Canadian ski racers are celebrating after Alpine Canada received its largest-ever personal philanthropic gift last month. The $1.3-million donation from the organization’s board chair, Timothy Dattels, is intended to help ease the financial strain on Canada’s top alpine ski, para-alpine and ski cross athletes, Alpine Canada announced Sept. 28.
“I find it absolutely abhorrent that we ask our athletes to pay—in addition to the challenge of not being in school, not working full time, etc., over a long arc— $30,000 for the privilege of representing Canada at the highest level of competition,” Dattels told Pique in a phone call from Indonesia. “This gift was designed to reduce that burden by about a third over a few years—maybe three or four years—so that we can get the funding flywheel going.”
Practically, it means athletes can dedicate more time and energy to training, and less to fundraising and finding sponsors. Dattels said he hopes his donation will inspire others to offer their own support.
Internationally carded athletes are eligible for a living and training allowance through Sport Canada’s Athletes Assistance Program, but that funding tops out at $1,765 per month. High-ranking athletes can potentially earn more through targeted, performance-based funding programs like Own the Podium, but particularly in a European-centred sport like ski racing that requires extensive—and expensive—travel for North American athletes, it's still not enough for most.
“I wanted the community to see and the athletes to feel that there are people behind them; individuals who are willing to step up,” he added.
Dattels is a senior advisor to private equity firm TPG Global, having previously served as partner for TPG and chairman of TPG Asia. Prior to joining the company in 2004, he worked as partner and managing director of Goldman, Sachs & Co. Dattels, originally from Caledon, Ont., was also appointed by the Prime Minister to represent Canada on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council.
His connection with Whistler, however, goes back further than any of those high-ranking positions: before he held an MBA from Harvard Business School, he held down gigs at the Ski Boot and in the gondola barn.
Dattels first travelled to the resort during the 1976-77 winter season, or as he remembers it, “the winter of no snow.” Still, he was hooked.
Now the avid skier manages to spend the majority of each winter at his Creekside cabin, located at the bottom of Dave Murray Downhill, and finds time to ski about 50 to 70 days per season. It was in Whistler during the 2010 Olympics where he met and struck up a friendship with Canadian ski racing legend Manny Osborne-Paradis.
“One thing led to another and I started understanding what their lives were like, what the challenges were like—the level of commitment, the demands, struggles, the joy, the pain of what they do,” Dattels explained.
The first athlete he personally sponsored was Whistler’s Britt Janyk. Eventually, that grew into a much longer list of about 15—like Osborne-Paradis, Marie- Michele Gagnon, Broderick Thompson, Dustin Cook and Erik Guay, to name a few—funded by a group of financiers that included Dattels and friend Mark Wiseman, among others.
Initially, “My engagement was just to try to make their life a little bit better by showing them that they had some support,” said Dattels. “And also with some people, like with Manny, I would call it a mentoring relationship for life after sport.”
The collective extended their support to Whistler Mountain Ski Club alum and current World Cup racer Brodie Seger in 2015, then a member of Alpine Canada’s development team, after Osborne- Paradis made the introduction.
“That's how I first came to know Tim, but shortly after that … he ended up meeting my dad on the Creekside Gondola or something like that, before we had even met in person,” Seger remembered with a laugh. “Then we ended up skiing together a few times when we were both in town.”
Now, Seger and Dattels will head out for bike rides, hikes or a few turns when the timing lines up. Seger even served as Dattels’ coach for a masters' race in Whistler in February. “He's just got such a passion for the sport,” Seger said, adding, “I just thought it was super cool to have a person like that, who's supporting your career and also super keen to get out there and do stuff with you.”
Seger learned about Dattels’ recent donation on a team call.
It began with an update on some of the “budgetary stuff that’s been going on,” said Seger, “and honestly, there was not a whole lot of positivity off the bat.” Then, Dattels told athletes his big news.
“All of a sudden, it was a pretty quick low to high, like zero to 100,” Seger said. “It was definitely not something any of us were expecting ... When he threw that number out there, I think all of us were just like, ‘Holy crap, I’ve never heard anything like this.’”
But what struck Seger most about Dattels’ announcement was an “emotional” speech he delivered to athletes about “why he cares so much about the sport, why he cares about supporting us, why he cares about sport in general.
“To me, that’s what makes the whole thing special,” Seger added.
Dattels came on board as chairman in 2019, amid a complete overhaul of Alpine Canada’s board of directors. That board recruited a new president and chief executive in Therese Brisson, stabilized Alpine Canada’s finances and launched an ambitious, five-year strategic plan that included hiring a new slate of high-performance coaches, like Mark Tilston from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
The main goal? “Help Canada top the medal rankings in para-alpine and ski cross and achieve a top-five finish in alpine medal rankings at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games by 2026.” In the three seasons since, the governing body has made strides toward that objective, while simultaneously strengthening its commitment to creating a safe sport environment.
Last winter, Canada’s alpine, para-alpine, and ski cross teams earned their best results in over a decade. “Hopefully, we’re moving into an era of higher performance, better funding, more engagement, and potentially an exciting time in ski racing,” said Dattels.
As athletes look to keep that momentum rolling into 2023, “now it’s a matter of building the consistency,” said Seger.
“It’s definitely encouraging having the support from Tim as we deal with that whole process,” he added. “I don’t think he would do something like this if he didn’t truly believe that we are ready to be the best in the world, and he doesn’t want to see something like a financial gap come in the way of that. He clearly believes in us, and we just need to believe in ourselves as well.”