Saturday, December 30, 2017

Finals Week

To make a long story short, things got pretty busy around here lately. It was finals week at UAA, and while the team battled through their final exams, I found myself under a pretty big workload at my day job.  Then the semester ended, the team scattered to the four winds, and I took off on a ski vacation in Colorado.  Consequently, no blogging was done all month.

But just because nobody blogged about it doesn't mean races weren't raced and everyone took the month off from training.  And here are some photos to prove that we weren't just eating bonbons and playing board games around here all month:

Early December at Kincaid Park

Racing in the Anchorage Cup at Kincaid.

The coaches don't get too many chances to race since they're usually obligated to do all the coaching. Andrew took the opportunity to race the Anchorage Cup.

...As did Marine.  She's number 324 here. And that's Hannah behind her. Coaches can learn a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of their athletes by racing against them head to head.

We didn't have enough snow in Anchorage to host the Besh Cup races as scheduled. So the races were moved to Fairbanks. Here's Tracen in one of his heats in the sprint race.

Sadie and Jenna.

Skippy and Natalie.  Skippy went through to the final and was in the running to win the overall, but a spill in the final third of the final derailed her.

Donna and Denny DiFolco were kind enough to house some of our skiers over the Fairbanks Besh Cup weekend, and invited us all over for dinner on Saturday night. Saichi & Connie Oba also hosted some of our skiers at their house. The Seawolves really appreciate their hospitality!

Stories told 'round the dinner table...

...and then around the wood stove.

I found this dog.

More racing in Fairbanks. Here's Zacke.

If you can identify this former UAA Seawolf racing in Fairbanks, you might be eligible to win a special prize.

A lot of Seawolves in this group in Sunday's mass-start race. That's Michaela leading the group.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Rollerskiing The Dempster

I know rollerskiing season just ended a couple weeks ago, but we're going to talk a little more about rollerskiing now...
Schalli in 2010.
A while back, we had a guy on the UAA Ski Team who went by the name of Schalli. A few years after he left UAA for other pursuits, Schalli contacted me and asked if I wanted to rollerski north to south across the USA with him or something like that. Of course it was easy for me to say no, because no matter how I fun I tried to imagine it being, there was no way rollerskiing thousands of miles seemed like it could be fun at all.  But this isn't a story about Schalli and me.
Heikki Kanerva. UAA zoot suits used to look like this.
Back in 1987, when I came to Alaska for the first time to compete in the junior national championships, I was having a great week. And near the end of the week I was invited by UAA's ski coach to take a look around UAA's campus. Ultimately I decided to go elsewhere for college, but I was impressed by what I saw during my tour of UAA. The moment I remember most vividly, though, is when I was being shown UAA's weight room, which at that time was inside an old raquetball court in the old athletics building.  Having never seen a college weight room before, I didn't realize that a weight room inside a raquetball court was not a very big weight room. I was impressed by how many weights and machines were in there. (And the weight room was a lot bigger than what we'd had at my high school, where the weight room was inside a closet. Literally. Two people could work out in there at once. Maybe three if they were small people or couldn't lift much weight.) But what impressed me even more than the huge, racquetball-court-sized weight room was that, in the weight room, pumping iron, was Heikki Kanerva. He was a big deal on the college circuit at the time, and I knew his name well. I have to admit I was a little starstruck, meeting him there in the tiny doorway of that little weight room / raquetball court. Heikki later went on to be a bigwig with Microsoft, becoming the program manager and designer of the Microsoft Office system. So it's pretty fitting that I'm writing about Heikki using MS Office, a program he had a big part in designing.
Raimonds Dombrovskis
But this isn't a story about Heikki Kanerva either. Heikki started his UAA Ski Team career in 1984, and in that first season he had a teammate named Raimonds Dombrovskis. Raimonds is from Latvia and was a UAA Seawolf for the 1984-85 season before moving on to other things. This is a story about Raimonds Dombrovskis. If you want to find out what Raimonds is doing lately, you can watch this video (and if you don't understand Latvian like me, maybe you can get Martins Onskulis to translate it for you). But if you want to know what Raimonds was doing in the years immediately following his year as a UAA Skiwolf, you're going to have to get yourself down to the Alaska Experience Theater downtown next week and watch the movie that was made about him.  I don't want to tell you what happens and spoil all your fun, but I can give you a couple of hints:  He was a member of the 1988 US Olympic Biathlon Team. He didn't actually get to ski in the Olympics due to a burst appendix. And he rollerskied from Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada to Mexico.

