PART 64 in our special investigative "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH CANADA?" Series: Examines: What happened to Canadian Snow Shoveling?

Canadian Snow Shoveling Team
Members of the national snow shoveling team in training earlier this year at Snow Shoveling Canada's 'Centre of Excellence' in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

The national snow shoveling program is under scrutiny again after the Canadian team turned in yet another disappointing performance at the most recent Snow Shoveling World Cup event in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.

Dany Varstek, from Gander, Newfoundland, was the top Canadian man, finishing a disappointing 63rd in the combined super-push. Members of the Canadian women's team didn't fare much better, as Sheila Harvenburger of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, finished a lowly 54th in the clearing-what-the-plow-left-behind time trials, ahead of Yvette Bergeron of Lachute, Quebec (68th), Emily Birkenstock of Prince George, B.C. (71st), and Darlene Fallujam of Churchill, Manitoba, who placed 106th, in the field of 103 women.

Doug Scooper, the newly-appointed coach of the national team, tried to put a positive spin on his team's performance in Sweden. "We're making some real progress as a team. Everybody is playing very nicely with one another. And we had a real lovely dinner on Thursday night. Meatballs and everything. With neat little Swedish flags on them, just like you see at the cafeteria at Ikea."

Snow shoveling used to be to Canada what dwarf-tossing is to Belgium. Now, it's just another sport.
Globe and Mail Snow Shoveling Columnist Margaret Wente

Despite dozens of dollars in funding and promises of improved results this year, not one member of the Canadian team has yet to finish in the top 50 in any World Cup events on the 2003-04 calendar. A Canadian has not had a podium (top-3) finish in any snow shoveling World Cup event since 1997.

Given the team's poor performance this season, there have already been calls for coach Scooper's head among many members of the national snow shoveling press, even though he took over from former coach Lenny Spasm just four months ago.

"Something's gotta be done. We're shoveling like a bunch of goddamn Brazilians out there," said Toronto Sun shoveling writer Ernie Hacknuts. "Oh, how I long for the good old days, when we were dominant, and I could drink all I wanted cause I didn't have a heart condition and a prostate the size of a grapefruit….

"This is clearly the lost generation of snow shoveling talent in Canada," continued the veteran sportswriter, "we used to be THE world power of snow shoveling. But now, our national team is ranked behind countries like Portugal, and Italy? How much snow do they get in Italy? I tell you (legendary Canadian shoveler), Hughes Gastonberry would be spinning in his grave. If he was dead."

Different theories abound as to what has caused Canada's decline in the sport they once owned.

Ed BigBalls 1955
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN: Canadian sporting icon Ed Bigballs poses triumphantly after capturing the 1955 World Cup title in Salzberg, Austria. "Too many damn snowblowers in this country," he snorted with contempt.

Err, here they are:

Bobby Zenith of Montreal is a snow shoveling coach and author who recently released the controversial best-seller Rusty Shovels: The Decline of Canadian Snow Shoveling. He argues that snow shoveling has many sports to compete with now for young athletes, unlike in generations past.

"Nowadays, there are so many sports out there for kids who have no athletic ability and want to be good at something, like luge, little league pole vaulting, baseball - it's not like when I was a kid, and there was always a shovel lying around the house. Snow shoveling was your only ticket out of the suburbs.

"But today, there's too much choice, and because of that, kids just don't want to get into snow shoveling anymore. You should see the look on my 26-year-old's face when I ask him to go out and shovel the laneway. It's like it's work to him. We gotta make snow shoveling fun again."

According to Edmonton's Ed Bigballs, 1955 World Cup champion and professional grouch, there's too much emphasis on the technical aspects of shoveling in the training regimens of young shovelers, and not enough on fundamental skill development.

"We need to get our young shovelers out of the classroom, and back into the snow," argued Bigballs, "we're too systematic. We're turning our young snow shovelers into automatons. Neutral zone shoveling, dynamic leg squatting, the elbow lock, power pushing, we're cramming too much info into their tiny little pea-brains. Just give them a shovel, and let them get out there in scoop until they throw out their backs. That's how I learned, and well, I'll probably never be able to stand up again, but dammit, at least I did something with my life.

"And," continued the former champion from his bed, "look at the equipment we're using-the Scandinavians, and even the Russians are using light-weight titanium shovels with 500 dollar flexor shafts, and we're still traipsing out on to the field with wooden jobbies straight out of the 40's. We need to modernize. We can't compete lookin' like a bunch of third-world shovelers."

Harry Raisin, snow shoveling commentator and host of CBC-television's 'Snowed Under' rant-a-thon, has his own views as to how to fix the national snow shoveling program.

"There's too much mollycoddling of kids today, too much concern about their 'feelings' and their 'cold toes' and their 'frostbite,' bellowed Raisin, "kids get a sniffle, and Mom and Dad decide to keep them home from practice. We've turned into a nation of shoveling pantywaists."

Raisin also suggested that only Canada be allowed to compete at international competitions, which would guarantee us at least a top-10 finish.

"We taught the Europeans how to shovel, and then 40 years later, they come over here and whip our asses. How's that for gratitude? They shouldn't even be allowed to compete. From what I understand, they're not even Canadian!"

Derek Tippington is some guy we just stopped on the street. "Our junior program is in shambles. There's no system in place to identify the best young shovelers at an early age. Did you know that in the States, the best shovelers are put into elite programs of excellence by the time they're 10? Why don't we have a system like that in Canada? For God's sake, we invented snow shoveling, and now we're letting the Yanks and the Europeans walk all over us.

Fraser Mayan, the new Secretary of State for Stupid Sports in the Martin cabinet, has promised that the new administration will continue to generously support the team, despite the recently-announced federal spending freeze.

"Snow shoveling is part of our culture. I mean, we can't suck forever, right? Plus, we'll need the national team next time Liberal-friendly Toronto has a snowstorm."

The President of Snow Shoveling Canada, Ed Ashbat, insists that it will take time to rebuild the national program after years of poor management and substandard coaching.

"All of these armchair snow shovelers out there who think they have all of the answers, well….maybe they do. Can someone help me out here? Because I am buffaloed."