Monday, June 6, 2011

K'enaanee Kkaazoot

For quite some time I have wanted to travel to ski with the youth in rural villages of Alaska. This spring, the dream came into fruition!
With the support from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, the Tanana Chiefs Conference, inspiration from the former "Ski Go" program (organized by Jennifer/Merrick Johnston & Marcy Baker), and gear donations from AMH, Rossignol, and private donors; Krista Radar, Tamra Kornfield, and I were able to travel to schools along the Koyokuk River to do some fun-focused skiing clinics. We brought a monstrous load of luggage full of skis, boots, and poles for all ages and sizes so that every student would get the chance to ski.
The kids lining up to get fitted for gear during one of our optional after-school skiing sessions.
Most of the kids had never been on skis before. They learned "K'enaanee KKaazoot" (it's fun to glide on snow) or in other words, "skiing is FUN!" in the Koyukon Athabascan language. It was really neat to see the kids fall in love with a sport that is so healthy and practical for their environment.

With the extended daylight hours of the spring and warm (+25F) mid-day temperatures, many of the kids would beg to continue skiing past their dinner time, even if we had been skiing for 3+ hours after the in-school sessions. They couldn't get enough of going up and down the steep river banks and hitting a few jumps.
We visited Allakaket/Alatna, Hughes, and Huslia. Each village was unique in its own way depending on the size, village situation, and school schedule.

We experimented with a variety of games and activities depending on the group size, age, and experience level. Activities ranged from playing the "Caribou and Wolves", relays, races, and Easter egg hunts-- all on skis of course! It was a blast and very busy. By the end of each day we were all happily exhausted.
Racers lining up to start in the first "K'enaanee Kkaazoot Race" in the village of Huslia. They loved the post-race ribbons.
The snowmachine (or "Snow-Go") trails and frozen rivers were perfect for the kids to learn to stride or skate ski. Skiing is such a practical, sustainable, and healthy way to get a round to visit a friend or go to the 1 town store in this area-- especially with the outrageous price of fuel out there.
Here's Tamra assisting one of the younger skiers down a hill.

Tamra (R), Heidi (Center), and I worked very well together as we each had the same goals in mind and we each brought something to contribute. For example, Tamra has a background coaching "Little Nordic" in Anchorage and had all sorts of tips I would've never thought of that were useful especially for the kids new to skiing. Tamra and I have family roots in rural AK which fueled our desire to go back. My coaching experience has been mainly with the aspiring racers and I was able to use some structure and game ideas that I learned through being a "Fast and Female" mentor. Heidi was also a invaluable asset, since she has been on a village ski-coaching trip in the past and she works with with Tanana Chiefs Conference (putting together rural AK master gardening clinics, etc) and knew what to expect in this region. Without her work with networking, organizing and planning of logistics, the trip wouldn't have gone smooth as it did.
The three of us also wanted do some skiing of our own too and take advantage of being in the Arctic circle, so we put together an extended weekend backcountry skiing/winter camping extravaganza in Brooks range (just north of Bettles, AK) before the coaching portion of the trip. I learned a lot of climber's tricks from Heidi to keep warm through the -20F nights and mornings. When the sun came out though (from early am-10:30pm) it was intense, especially with reflection off the snow. After the first night I was sure to sleep with my sunscreen to make sure it didn't turn into a frozen tube of face got a fried early in the trip.
This was our rig to get back to the Bettles airstrip: a snowmachine, over-loaded retired Ididorod sled, and a home-made rope tow. There thousands of telemark turns to be had behind the swerving sled.
Overall, this village trip was rewarding, exhausting, and eye-opening all in one. I enjoyed seeing the kids LOVE skiing. I met a lot of vibrant, smart, talented kids. I was constantly amazed at the incredible 24-7 work that the village teachers do out there, and am not sure how my parents did it for a decade! I learned a lot about how I can be a better "teacher". At times, I was frustrated by an entitlement mentality. I have been re-evaluating my ideas of the most effective and sustainable ways to contribute to the unique communities of rural AK. I'm not sure exactly what my role will be, but I'm still searching, learning, and enjoying the process.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Crust Skiing Pics

Since crust skiing in the mountains is my absolute favorite activity, I wanted to share a few shots from skinny ski outings in AK this past spring.
Portage glacier area was primo this year. Blue skies, blue glacier, and sparkling crusty snow.
The Patrick Stinsonator
He tries not to tell anyone, but he still does tele too...
Hbrooks and I on our ski over to Blackstone Bay. On skinny skis and perfect conditions the trek over can be done super quickly and the views are unbelievable.
Dylan Watts. This guy can put down some serious wattage on skis.

