On the shoulders of giants

Left to right: Andre Schwartz, Norman Kreutz, Cam and Georgann Watson, Geoff Booth, Martin Olsen. Photo John Evely

In November, in front of a crowd of his peers, friends and family, Cam Watson, a Sun Peaks resident, was recognized by the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (SIA) for a lifetime of excellence and dedication to the sport of skiing.

Each year, the Alliance honours a handful of distinguished members by inducting them into the CSIA Hall of Fame. At a ceremony in Banff stories were shared, memories were recalled, and Cam expressed his gratitude with those gathered at the annual CSIA member’s convention. The room was a who’s who of the ski teaching world and, with his induction, Cam joined some legendary founders, builders and inspirational leaders who have come before him. He is still out there on snow, as a coach, trainer and motivator and his passion continues to inspire those who will come after him.

It might be cliché to say that Cam spent his life doing what he was born to do, but cliché or not, it’s hard to ignore the path that led him toward the Hall of Fame. His parents, and especially his father Bill, shared the love for sliding on snow.

The Watson family lived in Burlington, Ont., near Hamilton. Cam started skiing at Chedoke Ski Area in the early 60s. His dad coached young ski racers, including Cam, in the Nancy Greene Ski League. Later Bill Watson coached in Ellicottville, NY, where Cam also raced. Even earlier, in the mid 50s, Bill Watson taught skiing at Mt. Tremblant, in a ski school led by CSIA legend, Ernie McCullogh. All of this rubbed off on a young Cam Watson.

One memory he shared with me, and one that turned out to be prophetic, was a picture his father had of the 1965 Canadian Interski Team. For those who aren’t familiar, Interski is a congress of ski nations that assembles every four years to showcase different ski techniques and teaching methodologies. Imagine the movie Top Gun, Interski is the snow sport equivalent. Countries send the best of the best to carry the flag. That picture of the 1965 Canadian delegation inspired Cam to work toward his goal of representing the CSIA at Interski. He realized that dream in 1987, on home turf in Banff. He went on to ski for Canada at two more Interski events, St. Anton, Austria in 1991 and Nozawa Onsen, Japan in 1995.

These professional accolades, while impressive in their own right, are only a part of what has made him one of the most respected professionals in Canadian ski teaching. You could argue that Cam’s most impressive accomplishments are actually not skiing related at all.

He met his wife of 37 years, Georgann, while teaching in Banff. Together they raised two children, Ally and Cody. In places like Banff and Blue River, skiing offered the family the opportunity to live a life in the mountains. Georgann was able to provide a strong support system for the family, encouraging Cam to chase his dreams, all the while pursuing her own, a Doctorate in Education. None of us lives to work, we work to live. By that metric, Cam and Georgann created a life worth celebrating.

Cam Watson’s very first pair of skis, made by hand by his dad. Photo supplied

There are myriad reasons people achieve success in their chosen field. One common occurrence is the existence of a network of mentors. Those you can emulate, imitate, observe and pattern your behaviour after. In that regard, Cam was very lucky indeed. From his first full time teaching position in Banff, under the leadership of Geoff Booth, to being mentored by CSIA glitterati like Nip Bradford and Martin Olsen; Cam was able to identify the talents of his mentors, while developing his own unique style of teaching. One piece of advice that stuck with him was given by Nip Bradford; he told Cam not to worry too much about the technical stuff but to show course candidates how much you really care. Cam took that advice with him throughout his career as a course conductor. Sincerity and passion are two things that are difficult to fake – luckily Cam was genuine with both.

Of all the relationships that Cam has formed, none holds a more special place than his 40-year friendship with Norman Kreutz. Norman is a legend in his own right and was inducted into the CSIA Hall of Fame in 2015. The two were hired at the same time in Banff and throughout their careers pushed each other to be the best they could be. The line between friendship and competition is sometimes blurred but having someone to inspire you, to drive you forward, to keep you honest is a huge motivator. In the end, both men were better for it.

One final thought that occurred to me in writing this is the prevalence of males as role models and mentors in Cam’s life, from his dad, to many of the CSIA leaders he learned from. As an organization, the CSIA has historically had more males in leadership roles; it’s an area that, in all honesty, needs to be improved. It would have been easy for that to affect Cam as a course conductor or trainer. I can say, from firsthand knowledge, Cam has shared his knowledge and passion equally with all skiers. That could be a testament to his upbringing or his core values, his respect for females in the sport is refreshing and an inspiration. As he continues to coach racers from the Sun Peaks Alpine Club, it is only fitting that he is still sharing his passion and knowledge with the next generation of skiers, after all, it’s what he’s been doing his whole life.

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