March 31, 2020

By Ken Read

Mike Irwin represents the very best of ski racing: athlete, volunteer, father of four ski racing children, official, sponsor of programs and athletes, masters racer – a lifetime commitment of leading, sharing and building.

Young Mike with Joe

The presence of ski racing was always found in the Irwin household and the lure of the World Cup could be found right next door. “I grew up living beside National Team athlete Reto Barrington. I would see the ski bags outside on the street as he was getting ready to head to Europe to race. I followed his career and his achievements and as I grabbed my school books to go off to Mount Royal Junior High, I swore to myself that is what I wanted to do. So I did.”

He did, indeed. With his hugely supportive parents (Jeannie & Joe), from early days on snow at Paskapoo and Happy Valley to training under the keen eyes of Mike and Norbert Wiegele in the Lake Louise Ski Club, the foundation of future success was laid down. “He (Mike Wiegele) taught us how to ski downhill, basically he taught us how to go fast.”

In five seasons of World Cup and Europa Cup, highlights were a bronze in a Europa Cup and two top-15 results in World Cup downhills. And like many Canadian athletes, a trip down the Streif at Kitzbuhel was another memorable moment. “Nothing was better than my three years of racing the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel” says Mike. “It was incredible. Canadians dominated the event and all of us always skied a little better that week every year. I never fell either. My Mom and Dad came and watched and it was a thrill of a life time.”

Mike and his teammates

Even on retirement from the Canadian Team, ski racing was never far away. Irwin raced on the Ontario University circuit and on graduation from Western University, joined brokerage firm Raymond James. Back in the corporate world of Calgary, he took on organizational and leadership roles. He served as a Board Member and Chair of Alberta Alpine and Director of Alpine Canada. In 2005 he brought Raymond James to the lead role in supporting the Alberta Ski Team for a decade. This corporate role extended to just about every fundraising and promotional activity of Alberta Alpine including the Quest for Gold golf, Return of the Champions and Alberta Ski Team ski day. Mike keeps personally active in ski racing, leading a Team to the annual Interbourse Ski Championship.

Interbourse World Championships

The support of ski racing in the Irwin Family runs deep. His father, Joe, is one of the founding patrons of the Petroleum Club fundraising event for the Canadian Ski Team, established in 1968. Mike has carried on this tradition through his sustaining support for what is now known as the annual “Highest Peak Gala” the annual major fundraising event for alpine skiing in Alberta.

Even after more than 50 years of support for our sport, Mike is still hard at it, leading Teams. His knowledge and leadership skills were called on for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, building a team that organized two World Cup test events in 2007-08 and for the Games. Mike has been the boss for the annual Nor-Am slalom at Panorama since 2007, a crew that is arguably one of the best in North America. And looking forward, he is Chair for the 2022 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships, to be held in Panorama.

Mike at the start hut leading up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver

Behind every great leader, is a great champion. Missy Irwin married into the world of ski racing 36 years ago, probably not really knowing what she had signed up for. With her humour and twinkle in her eye, she has supported Mike in his many pursuits and as a partner in marshalling Tom, Geoff, Pete and Kath through ski racing careers, university and into the professional world.

To lifelong friend, Mark Bowman, Mike has not only set the bar high for himself, he has also been there to help friends and his community. “Mike and his father Joe reeled me into ski racing at Lake Louse, which turned out to be ‘the gift that keeps on giving’” said Mark. “It didn’t take long to see that Mike would become a lifelong leader that is so evident today. Not only did Mike push himself to achieve all the success he has earned, he always challenged others to strive to succeed as well, even from the early years, and if anyone needed help along the way he was always there to provide a hand or some encouragement. Mike still loves to compete in several sports and is a natural leader and builder as evidenced by his leadership roles across the spectrum of sport, business, family and community.”

Early days

“Our sport has many dedicated supporters and Mike has been such a tremendous leader,” said Alberta Alpine President, Rob McCloskey. “We have athletes, parents, alumnus and keen individuals who give back, invest their time and resources, so our athletes can aim high, aim to represent our country. Mike is one of those remarkable people who have given so much to build our sport: as an athlete, as a volunteer leader and through a personal commitment to our athletes. We simply cannot thank Mike and his peers enough for their enormous contribution to our athletes and to our events.”

The Canadian ski racing community salutes Mike, Missy and the entire Irwin family for their lifelong dedication to our athletes and our sport, upon his induction as a “Builder” into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.

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