Cross country ski coach Bjorger Pettersen, a pioneer of the sport in Canada and around the world, passed away Dec. 29 at his home in Okotoks, Alta., but is being remembered by his connections in the North.
After holding successful spring ski clinics in Inuvik in the late 1960s, Pettersen was invited by the territorial government to start up a skiing and research program to measure how success in skiing could influence Indigenous people in the North.
That program, which Pettersen called Territorial Experimental Ski Training, or TEST, produced Olympic athletes like Sharon and Shirley Firth. Harold Cook from Fort Good Hope was part of the program and remembers Pettersen’s positive influence on himself as well as the sport.
“He had a tremendous influence, a good influence on me when I was at Grollier and I was there when we went to Canada Winter Games,” said Cook. Grollier Hall was a Catholic residential school in Inuvik that was eventually turned over to the territorial government in 1969 and closed in 1996. Cook said he first got into skiing after being interviewed by Father Mouchet for the program.
“Originally when I started, we had them old plywood skis that we used to use, and that’s how we got our start,” Cook recalled fondly.
“I owe a lot to Bjorger and I’m really grateful to him. I believe that he was a pioneer for cross-country skiing when he took over from Father Mouchet. I think he had a real positive influence on skiing in the Delta and in Canada.”
Petterson placed a lot of emphasis on distance training in preparation for the season, said Cook. And although Pettersen cared for his team, he could be a demanding coach.
“Every morning we used to run to Shell Lake, the lake between the airport,” said Cook. “Then also on the ski trails, dry-land training and he was a real particular on ski technique. We had meetings all the time when he had a room at Grollier.”
Cook cites Pettersen’s influence as the main reason he attended the University of Alaska.
“He emphasized education and we even studied together,” said Cook. “And he tutored us too.”
Cook said he had a few very interesting years training with Pettersen.
“And I never got to thank him,” said Cook. “I just want to express my appreciation and I’m sure that the other members of the ski team would do the same thing too.”
If Cook could talk to Pettersen today, he would tell him how much that support meant to him.
“I would thank him for being there for me and his guidance and his emphasis on education and his tutoring and encouraging us to read, you know?”