By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Pat Biggs has experienced alpine skiing from four different and exhilarating perspectives.
After being introduced to recreational downhill skiing at age two by his parents at Mount Buller, which is about three hours outside Melbourne, Australia, Biggs worked his way through the National Capital Division and Ontario team programs, earned a spot on the Canadian national squad and qualified for two Winter Olympic Games and two world championships.
A long-time member of the Camp Fortune Ski Club, he transitioned into coaching, after he retired from the World Cup racing circuit in January, 2012. He was able to pass on his technical knowledge and other racing skills for three years to skiers ages 12 to 15 years old.
Biggs also experienced the administrative side of the sport, serving as the Camp Fortune alpine ski program director for six years.
On June 1, 2022, Biggs, a major ambassador for the sport, climbed another big step on the alpine ladder by accepting the job as the executive director for Alpine Ontario, the provincial sports governing body based in Collingwood.
“It dawned on me that I have worked in different capacities in the sport as athlete, coach and director of local and regional programs,” Biggs said in a phone interview last week about his new role in alpine skiing.
“At the end of the day, I felt I could have a positive impact … and move the sport forward. When I was contacted by Alpine Ontario, I thought it over for a while. It was a good way to give back to the sport. It’s my life passion.”
In his first eight months, Biggs is getting familiar with the various aspects of Alpine Ontario’s top job, while working from his home.
“The job has gone really well. I’m excited to have a lot of opportunities with engagement in the community. COVID has been difficult for the organization as we are structured for stability and programs. We couldn’t activate our courses, it hurt funding and we lost staff.”
But as the COVID-19 pandemic is releasing its hold on Canada, Biggs added Alpine Ontario is going through a strategic planning process for rebuilding.
“What are the needs of the clubs and how do we position ourselves to best serve the athletes, coaches, volunteers and officials,” he wondered.
“I’ve recognized in my first year the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes that people take for granted … and the amount of effort to work with government, partners and sponsors to generate money.”
While Biggs said the pandemic did drive more people to the ski hills as families wanted to get outside for exercise, he’s also concerned about making it affordable for everyone.
“The sport has increased in cost and we’re trying to keep it accessible to families and working with governments and sponsors for kids to stay in the sport,” Biggs outlined.
He also is concerned about climate change. With a lack of natural snowfall in the province compared to previous decades, ski operators are compelled to get high-tech snowmaking systems to produce snow as early and as often as possible to run their businesses.
“We’re working with resorts and ski organizations to limit carbon emissions in how we operate,” Biggs explained.
For the decade before Biggs became the Alpine Ontario executive director, he finished his degree at Dartmouth College in 2012 and moved into coaching and serving as a program director at Camp Fortune.
He found his transition to coaching from racing was “fluid for me.”
“Skiing is something I really love from different perspectives,” he continued. “With coaching … you give learning experiences to the kids for their development. I got an appreciation for what my coaches did for me.”
As a technical ski racer, Biggs focused exclusively on the slalom race during his seven World Cup seasons (2005-12). He had 68 World Cup starts and had back-to-back 10th-place results in his first two races in early January, 2005, in Chamonix, France and Wengen, Switzerland.
Biggs made the move to the World Cup circuit after posting four wins on the European Cup loop in 2004 and 2005.
His two best results came at the 2005 and 2007 world championships, when he had matching ninth-place finishes in Bormio, Italy, and Are, Sweden.
In his two Olympic appearances, he was 35th in giant slalom during the 2010 Games at Whistler, and didn’t complete his second slalom run at Torino in 2006, after placing 10th in the first run.
“I always wanted to make it to the top, but I didn’t achieve that goal,” said Biggs, whose career was interrupted by five knee surgeries, back issues and a career-ending concussion. “In reflection years later, I was a bit awed that I made it as far as I did. Getting to the world championships and Olympics, I was proud of that.
“I feel grateful to have had that experience. It was a special time as well as the friendships I made.”
Biggs also stays in contact with ski racing and the alpine community through his art work, an activity which brings balance to his life. In the past, he has seen his work appear on posters for a Lake Louise World Cup and Alpine Canada’s 100th birthday.
His new job has kept him away from the easel, but he’ll soon work on his next project, which will be part of an Alpine Ontario summer fundraiser.
“I’m incredibly passionate about our sport, building a strong community and bringing the joy of racing to athletes, clubs, coaches, officials, volunteers and our partners across the province,” Biggs said in the press release last May announcing his job as Alpine Ontario executive director.
“Whether it’s creating more athlete opportunities, supporting clubs and coach education or introducing new families to our sport, I’m looking forward to working with our team of stakeholders to shape the future of ski racing in Ontario.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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