The moment remains etched vividly, from my early ski racing memories.
We were gathered at the start of a training course on Eagle Meadow, waiting for an all-clear from the coaches. A form blazed by, floating gracefully on the snow, arcing easy turns as he dove into our course. He powerfully blasted by each gate with a relaxed, easy style that left us in awe. An image to be remembered.
The athlete was Keith Shepherd, an original member of Canada’s Alpine Ski Team from the early days when the Team was formed in 1964 at Notre Dame College in Nelson, B.C. He had already represented Canada in World Championship and Olympic competition and was preparing to represent Canada that winter at the 1970 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
For us, he was our hero. Keith was the first member of our club – the Lake Louise Ski Club – to reach the Canadian Team.
I was always curious to understand how an athlete from Lake Louise, in the 1960’s could have reached the Canadian Ski Team. No surprise it was a family undertaking.
Prior to moving to the lonely outpost of Lake Louise in 1957, Hal Shepherd had learned to ski with Canadian icon Jack-Rabbit Smith-Johansson in the Laurentians. Upon arriving in the Canadian Rockies as Assistant Park Warden for Banff National Park, Hal bought skis for his three older boys – Ian, Keith and Michael (youngest brother Don wasn’t old enough yet) from Johnny Monod, of Monod Sports in Banff and started the Lake Louise Ski & Community Club the following winter. There was not much to do at Lake Louise in the winter. In 1958, the hill had a t-bar and rope tow while also catering to the backcountry ski touring community to Temple and Skoki Lodges.
“Dad made a special arrangement with the teacher (Lake Louise had a one-room school) that Friday phys-ed in the winter would be skiing” recalled Ian Shepherd. “He hired Franz Haas, one of the local Swiss guides. It was off to the hill. It was to give us something to do during the long winter.”
Franz Haas would later return to Switzerland and his daughter Zöe would be named to the Swiss National Team and podium 9 times and win 2 World Cup races.
With the competitive orientation of the Banff Ski Runners just down the road who had a keen competition with the high school team in Jasper, ski racing became a focus. And in short order, the Bow Valley became a hotbed of ski racing talent producing National and Olympic Team athletes including Scott and Wayne Henderson, Marilyn Kelly, Stephanie Townsend and Keith Shepherd.
When the Canadian Alpine Ski Team was formally organized in 1964, the western mountains produced a stream of talent that provided the coaches Dave Jacobs, John Platt, Verne Anderson and Al Raine with a strong western representation to compliment an equally strong talent pool emerging from the Laurentians, Quebec City, Outaouais, Collingwood and Thunder Bay.
Keith went on to score three top-10 finishes on the World Cup. He represented Canada in the 1966 World Ski Championships in Portillo, Chile and 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Two years later he finished 10th in the alpine combined at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship in Val Gardena, Italy.
Keith retired from ski racing shortly after and went on to work for Village Lake Louise who was in the midst of a major proposal to re-develop his home mountain. When Parks Canada did not proceed with approval, Keith moved into the field of accounting in Salmon Arm, BC and later in Jasper.
Sadly, last week Ian conveyed the news to Keith’s teammates and the ski community that our ski club hero passed away on September 8th.
“To me he (Keith) did not mind talking about race technique or tactics’, shared Bert Irwin, a World Cup teammate from Kelowna. “Although most competitor’s preferred privacy on matters of competitive edge. On first encounters on those World Cup downhills in Europe, there were always gravitational oriented interpolations that necessarily had to be worked out to keep bones and body intact. Shep had all this figured out, so kept me safe enough.”
And in reminiscing about Keith, Peter Duncan of Tremblant, Quebec shared, “I’ll remember him as he was in Nelson (at the Team Reunion) last year — low profile, inquisitive, good sense of humor, an all around great teammate and a fantastic ski racer.”
Keith had recently lost his wife, Jane and his mother Norma, and is survived by his children Jordan (Jordy), Landon (Lanny), Erin and Kamia (Kami). Keith was 71.
We will always remember his style on the snow, his quiet leadership and his gracious friendship.
The original Canadian Alpine Ski Team — Keith Shepherd and an amazing group of women and men, athletes and coaches — were the pioneers who laid the foundation. The success of many subsequent generations was built on these shoulders of greatness.
Thank you Keith.
Thanks to Ian Shepherd for the family background and details of Keith’s career, to Jordy Shepherd for the action shots of Keith, to Peter Webster for details, fact checking and more photos and to many of Keith’s teammates for their recollections of an important era in the development of Canadian alpine ski racing.