I can already see the questions popping up in your mind.  How was he on the US Olympic Team when he was Latvian?  How did he rollerski on those rough dirt roads?  Aren't there better places to rollerski than down the Alaska Highway? Did Raimonds know that the Dempster Highway is a rough gravel road, and it's really, really long?  Does it hurt when you have a burst appendix? I have the same questions you do, of course. Dita, the film's co-producer and editor, told me I could ask her any questions I want. But I haven't asked her these nagging questions which have been keeping me awake at night, because it would ruin the movie if I knew all the answers. So I think I'm just going to go downtown to the theater, lean back in one of those plush velour seats, and let the magic of film make everything clear to me.
The Dempster Highway on a typical summer day. A nice place to rollerski?
You can go watch this movie on Sunday the Third at 1:45pm or on Friday the 8th at 9pm at The Alaska Discovery Theatre.  See you there!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


It's a really hard life being a journalist like me and writing this blog. Of course the pay is fantastic, beyond my wildest dreams. But the travel required for this job is really taxing because I constantly have to get on airplanes and travel to faraway places to chase down stories and research information.  To be honest, I only took this job for the money.  But the travel that's being demanded of me is wearing me down.

For example, I needed to be in Summit County, Colorado last week to cover the alpine team training camp, and was unable to be at the Nordic team's first set of races in Anchorage. So, like the rest of you, I had to settle for watching the Alaska Cup races on television.

During the media's coverage of the event, it came to light that the traveling trophy for the Alaska Cup was designed and produced by Jim Burkholder.  Obviously, this was a detail that required more research.

The Alaska Cup trophy is that blue ski that our team is holding.
So I tried to track down Burky for an interview at his home at the edge of Kincaid Park in Anchorage, only to find that he and Sally had left town for a vacation in Hawaii. So, having just arrived home from Colorado, I packed my boardshorts and slippahs and got on a plane to Maui. Of course I'd have rather stayed at home in Anchorage, but I couldn't come up with an excuse to get out of coming to Maui to interview Burky.

Here's where I found Burky.  But somehow, so far away from snow, we just didn't feel much like talking about ski trophies and cold weather.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Land of Love

The staff here at the UAA Nordic Ski Team Blog are nothing if not curious, and it is in this spirit of inquisitiveness that our cub reporter was sent to Colorado with the chairlift riders to see what happens on the alpine hill. It's the week of the annual preseason training camp in Summit County, Colorado, where skiers come from all over the world each November to prepare for the World Cup season, the Nor-Am season, and the NCAA season. Summit County's high altitude, cold nights and many ski areas concentrated within a small area make it an ideal place for ski racers worldwide to congregate for early season training on perfect (read man-made sheet of ice) snow. The team has spent the entire first part of the week at Loveland Ski Area, skiing at 11,000 feet.  Today the team moves to Copper Mountain for the final two days of training.

Assistant Coach Anna leading drills and giving instructions on day one on the hill.

Ski Ballet. 

"Morning Warm-up". Most days this week, this happens at 5am.  I'm not kidding.

Charley and Li

Setting giant slalom before sunrise.  Tamara McKinney was helping us out that morning.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you who Tamara McKinney is.

Sparky Anderson.  Here in his native habitat.

Setting up the timing system is a hands-on affair for Anna and Sparky.

Apparently, when you crash and slide into a GS gate at Mach 1, you get to take the imprint of the gate home with you as a souvenir.

Or, you can just ski GS the normal way, without crashes, and go home with bruises on the back of your arms anyway.

Or on your back, depending on how you ski your giant slalom.

Here's Martins, doing his thing.

Cruzer, the freshman.

Li, the freshman.

Georgia, the freshman

Mike, the freshman.

Li offered to take a break from tuning her skis and give Erik a haircut.

Everybody wanted in on the action.  Not sure if the masks were necessary, though.

Here's Charley, slaying it in giant slalom at Loveland:

Georgia and Alix, preparing dinner at the team house.


Charley Field.  The only reason this photo is here is because Chuck doesn't want it to be.


The Sheely's invited us over, as every year, for "Chili Night At The Sheely's" in Frisco. As always, we had a wonderful evening. Thank you Ross, Dana, and Miranda!

We came home from the Sheely's to find someone had driven their car into a telephone pole somewhere during the snowstorm and left us without power. I know it looks like the lights are on, but they're not.

As we'd lost heat for the night, Erik and Anna fired up the wood stove.

Video analysis beside the fire.

Our team house in Silverthorne.

Anna Berecz

Our final day on the hill. Waiting for the Italian National Team to leave.

Powder day at Copper!!!  But the last thing ski racers want is a powder day.  So the first thing they do after a snowstorm is hose down the ski hill.  Seems like such a shame...

Sparky explaining how to do it better.

After our last run of the the last day of camp.  Smiles all around.

Martins and me.

You couldn't really argue that Martins wasn't the winner of training camp, putting down fast runs all week.  Coming off last year's broken ankle, it's good to know he still knows how to ski.

Thanks to Utah's coach, Jaka, for taking this picture.