Bob Leitch: Presidents Award for Lifetime of Dedication to Ski Racing

Lifting our sport through a commitment to events, to leadership and to family.

If you are at a ski race in Alberta, particularly a high level one, chances are that you’re going to run into Bob Leitch. Say hello quickly though, because he’s likely on a mission – yet again stepping up to lead or just lend a helping hand to bring another event to a successful conclusion.

For our recipient of the 2nd President’s Award for Exceptional Service, ‘doing what has to be done’ has long been a way of life and a part of his persona. Bob’s contributions so widely span the breadth of ski racing, they are hard to categorize; inclusion to the Canadian Rockies Ski Racing Hall of Fame named as the winner of this award was the appropriate thing to do. Athlete, Alberta Ski Team Alumni, Official, Leader, Volunteer, and race-parent, Bob has, and continues to do it all!

His ski-racing voyage started, like many others, humbly and without much expectation. At 12, on the advice of Norm Russel from Norm’s Ski Hut, his father took him for lessons at the Mighty Paskapoo. “There was a fun race at the end of the lessons” recalled Bob. “Skimeisters Ski Club invited some kids to Norquay to join their Nancy Greene program. Early recruiting strategy!”

This launched a ski racing pathway that took Bob all the way to the Alberta Ski Team and competing on the Nor-Am Tour. In 1981 Bob started his studies at UBC, also racing with the UBC Ski Team, helping win the NCSA Championship at Steamboat Springs. After school, the racing bug took him into Master’s Racing, but importantly, he also started volunteering, working course at the ’88 Olympics and other local events.

Bob’s volunteering evolved and soon enough, he became a competent and dependable leader within Race Organizing Committees. His CV of races is long and storied, but when asked, his years “hosting the Lake Louise Nor-Am with a core group of special individuals who put their heart and soul into running as quality a downhill race as you will find anywhere in the world, is a highlight”, a privilege. Bob’s roles include: Chief of Race/Chief of Course for Louise NorAm DH’s and SG’s over the past 10 years; Chief of Race/chief of course for numerous regional FIS, U16, U14 and NG events; Chief of Race/Chief of Course for multiple NorAm events and NorAm finals at Nakiska, and; Chief of Course for Canadian Championships at Nakiska.

Alongside his volunteer work with events, Bob also embarked on the Officials pathway first earning his designation as a National Technical Delegate and subsequently a FIS TD. His portfolio of volunteerism also included roles as a Director and then President of Calgary Alpine Race Club and then as a Director and Board Chair of Alberta Alpine.

Bob’s personal ski racing highlights are as a parent. “Watching our boys compete at various levels of racing and, after sport, continue to become skiers for life. It’s hard to beat a great day of spring skiing with the family or friends.” Bob and Pat, and their boys Cam and Jack, have managed a sport-active household, juggling hockey and ski schedules. It takes this family commitment and son, Jack, followed in Dad’s footsteps to the Alberta Ski Team and then to the Canadian Paralympic Ski Team as guide for Mac Marcoux where they captured gold and bronze in the 2018 Paralympics in PeyongChang.

When asked who he would like to recognize as his key influencers, he starts by saying “that in 50 years of involvement in the sport, there are many!” As an athlete, he holds up coach Ken Marchand (2014 Honoured Lifetime Builder), “a no nonsense, no sugar-coating approach to ski racing. Ken instilled the importance of hard work and sacrifice at a young age – core principals I value today.”

As an event volunteer and race official, Bob says the most influential person is his close friend Todd McNutt. “We have done (and continue to do) countless events together. I have learned so much about being prepared, anticipating problems before they happen, and all the other influences both inside and outside the fences. Truly a great mentor and friend.” He also gives a nod to Darrell MacLachlan, who “provided great words of wisdom during the FIS TD aspirant process and while acting as a FIS TD. Darrell was a good friend who will be missed by many in our community.”

‘However, the most important people along this journey have been my family. Our boys, Cam and Jack, and especially my wife Pat. Without her support and understanding I could not have been able to dedicate as much time as I have. I can’t thank Pat enough. We often joke that I have spent more nights in hotel rooms with Todd than I have with her. Now that is one very special lady.’

Bob lists his childhood heroes, while he was racing, as Ken Read and Ingemar Stenmark. Bob’s ‘voice of reason’ with issues outside the fences? “Doug Airey always managed to put things into perspective.”

With his long involvement, Bob has insight worthy of sharing: “The ski racing community is unique and very special. Lifelong friends for both athlete’s and parents are made along the way. A ski racing career is relatively short. However, skiing is a life sport and should be enjoyed with good friends as often as possible for as long as possible. Get involved. Paying forward by volunteering at any level race, sharing your knowledge and patiently teaching the less experienced will ensure we continue to host quality and fun events in the future. Nobody knows everything……there is always something to learn. Remember the reason we are here in the first place……for the athletes!”

And, when asked, he has some tips for young racers: “Have as much fun as you can and enjoy the journey… goes fast! You are very fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to ski race. Work hard at dryland and never give up on any training or race run. Learn to wax and tune your skis before every day on the hill. Don’t get too hung up on the results… will have lots of time to do that if you chose to go on to FIS. Support your team members. If you are having fun and enjoy the sport, stick with it… takes some longer than others to reach their potential. Not all results are measured by the clock. “If you want to be a good ski racer you need to be a good all-around athlete” says Bob. “Play and participate in as many sports as you can. Enjoy the summer doing something else so you are keen to get back on your skis when the snow falls.” Wise words.

Although he has and continues to give a lot to the sport, he insists that it has contributed much to his life and work. “Ski racing can be a cruel sport. There are often far more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’. It teaches you perseverance, patience and discipline which are all strong traits that everyone needs in life, work and to become a positive member of any community. You learn to deal with adversity, take responsibility for your actions, self-evaluate and hopefully develop solutions. If you continue to work hard you will be rewarded. If you can push out of a start gate at the top of a downhill course nothing else in life will seem that hard.” Bob says that his roles have “reinforced the importance of real, unselfish, ‘team work’, and the gratification of coming together to provide the athletes with the best track you can on any given day.”

It isn’t a surprise that for Bob, the sport’s most important gift “was the good fortune of developing both lifelong and new friendships, all of which share the one common bond of somehow being involved in Ski Racing!”

Well said, well played, many thanks, and congratulations to Bob Leitch, the 2020 President’s Award for Exceptional Service to Ski Racing and the snowsport community.