Yukon ski coach honoured to enter hall of fame

    November 22, 2013


    Alain Masson’s athletic achievements are well-documented.

    The 52-year-old Yukoner is one of the few Canadians to attend both the Summer and Winter Olympics for his talents in road cycling and cross-country skiing.

    But next week, it will be Masson’s coaching legacy that will be recognized when he enters the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame Thursday at the Sport Yukon Awards Night at the Westmark.

    “It’s a huge honour to be recognized by the community,” the longtime Cross Country Yukon ski coach told the Star in a sit-down interview this morning.

    Masson joined the territory’s sport governing body for cross-country skiing in 1995 as head coach and sport coordinator.

    As a direct result, the Yukon has pumped out a significant number of high-calibre skiers over the past two decades, 14 of whom achieved accolades on the national and world stage.

    In fact, Yukon skiers have won more than 100 national-level medals under Masson’s tutelage, including 17 in 2007 alone.

    While about 10 per cent of all Yukoners are cross-country skiers, the territory’s competitive ski team is much smaller than that – currently sitting at 70 members.

    Masson quickly admits his greatest pride is in the program he implemented, especially the ability of the Squad Program to optimize an athlete’s potential.

    “I am really thankful to be recognized for a program that can deliver year after year at the national level,” Masson said.

    “It took a long time to build it, but I think the program is most important. The last 10 years, we have seen a lot of results. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”

    The year-round program pushes tradition, confidence, hard work and dedication to detail.

    “If you join this ski program and are dedicated to it, you could very well turn out to be the best in the country,” Masson said confidently. “One of the challenges in the Yukon is to allow athletes to believe they can be successful. Expectations are high here. We try for excellence.”

    The highlight of Masson’s coaching career came just last year at the 2012 World Junior and U-23 championships in Turkey. Five of the 16 skiers representing Canada were from the Yukon. Each of them grew up taking tips from Masson.

    While talent, endurance and mental stamina eventually play a role, Masson said his program is built in such a way that even an “average athlete” will eventually produce high-level results. Skiers are groomed to succeed, with nationals-bound athletes forced to fulfill a selection criteria in order to attend – a process not all jurisdictions adhere to.

    Having the country’s top wax technician in their corner also helps local skiers. Masson continues to get the call from the national team to serve, and will take up his duties waxing skis again in February at the Sochi Olympics.

    Masson quickly admitted the program would not work without the great resources available in the Yukon, including a slew of knowledgeable volunteers who love the sport as much as he does.

    And while this year has been marked by the retirement of many high-level skiers including David Greer, Janelle Greer and John Parry, Masson said the success of the program means there are young athletes ready to fill their ski boots.

    “Athletes like Dahria Beatty, Knute Johnsgaard ... now they will carry the torch,” he said.

    Longtime friend Bill Parry said the ski team’s recent string of success is directly linked to Masson’s involvement in the program.

    “So many people have made the leap under his guidance,” he said. “It’s not just a one-off. He started a long time ago and he continues to pump it up. His success is the ski team’s success and the ski team’s success is his.”

    Parry, 58, will introduce Masson Thursday with a speech during the HOF ceremony.

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    Sport Yukon has also released the names of those up for this year’s major awards. Nominees are listed below.

    International Male Athlete of the Year: Graham Nishikawa, cross-country skiing; Trevor Bray, orienteering.

    International Female Athlete of the Year: Emily Nishikawa, cross-country skiing; Kendra Murray, orienteering.

    National/Territorial Male Athlete of the Year: Thomas Scoffin, curling; Logan Roots, track and field; Knute Johnsgaard, cross-country skiing.

    National/Territorial Female Athlete of the Year: Kendra Murray, cross-country skiing; Rachel Pettitt, figure skating; Chelsea Duncan, curling; Sarah Koltun, curling.

    Administrator of the Year: Leslie Gomm, Yukon Soccer Association; Geoff Woodhouse, Yukon Soccer Association.

    Coach of the Year: Russ Tait, Volleyball Yukon.

    Team of the Year: Canada Summer Games men’s volleyball team; Yukon Junior Selects; Team Koltun.