When the mass starts were unleashed from the natural stadium at Caledonia Nordic Ski Club to commence the Teck BC Championships, it was also the big start for Dennis Balogh.
The longtime Prince George resident is in his second week as General Manager of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, the chief operators of the sprawling outdoor facility near the shore of the Nechako River, on the western outskirts of BC’s northern capital. He’s had barely enough time to figure out where the coffee pot sits before he was headlong into the first race action the centre has seen since the days before we heard the word “pandemic.” It has been about two years since starting guns, cowbells and air horns were rattling the Otway air, so Balogh had to hit the ground running…er…skiing.
It’s not like he doesn’t know his way around these trails. He may be just feeling his way into the administrative avenues and alleys of how to run the ambitious club, but he could rip around the hills, valleys and straighaways of this facility on a cloudy midnight with the lights off.
“I’ve been a member here since 2008,” he said. “I’m comfortable here. I had stopped skiing after high school but I started again when I met my wife. She moved here specifically for Otway.”
His wife is Shar Jackson, has been one of Prince George’s premier outdoor athletes for many years, a multiple champion and record setter in the city’s famed Ice Man quintathlon, among other accomplishments.
Jackson stars in one of Balogh’s favourite memories at CNSC. It was late February, 2012. He was near the finish line at the annual Loppet race that always attracts a who’s who of Nordic athletes. Shar Jackson was among the favourites to win the women’s event, but so were several others in the star-studded entry list. Balogh was thrilled to see Shar come into view in a dead heat with Nikki Kassel and Jacqui Benson, the three snow stars locked together in the pursuit of the gold.
“Shar had just gotten new ski poles, and she got to the point she decided to really go hard, but when she gave it that extra thrust, the poles didn’t plant the way she was used to with her old ones, and she stumbled hard,” said Balogh. “Nikki noticed and kind of hesitated a bit, showing some concern for her, and Jacqui was far enough ahead sprinting for the finish and didn’t notice Shar had fallen.”
The three still finished in a flurry fans still talk about with Benson’s 1:28:24.3 the winning time and Jackson in third only 5.2 seconds behind, with Kassel taking silver just one second behind the former World Cup competitor.
Balogh may not have been as dedicated to competition as his wife, but he is a natural and willing athlete with plenty of races under his own belt at this point, which the two of them are now passing on to their five-year-old daughter.
She was one of the biggest reasons Balogh threw his hat into the ring when the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club (CNSC) announced the available position. He felt he needed a change in his home-based (even before COVID-19) career, and he wanted to do something that was positive and uplifting for his family.
“This is a physically healthy place, and that is obvious of course, but it is an incredibly mentally healthy place too,” he said. “It was a natural transition for me because I already knew so many people connected to the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club – board members, volunteers, staff, the membership – so many friends.”
A lot of them were assembled right outside his new office window on Friday for the start of the Teck BC Championships. In addition to the hundreds of racers and supporters from all over the province, there was a strong spectator contingent as well, plus public skiing continued on.
Once he gets an orientation month or two under his belt he will be in a better position to set some new tracks into the organization’s future, but for now he is getting used to the administrative functions of the job and managing the needs of the staff. He does have some early hopes, though, based on his own years of experience with the place.
“I’m already straight into the winter stuff going on here, so that’s just unfolding naturally, so I’m looking ahead at building up summer programming and overall public support,” he said. “I’d love to get some official running programs based here. People by the hundred come here to run the trails as it is, so it’s something I know there’s a demand for. But I still have to get up to speed on everything before I go off on my own ideas.”
There’s a lot of speed all around him, as a whizzing wild welcome. The Teck BC Championships have the cream of cross-country here for the March 4-6 weekend, and then after only a few breaths it is straight into Balogh’s first taste of national hosting when the 2022 Canadian Biathlon Championships pull the trigger from March 11-17, presented by Stride & Glide Sports.
For more information on all these events and the world of outdoor action that goes on at Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, check out the CNSC website and follow all the links that interest you.