There's nothing like starting the Olympic season off by working with kids. Last week, I finished up a two-week trip to the Alaskan Arctic with NANANordic. The NANA region encompasses 11 main villages, and I was lucky enough to visit two of them to work with the kids and teach them to ski.
My trip started off in the small town of Deering, where three of us coaches worked with the 37 kids during their school day and then skied with them for a few hours after school. Such small groups made it easy to get to know all the kids and really work with them, and Deering, which is right on the coast of the Kotzebue Sound, was beautiful and provided easy terrain for the new skiers. I was able to do a "Biathlon Day" demonstration (without the actual shooting part) with the help of my boyfriend Zach, who was the director for the two villages we visited. It was a great week, and while we were looking forward to the bigger village of Buckland, we were definitely sad to leave the people of Deering.
Before we could work with the kids of Buckland, though, we had to get there. NANANordic's mission is to bring skiing to the Arctic region, so skiing between villages (when possible) is highly encouraged. The trip between Deering and Buckland is 48 miles (about 77 kilometers). Zach and I were more than game to make the trip and were told the best way was not to follow the snowmobile trail, but to ski point-to-point on the ice and then cut in to the trail at about the 30 mile mark. This route makes the journey mostly flat, with one big climb over Buckland Mountain at the end before you descend into the Buckland River drainage. The day we were to head to Buckland, we awoke to blue-bird skies and chilly temps, so we put all but a backpack's worth of gear on the plane and got started. The ski was absolutely beautiful. We saw a seal out on the ice, plus a fox and two moose once we hit land. The conditions were perfect without clouds or wind to worry about, but the ski was tough. 30 miles on the pack-ice of the Kotzebue Sound, followed by a rolling 18 miles on uneven snowmobile trails with a total of not more than 1.5 miles of downhill to rest on, made for a strenuous day. We made it, though, and skied happily into town 11 hours after starting out. There were several kids waiting for us at the school who were ready to start skiing right away. While we were thrilled to see so many kids excited to ski, we were simply too tired and headed into the Buckland school to find the Principal waiting for us with real beds for the night. In the NANA region, most visitors stay in the schools, and most of the time that means sleeping on the floor. So having a mattress to lay down on after a long day of skiing was huge. That ski was one I'll always remember; while difficult and exhausting, it was beautiful and left me feeling pretty satisfied...I mean, how many people can say they've skied between Deering and Buckland? Probably only two.
Four new coaches joined Zach and me in Buckland the next day, and we set about getting organized to ski with the kids on Sunday and then during and after school for the three following days. Buckland was a world away from Deering in the feeling. It's one of the bigger schools in the region, with about 175 kids, and we had nearly all of them come out during their scheduled school hours. After school we had to schedule two sessions so that all the kids who wanted to ski could. I only wish Nordic skiing had been as popular in my school as it was in Buckland. It was amazing to see how excited these kids were to ski with us, and how much fun they had. If we had let them, they would have skied until 11pm (it wasn't getting dark until after that each night). Each day we would finally have to coax them all back to the school so we could have dinner and rest so we'd be ready to do it all again the next day. It was exhaustingly awesome.
|So much excitement to go skiing! Photo: Zachary Hall|
|All set and ready to ski! Photo: Zachary Hall|
|There was lots of racing happening...|
|Demonstrating Biathlon for the 3rd and 4th graders in Deering. Photo: Zachary Hall|
|Biathlon Basketball! Photo: Zachary Hall|
|We made it pretty close before the seal disappeared down this hole into the water. Photo: Zachary Hall|
|Zach navigating the ice ridges as we round a point on the Kotzebue Sound between Deering and Buckland.|
|Lots of Kindergarteners in Buckland!|
|Rapt attention from the younger set on "Biathlon Day." Photo: Eric Packer|
So week one and two of the 2013-2014 training season saw me on skis almost 10 hours each day. Now I'm back in Anchorage settling in to a more normal training routine and getting ready to head back to Lake Placid for the first camp of the year next week. The Sochi Olympic Games are about nine months away, and I think things are off to a great start!