After seeing so many former students compete on the world stage, a former Vancouver Island ski coach is crediting the community for its support in their success.
Shane Harle and his then-wife Corey founded the Podium of Life Ski Academy in 2010. The program allowed students in the Comox Valley to go to school and ski every day on Mount Washington through support of the school district and resort.
“We rented a place up there that the kids could come skiing. Every day they would turn up with their skis and their computers and we would go to school until lunch and then have lunch and ski every day,” said Harle. “Unless it was a powder day, and then we had to ski in the morning.”
The program focused on multiple different disciplines, from gates to all-mountain, moguls and slalom before eventually making it to the park. Harle says this made them all well-rounded athletes and also let them explore different avenues.
It ran for four years, until it moved to Whistler because there was not enough snow at Mount Washington for it to open. Despite this, Harle says around 25 per cent of students who did the program are still in professional skiing today.
He says people like Teal Harle, Dillan Glennie and Mel Pemble are among some of the skiers. Harle joins the likes of Cassie and Darcy Sharpe as Olympians from the area, with Pemble making it to the 2018 Special Olympics in Pyongyang and Dillan Glennie competing professionally in half-pipe.
Aside from the skiers’ desires and drive to do well, he adds the community’s spirit at the time helped make it all possible.
“The Comox Valley had the support of the mountain, it had the support of the people that are involved,” said Harle. “It’s really just people that create the program. The Comox Valley/Whistler people all got together and said ‘hey, let’s give our kids an opportunity,’ and look what happened.”
That community spirit and encouragement was felt particularly for Pemble. According to Pemble’s mother, Rachael Chubb-Higgins, Pemble had her first experience skiing at Mount Washington.
Suffering from cerebral palsy, Chubb-Higgins says a kind ski instructor at the mountain was able to get Pemble balanced on skis. From there she was hooked.
“She wanted to do more,” said Chubb-Higgins. “When I came home from work one day Mel came and said ‘mom, mom, there’s a school on Mount Washington.’
“She got me the number and that’s when I called Shane from England.”
Pemble came to Canada in 2009, and through Podium of Life she progressed quickly and eventually would compete in the 2018 Paralympics. She achieved multiple top 10 finishes in downhill and Super-G.
Chubb-Higgins attributes the success to the community support and drive behind the school.
“I think Shane’s attitude was ‘can-do’, there was no ‘no’, there was no ‘sit down, shut up’ at school,” she said. “It was the encouragement of the kids to follow their own dreams.
“They weren’t all on the same path, everybody was just encouraged to think for themselves and not to be too shy to get what they wanted.”
Pemble is now moving to the sport of cycling through connections made in the program. She is already a world champion and has eyes on the 2024 Paris games.
Teal and Glennie will be competing at the World Championships in Georgia this month, and Hayden Harley is competing in France and will be attending school in Waterloo, and Kole Harle is working as a ski coach for racing.
Harle, now working in the Okanagan Valley, says he will not stop with the coaching and programs from ski schools for up-and-coming athletes.