Thursday, May 07, 2009

Adios Amigos

A few weeks ago I made the tough decision to withdraw from running the Prairie Pitch Adventure Race this year.

Little did I know that it would lead to me withdrawing from the Saskatchewn section of the Alpine Club itself.

A lot of the newer members probably don't know my background with the club. I first joined the Alpine Club over 30 years ago. There was no Saskatchewan section then.

About 15 years ago, Ralph and Lisa Bock and Shelley and myself got together and formed a "Saskatchewan Alpine Club". At that point we weren't affiliated with the Alpine Club of Canada.

It was around the same time that Vic started Vic's Vertical Walls (now Climb 306). Not surprisingly, the members of the club were some of his first customers. I was so excited to have a climbing wall in town that I spent my evenings and weekends helping Vic and his Dad build the walls, first at their original location, and then at the current location.

For the first few years of the club, Shelley and I were the only members with any amount of experience and we led most of the trips.

I remember Dave McCormack showing up at one of our early meetings and telling us he wasn't going to climb, just hike. As you probably know he ended up doing plenty of climbing. And despite moving to British Columbia, he continues to lead some of the section's most popular trips.

Next, we decided we should be a section of the Alpine Club of Canada. We had to overcome a certain amount of bias against a small group from the flatlands, but we made our case successfully and became a section. I remember nervously making our proposal at the national meetings and waiting outside to hear the verdict.

We started a section newsletter, The Prairie Pitch, which was arguably the best section newsletter for many years. Shelley and I edited, folded, stuffed envelopes, printed mailing labels, and wrote articles ourselves when we were short.

We brought the Best of the Banff Mountain Film festival to Saskatoon. It was a big gamble at the start - if it had flopped we would have been paying for it out of our own pockets. But it was a success and continues to be one of the main fund raisers and promotional events for the section.

About 10 years ago, on an ice climbing trip with Shelley and I, Tony Nadon proposed starting an adventure race in Saskatchewan. For lack of a better name we called it the Prairie Pitch, the same as the newsletter. Tony did a great job of organizing the race for five years. When he stepped down, I took over for the next three years. Organizing the race was a lot of fun, but also a huge amount of work. (Especially if you're a perfectionist like me!)

The section has always been pretty "hands off" with the Prairie Pitch. The big reason it was done as a section event was to get insurance coverage. Tony wasn't an active member of the section and nor were his friends that helped him with the race.

I did my best to step down from the race gracefully. I really hoped someone from the section would volunteer to take over. But I wasn't very optimistic. For a while I'd been telling people I wouldn't be running the race forever and that someone should get involved so they could take over. But everyone is busy and as long as I was doing the work, it was easier not to think about it.

When I made my decision I first notified the section executive, gave them a chance to respond (they didn't), then notified all the section members (they didn't respond either), and finally let all the racers know. The racers did respond - thanking me for running the race in the past, and hoping that the race would continue.

The only people interested in organizing the race were Full Moon and J2 Adventures who put on races in Alberta. Full Moon didn't feel they could take it on this year but J2 was eager to take over - even to the point of taking over the expenses incurred to date (mainly the reservation at Cypress Hills Resort), and offering to give the section a portion of the proceeds.

Again, I notified the executive about this. Again, no real response. I didn't really find this strange because, as I said, the section has never had a lot to do with organizing the race.

I met with J2 in person and they convinced me they were the best option to have the race continue. I was happy because I'd really been afraid my stepping down would be the end of the Prairie Pitch.

This is when things went bad. Some of the section executive started having second thoughts about what I'd done. They didn't want to lose a major source of funding for the section. I can understand that, but the section had no one willing to organize the race. If no one will do the work, it doesn't matter how much you want the money! And it's not like the section "needed" the money. Most of the section revenue is just donated to various other organizations. The section itself doesn't have a lot of expenses.

They kept questioning my actions and arrangements until finally I lost my temper. Oops. I was chastised (rightly) for my "emotional outbursts".

But I felt (and still feel) angry, hurt, betrayed, sad. After everything I've done for the section, this is how they repay me. By pulling the rug out from under me. By reneging on the arrangments I made in good faith. And all, as far as I can tell, for nothing. It's not like anyone has a better suggestion.

I really wish they could have spoken up before I'd finished making all the arrangements. All they had to do was say "we'll take it from here" and I'd have been happy to let them deal with it.

I honestly thought I handled it openly, honestly, respectfully. I didn't go behind anyone's back, didn't do anything underhanded. I kept everyone in the loop. I certainly didn't stand to gain anything from it personally. Even now, I don't understand what I could have done different. (Other than not lose my temper!)

Now I look bad, the club looks bad, and J2 is in a really awkward position - they've already advertised the race and even had people register for it! And the executive didn't even have the decency or courtesy to phone the poor guy - just sent him an email saying the Prairie Pitch belongs to them and they'll decide what to do with it.

So I've quit the section. Obviously I'm on a totally different wavelength from some of the section executive. Maybe I'm overreacting, but this whole thing has left a sour taste that isn't going to go away any time soon.


  1. I'm sorry to hear that things have turned out so badly. Thank you for being one of the people who got the Section going - it became a vital part of my life in SK - even if it did mean we left the province every chance we got!!

  2. Hey Andrew. I'm sorry to hear about your problems with the sask section. Being from Regina and activly trying to get the climbing scene here going for the better part of the last 4 years, I have often looked at Saskatoon as a source of insperation. Something that we could try to attain, an active community of climbers who travel and work together while at home to make living here as great as it can be. So I guess I just want to thank you for doing what you have in the past for the s'toon community and showing the rest of us that it is possible to achieve a climbing community in the prairies. I hope the section (execs) will show some respect and hopefully not throw away what you and a few others have worked so hard to establish.

  3. Andrew: Sorry to hear about what you had to go through. It may not make you feel any better, but this is an anti-pattern I've seen repeatedly in my personal and professional life. You give people all the information they need to make a decision one way or another. You remind them. You follow up. Finally, something happens (e.g. deadline passes) and then all hell breaks loose, and somehow you're responsible for it.

    I wish there was some kind of solution to this phenomena, but I haven't found it yet. In my working world, though, I find that getting everyone in a room in front of their boss and asking them flat out "yay" or "nay" is about as close as it comes. The dynamic isn't quite the same for groups like yours, so that probably wouldn't have worked, either.

    Anyway, I think at the end of the day you'll be remembered for all the great work you did. That's already true at the grass roots level, but I think even many Alpine Club executive members will forget about this before they forget about everything else you did.

  4. Sorry to hear it turned out to be such a crapshoot. Sucks when you put your heart and soul into something and bastards turn it into crap.