The Family That Skis Together

by Pam Dillon

By a fireplace in the Holland family’s west Ottawa home, there’s an artwork that is as compelling as it is fitting. In oil on canvas, freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau’s gold-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics comes to life. It’s “an iconic moment,” says Byron Holland of the striking composition that shows the Canadian as he skied into the final jump of his victorious men’s moguls run.

And it’s fitting because the Hollands—Byron, wife Andrea and sons Jesse, 13, and Aaron, 11—love to ski.  Following in their dad’s tracks, the boys are ski racers and the whole family is involved in the Camp Fortune Ski Club. In fact the club’s program director, Patrick Biggs, is the artist who created the Hollands’ ski painting. Patrick is also a two-time Olympian and a former member of the Canadian Ski Team who spent childhood winters skiing at Camp Fortune.  That’s how Byron Holland spent his winters too.

“I grew up in a skiing family and became a competitive freestyle skier when I was about my kids’ age,” he mentions. At 18, Byron was national champion in mogul skiing for his age group. It was a few years before the 1988 Olympics and he considered pursuing it, full throttle, as a career. Instead, he took other paths and got involved in ski instructing and coaching.  Today, Jesse and Aaron are the competitors on the slopes, though skiing is very much a family activity.

Both boys have been on skis since they were just shy of their third birthdays and they lived in the Collingwood area. When the family moved back to Ottawa, it was a question of where, not if they would ski. Where turned out to be Chelsea, Quebec, when Byron and Andrea signed the kids up for the Camp Fortune Ski Club, an independent not-for-profit racing club with programs for skiers aged seven to 21.

There were a number of reasons for the choice. In Byron’s words, “It’s close and convenient, the programs are good, the coaching is great and we really enjoy the social aspect.”

Another attraction was the club’s Nancy Greene ski training and racing program, since it offered Jesse and Aaron a whopping 24 days on snow.  As their dad explains, “The skills you learn in the early days of race training make you a better skier, no matter what you do, including freestyle.”

Now the boys are racers. And as their mom reports, “rain or shine or 30 below,” the kids always want to go to the hill. “They definitely have the bug.” Though Andrea spent more time on skates—as a competitive figure skater—than skis while growing up, these days she, too, looks forward to packing up the car and heading for ski country.  “We actually get up earlier on the weekends” to go skiing, she says with a laugh. “We’re a little sleepy, but happy.”

Even on the coldest of Saturday mornings, Jesse and Aaron would rather go than stay in bed. As for the parents, they’re happy to be involved in a sport withtheir kids. Unlike so many moms and dads with kids in competitive sports, they’re not relegated to the sidelines to be spectators; Camp Fortune Ski Club’s parents fill a variety of roles. As a result, not only is skiing a passion the Hollands share, it’s also an activity they can do as a family.

Quality family time

This sport also allows the youngsters to have plenty of independence. Between heading to ski club sessions and hitting the trails with their friends, there’s freedom to make decisions, take risks and manage their own behavior.  Meanwhile, mom and dad are around and enjoying the same outdoor experience. Better yet, other loved ones are apt to be on the slopes too.

The boys have skied with their grandma and they still ski with their grandpa.  ‘The whole family has skied together, all three generations,” Byron points out, adding, “I think that’s the most absolutely wonderful thing about skiing.  It’s a lifetime sport.”

It can also be a lifestyle. The Hollands socialize, travel, volunteer and plan winter weekends around skiing. “We try to make our vacations ski vacations,” Andrea explains, rhyming off a variety of ski locales they’ve visited; the boys soon chime in with memories of fun times at different spots. A favourite destination is Whistler, British Columbia. Since relatives and friends live there, family adventures and memories are guaranteed on arrival.

But all four Hollands look forward to their time right here with the Camp Fortune Ski Club. Andrea and Byron “are out there skiing almost as much as their kids,” says Patrick Biggs, adding, “They [also] do countless hours of volunteering for the club off the hill.”

The program director calls Camp Fortune “a family-oriented club” and notes parents are involved in everything from organizing and running the ski races to participating in on and off-snow club activities and socials.

“There are a lot of parents, so you end up socializing,” Andrea remarks. “We’ve developed some good friendships with folks we’ve met through our kids.”

As for the kids, they are definitely in their element at the hill. “I like the adrenalin I get from going really fast and going off the big jumps,” Jesse reports with a big grin. He mentions one particular out-of-town racing event that involved 500 competitors from Quebec and Ontario. “I won the day.”

“I like racing and being with my friends and my family,” Aaron pipes up. Patrick Biggs understands the feeling.  “I was fortunate enough to come through the Camp Fortune Ski Club programs myself,” he reveals. “The lessons and skills I learned there served me well on my journey to the regional, provincial, national, and then Canadian Olympic team. The friends that I made in the club remain some of my life-long friends today. We are all bound by the passion and love of skiing that was formed in the programs on the slopes of Fortune.”

These days, there are about 200 racers in the Camp Fortune Ski Club. “We’re focused on building strong skiers and racers, promoting a culture and love of skiing, and building strong individuals by inspiring them to be the best they can be,” says the guy in charge. For details about the Camp Fortune Ski Club and its programs, see

This entry was posted in Living and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.