Das ist Ronsse in Deutchland spandex.

Early morning sunrise.

Rob rippin. We just held our poles on the downhills just in case we would punch through and brake one when descending.
HBrooks with her contagious smile and laugh.
Holly, a happy birthday girl at the top of Ship Pass.
Exploring on the way to Indian

It was great to see the spin-off of an already silent sport get some exposure in the media (ADN's 61 degrees north magazine) even though I almost always cringe and laugh when reading my own comments in newspapers or magazines. But I absolutely love spreading the word and seeing more people taking advantage of the Portage crust than I've ever seen before. It really can be a fun activity for skiers of all ages and levels. If you're trying to figure out where the conditions might be good, you can always check the trail conditions forum on the CCAK website.
Overlooking Whittier

It was great to get in some good adventures with friends during my final weeks and months in Alaska for the next while. I'll miss AK but am also looking forward to new ventures in Utah too as I start the 3-year dPT program this spring.

If you have any good tips on places to crust cruise down there, let me know!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mudflat Mountain Biking

One of the most beautiful, quickest, and underutilized get-aways in Anchorage is ocean mudflats and marshlands. And there's rarely a soul down there....maybe because it can be a perilous place if you aren't aware of which areas are safe, the status of the tides, mud, ice, open hours of the Rabbit Creek rifle range, or access points. But if you check the stats and keep astute, there's nothing that beats instantly stepping into wide open spaces.
The best mode of travel is dependent on what the weather and tides have been doing recently. In the winter, xc skis or mountain bikes with studded tires work great.
Dad overlooking the ice bergs of Cook Inlet when we rode from our home in Oceanview to downtown via the 'flats.
Marbleized ice over mud.

The riding can be slightly technical with different types of snow, areas of brush, dirt, ice, etc ... but the unknown and variability is also what makes it fun.

Dad and Mt. Susitna in the background.
An ice berg balance test.
Heading downtown with skyscrapers in sight.

Its nice to have the feeling of having to head back into civilization after just exploring so close to the city. We made a big loop back home via the roads and ironically felt much safer traveling on the 'flats.
Not a bad back-yard, eh?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Skiing Mt Susitna

One of my new favorite xc ski ventures this spring was up Mt. Susitna, or "Sleeping Lady". Susitna is one of the most recognizable mountains from Anchorage, although with a relatively remote starting point and long approach not many attempt this ski.

We took the long gradual route up the "North Ridge" along sleeping ladies back.
Tamra Kornfield (above with GPS in hand) put together this trip after years of stomping around the base the mountain near the Kornfield yurt and competing in the Susitna 100 mile ski race. A huge thanks to her Dad, Ed for flying us out there, having us stay at their yurt and to Tim Kelley for route advice and GPS coordinates.

We lucked out and had another perfect AK spring day. Here you can see a lake-side angle of Mt Susitna with Diana in the foreground.
Views of Mt Foraker and Denali (Mt "McKinley") were pretty darn nice...

Diana Johnson taking a ski break for some yoga mid-way up.
Conditions were rock solid one the snow crusted snowmachine trails. The terrain was gradual and in steeper sections we just hiked.
Sweet old school Atomics!


Tamra and Katie. When we were in first and second grade, we were the two girls who chose to play soccer with the guys at school recess and became friends. It's been fun to reconnect and plan outdoor adventures together almost two decades later.
Katie Ronsse, Tamra Kornfield, Diana Johnson not too far from the summit.
It's hard to beat getting to spending time outside skiing in the mountains with good friends.