sport grew worldwide as he was invited as a guest speaker at symposiums, as well as giving seminars on trail grooming and track setting. In 1991 he was invited to Italy to work on the trails for that year’s Nordic Cross-Country Ski Championships, working as the only non-Italian on the trail preparation team.

      Three years later he travelled with his wife to Norway for the 1994 Winter Olympics, and would visit the country again over the years for various competitions. He also took part in the 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Torino, Italy, and 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, totalling over 30 national and international competitions.

      “It’s something I really enjoy doing,” Mr. LaFeuvre said. “People ask me why, and I really don’t know. For some reason I just like being out there doing it. I had no idea I would end up working in Japan, Norway, or Finland.”

      Mr. LaFeuvre will be inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame in the Builder category for his involvement in cross-country skiing on April 14 in St. John’s.

      “It’s quite an honor,” Mr. LaFeuvre said. “Your name has to be put forward by someone, and I know my long-time friend Gerry Rideout (president of the Menihek Nordic Ski Club) has helped quite a bit with that, and I owe a lot to Gerry for my career in the grooming aspect.”

      Through his long list of accomplishments, Mr. LaFeuvre said he’s most happy about helping skiers get on their feet.

      “I know some people started their skiing career after I started, and I helped them the best I could. I'm just glad to have been able to help in any way.”