Pioneering Inuvik ski coach passes away, leaving legacy

Last modified: January 3, 2019 at 4:51pm

Bjorger Pettersen, the former Inuvik ski coach hailed as a legend of his sport, has passed away at the age of 76.

Cross Country Canada said Pettersen had died on December 29 at his home in Okotoks, Alberta.

As leader of the Inuvik-based TEST (Territorial Experimental Ski Training) program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pettersen helped the Beaufort Delta to produce seven of the nine-strong 1972 Canadian Olympic cross-country ski team.


“Bjorger was instrumental in the development of the sport in our country and across the world,” said Cross Country Canada in a statement.

“Bjorger was the first full-time paid coach in Canada, a driving force behind the very successful TEST program that produced athletes such as Sharon and Shirley Firth.”

Ernie Lennie, who was trained by Pettersen in Inuvik before eventually joining Canada’s 1976 Olympic ski team, told CBC News: “What Bjorger and them did was prove to the world that [if] you invest in us like anybody else, we can do anything.”

Pioneering coach

Born in Norway in 1942, Bjorger Pettersen moved to Canada with his family 11 years later, settling first in Prince George, British Columbia.

Like his father, John, Bjorger became infatuated with skiing and rapidly developed into a pioneer of the sport – turning to coaching, as Canada’s first-ever full-time cross-country ski coach, after an injury ended his career as an athlete.


Pettersen coached in Inuvik for four years, from 1968 to 1972, but his mark endured for decades.

The community’s Top of the World ski loppet, which held its 50th-anniversary race in 2018, was in large part marshalled into being by Pettersen – and brought top-level international competitors to the Beaufort Delta for many years.

In depth: Up Here magazine’s history of the Top of the World loppet

“We were able to bring the world here to compete on our turf,” he wrote in a book about the sport published in 2017.


Pettersen later coached the Canadian national ski team for six years and served as an official for the sport at three editions of the Olympics. He acted as venue manager for cross-country skiing at the Calgary Olympics and, in all, attended 12 Olympic Games in some capacity.

Cross Country Canada said a celebration of life for Bjorger is to be held on Saturday, January 5 in Okotoks.