Monday, November 10, 2008

Nordic Skiing in Fairbanks : Balknized or Opportunity?

Okay, the days are getting cold and short and the nights are colder and long. Time to stir things up before we fall off into winter torpor. For a town this size Fairbanks has a plethora of opportunity for Nordic skiers. There are some who would like everything to be under the umbrella of the club, NSCF, while others might like a more autonomy. I think we can have it all ways and still have a great time out there while providing premier opportunities for developing skiers.

Before I get into it, rankle a few folks in the process, let me just list the groups that a skier can join, with a little definition to help discern the alphabets and nuance. We'll start with the youngsters and move up through various ages.

Jr. Nordics - sponsored by the ski club, this program offers basic to intermediate level lessons from the small kids (5 or 6 to about 16). There are usually 250-300 kids in Jr. Nordics. Most have one or two lessons a week from November to March.

Jr. Nordics Comp Group - also sponsored by the ski club, the Comp Group has about 25 skiers from about age 10 to 15. Skiers in Comp usually have a couple of years of ski experience and they are interested in further developing their skills and racing ability. Comp Group requires a little more commitment, usually meeting three or four times through the season.

School Programs - several of the local elementary and middle schools have their own clubs, some with very high participation rates. You might see 60 or 70 kids withe their family in tow.

Fairbanks XC (FXC) - again sponsored by the ski club, FXC provides an opportunity for developing and young elite level skiers, ranging in age from 12 to 20. The younger skiers train up to nine months of the year and the older ones throughout the year. During the ski season they meet five days a week (maybe more for the older ones).

Fairbanks Area Ski Team (FAST) - FAST is similar to FXC, a development and junior elite team, but it is not affiliated with the ski club. It's a small group with less than a dozen skiers, ranging from 13 to 19, with an honorary 20+ skier or two.

High Schools - The larger high schools (Lathrop, West Valley, North Pole, and Eielson) all have ski teams, and skiers do not necessarily need to be part of the ski club or other affilated teams. Lathrop and West Valley have up to 70 or 80 skiers per team.

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) - An NCAA Division I team, with a mixture of US, Canadian, and European skiers, UAF has a strong skiing tradition and boast several national and world class skiers in their ranks.

Adult Lessons - The ski club offers adult beginner and intermediate lessons. A great way for parents to learn some tricks in order to keep up with thier kids.

Individual Lessons from the Olympians - If you're really aspiring and want to hone in on your technique you can take a private lesson from Aelin Peterson (2002 Olympian) or Audun Endestad (1984 Olympian).

Touring Group - for the less competitive crowd, who wants to get away from the groomed trails and 'scene' at Birch Hill, the touring group has been resurrected, and that's a good thing.

John Estle Race Club (JERCs) - Coached by former UAF and Olympic Coach, John Estle, the JERCs involves intermediate and advanced technique classes, as well as a weekly interval group with ages ranging from mid-late 20s to mid-60s.

SCUMs (Susan's Club of Uncoachable Men) - This infamous but spirited group of masters skiers meets every Sunday through the season. I think the rule is that you have to have some major flaws in technique or personality to be a SCUM.

That pretty much sums up what's available. A lot to choose from, for most any level. The only thing I'd like to see is more opportunity for college age or post college skiers, through masters, who want to keep up a high level of training and racing. The racers tend meet informally, but unless you are eligible to invited to be on the UAF team, or stay on with FXC for a couple of years, there is not much opportunity for those who are post college through masters level to be on a team of some sort. Train together, travel, share expenses, and maybe get some team discounts on equipment. Anchorage has the Alaska Pacific University (APU), which is a elite level club. Maybe Fairbanks should think about its own version, if not something scaled down.

Finally, there has been some local controversy in recent years surrounding the junior and developmental programs. All I can say is hey lighten up! It's wonderful that the kids have some excellent opportunities and that they have great choices. I for one support all levels of skiing and appreciate what all these groups are doing.


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