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Gartner is leaving Alpine Canada after more than 20 years

The Canadian Press

6/19/2013 3:31:44 PM

CALGARY -- Max Gartner lists his career highlights as the back-to-back world downhill titles captured by Canadian skiers John Kucera and Erik Guay.

But there's also been drawbacks to being president and CEO of Alpine Canada -- with potentially more on the horizon. And on Wednesday, Gartner announced he was leaving Canada's national skiing organization after more than three decades.

"An emotional day, that's for sure," Gartner said in a phone interview from Calgary.

The Calgarian had planned to leave when his contract expires after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but decided to tender his resignation early in order to ensure a new president and CEO is in place for a crucial 2013-14 season. He'll leave as soon as a replacement is found.

Gartner, who is married to Olympic downhill gold medallist Kerrin Lee-Gartner, was vague about his decision to leave the organization he's worked for in various coaching and management positions since 1982. He spoke about wanting "to do something I feel passionate about.

"I've been fortunate in those 30 years to be involved with sports and excellence and all the good stuff that you're lucky to be involved in on a daily basis so I want to find something again that really kind of resonates with me," he said shortly after he announced the news to his staff.

The 54-year-old said the sport landscape has changed in Canada since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"The time after the home Olympics is a challenging time for winter sports," Gartner said. "We do live in a bit of a bubble during the home Olympic run-up and then it gets reset to normal, and it's difficult. The winter sports are in strong need for funding support and those levels are not at the same place as they were prior to Vancouver.

"It's a demanding job to bring in the money and keep it going."

Gartner, who was appointed president in the fall of 2010, said the organization needs some longterm thinking to "stay strong" and maintain a high level of success.

There have been many successes of which Gartner is proud. The native of Linz, Austria, who first joined Alpine Canada as an assistant coach, said his greatest satisfaction came from working with athletes, and Canadian skiers have achieved some major milestones over the past few years.

Kucera won the 2009 world downhill title, while Guay claimed the title two years later.

"That has never been done before, I'm very proud of that achievement," Gartner said of the back-to-back victories.

Guay also won the Crystal Globe in 2011 as the overall World Cup champion, a first by a Canadian since Steve Podborski in 1982.

"We had a lot of firsts, historic results," Gartner said. "We have an amazing stable of athletes. It's a privilege to be working for these guys, and provide the program and the resources for them to get to the very top of the podium. That's what it's all about."

The program has also experienced plenty of heartbreak. Gartner called the death of Canadian ski-cross racer Nik Zoricic in March of last year "something that nobody wants to go through.

"It was certainly the hardest part during my tenure," he said.

There is also the constant pressure of the "injury ghost" in alpine skiing.

"You can have the greatest program and then all of a sudden you get a little bit unlucky and your top performers are all of a sudden out. That's a tough one," he said. "You spend a long time and lots of energy and resources and then it can all be wiped out quickly. That's stressful. But it's just the nature of the game."

Cary Mullen said he never would have been a World Cup champion without Gartner, and named his son after him -- Magnus Michael Max Mullen.

"He taught me a ton about ski racing, winning, and equally as much about leadership," Mullen said in an email. "He's truly a leader and person that cares about his athletes well-being first, and then is wholeheartedly dedicated to their results."

The two-time Olympian said Gartner's departure will be a huge loss, "but fortunately he has helped to build a strong foundation and team at Alpine Canada and across the country. And being the selfless person that he is, he's stepping aside at the optimal time for someone else to take the programs in to the next era."

Gartner, who played soccer professionally, said he plans to remain in sport, although it might not necessarily be skiing.

"Coaching is where my heart lies, this is why I got into sport, primarily as a coach, that is where my love is," he said. "So I wouldn't rule it out to be back coaching at some level.

"I will not retire, I will stay on and try to contribute in some way to sport. What that looks like I don't know right now, I don't have a plan, I will look through this in the next little while, start thinking about it a little bit more. But I'm looking forward to having a little less pressure, once this is handed over and re-energize for my next part of life."

His 16-year-old daughter Stephanie is a member of national alpine development team.

"It's her time to be here and I think that's going to be exciting for her, and it will be nice for me to watch how she can develop as a ski racer."