Fall sped by like a Bullet Train through a short tunnel. A total blur. November was masked by October and caught all of us on our heels. It’s now the end of January and I feel like December was last year. Joking aside, a lot has happened in the past four months. Eight incoming freshmen kept us all busy from April to August to On-snow. Turns out these kids are worth it, and ever since time has kept a heavy foot on the accelerator.
Incredibly, all of our first-year’s navigated their way from Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, California, and Saint Louis…all the way to Anchorage. They were welcomed by our veteran returners and collectively spent the short autumn months running up ski jumps and over sand dunes. They also pedaled mountain bikes, surfed Bore-tides, lifted weights, and jumped hurdles. And…they even went to class. Our women’s team earned the athletic department’s top GPA at 3.78, boasting NINE! 4.0’s, with our men just off the mark at a 3.54 and three 4.0’s.
It’s now 2023, there’s no turning back, and we’re in the thick of another NCAA dogfight. Crossing North America two and a half times (I’ll get to that part of the story later), the Alpiners finished up their first RMISA contest at Snowbird, Utah and are now fighting extreme cold and soft blower snow in Montana. The Nordic team crushed it in their first races here two weeks ago, putting us into second place as a team. It’s been an eventful season with a lot happening since our last update. Time moves fast, so let me catch you up to speed, at least on the Alpine side…
September: To say that Anchorage had a wet fall would be like telling Frank Sinatra he did it his way. Sounthcentral Alaska broke precipitation records, which is hard to imagine. Even the hardiest octogenarian sourdoughs complained, but it didn’t stop the Seawolves. We took advantage of any break in the weather, and we also just got wet. Who says you can’t have fun in the rain?
October: More training. A lot more. The team hit it hard as our prep period ramped into full swing. We also did a bit of moonlighting in the name of fundraising and community service by restarting the largest consignment sale in the state of Alaska. The megalith AK Ski Swap is a monster of a project, and after a two-year hiatus, we had to pour a lot of fuel into the engine to get the train rolling again.
Roll it did. Not only was it our highest grossing ski swap ever – netting the Skiwolves close to $20,000 – we also had the highest volume of weary buyers staggering into the Alaska Airlines Center looking for any hint of a deal. The lines were out the door, across the parking lot, and didn’t tail off until it reached all the way to Providence Hospital across the street…which is where you might end up if you actually tried to ski on some of the ancient equipment being sold. Our kids volunteered alongside our athletics staff, coaches from Arctic Valley, Hilltop, and Alyeska. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding to get the greater Alaska ski community together.
November: No matter how much you prepare for the on-snow segment of our season, there is no denying that time moves at an exponentially faster pace. One minute you’re double-checking eligibility charts and running ladder drills, and then next you’re driving the icy Alcan in the dark to the Yukon. Admittedly, one my favorite things to do in the entire world is make the 704 mile journey from Anchorage to Whitehorse. It’s a special trip that not a lot of people can or even would attempt.
Luckily, we can pick and choose our departure date to plan around any incoming weather. We load four full size trucks at five in the morning to catch as much natural daylight along our route as possible. The sun will start to compete with the headlights somewhere past Chickaloon on the backside of the Chugach mountains, and finally give up the effort along Kluane Lake between Destruction Bay and Haines Junction. We might see six or seven cars all day, maybe a lone semi or two. Stopping in Glennallen, Tok, Beaver Creek, and Haines Junction provide brief opportunities to stretch the legs and throw a football through cold heavy air. The road is lonely, desolate, and stunningly beautiful.
Whitehorse is always a welcome sight. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have local families hosting our team. The Hynes and Dueling families are beyond incredible and go from empty nests to full homes in an instant. Mt. Sima and the non-profit group “Friends of Mt. Sima” operating the mountain bend over backwards to provide us with unbelievable training. There are a lot of reasons I love November in the Yukon. Here’s a few: Sunrise lasts all day. Evening fat-tire mountain biking. Pond hockey. Canada Games Center. The Wayfarer Oyster House, FIS races this year! Incredibly productive training, And…results.
Our team competed in the first ever FIS races held at Mt. Sima and swept the podium on both days. Sport Yukon did an outstanding job putting the event together and it was a great opportunity to pull on a number and get behind the start-wand. We had several career best FIS point results and a chance to see how our kids stack up before the season gets rolling. Time flies when you’re having fun, but they say fish and guests stink after three weeks…or days – Thanks Duelings and Hynes! And then the calendar flipped to…
December: The boys loaded all four Avis Alaska trucks and drove home with Anna, I took the Ladies straight from Whitehorse to Colorado for FIS Nor-Am races, and Anchorage got buried by five feet of snow. Record breaking precipitation continued in Southcentral, but this time in the form of snow. So much snow that training wasn’t possible for the Alpine crew. The Nordic side however? Loving it.
After a week at Copper, I exchanged the girls for the boys and headed back down south. Alaska Airlines took us to Colorado with Hunter, Jan, and Leon for the men’s FIS Nor Am series at Beaver Creek. All-in-all there was some good skiing from our athletes. It’s always tough to compete against the US and Canadian national teams, who have had over 50 days on snow since June. We took our shots, and we took some lumps. It was a good indicator that our work wasn’t finished yet.
The NCAA forces all Division II sport programs to take a mandatory seven-day break from the 20th of December to the 26th. Most of our athletes went home for a holiday break, but a few stuck around to enjoy Alaska and some brief downtime. Meanwhile, the coaches and I continued to plot and solve an impossible logistics conundrum surrounding 15 athletes going in five different directions. Our flow chart looked like a Boston road map.
Time, once again showing no mercy, took us along it’s continuum and we ramped back into training on the 27th. The women’s team left on New Year’s Eve with Anna for another Nor-Am series in Stratton, Vermont. Leon and Jan took off for the Eastern Nor-Am’s in Burke. Both were more or less washed out. Heavy rain and warm temps plagued New England and turned their rolling race hills from white to brown. Moro and Will took a different path, racing in the Ontario FIS series at Moonstone St. Louis and tying for a silver medal on day one – Will’s birthday. Moro would go on to win the SL on day two before both setting out for points east and a rendezvous with the rest of our team on its Eastern swing. I stayed back over the New Year’s break for a few extra days to provide training at home until our departure for World University Games on January 10th.
The World University Games is a biannual event bringing together the best student athletes from around the world. This year, the Games were held in Lake Placid, New York. Over the past decade, the event has been held in China, Turkey, Russia, and Kazakhstan…which is why I’ve never been. New York on the other hand? I could probably swing that. Especially when the Seawolves qualified six athletes representing four countries.
Skiing is only one of 16 sports at the games. Hockey, curling, and speed skating are a few of the other events being contested. Each country had their own Olympic style village and security was tighter than a presidential debate. Every fourth car on the road this past week had badges on the door and a light bar on top. Driving fast through the winding Adirondack mountains, while tempting, was not advised. Skiing fast down the trails in the Adirondack mountains however, was a fantastic idea. And Seawolf Nation claimed two silver medals at these games by doing just that.
Carmen Nielssen, a freshman Alpine skier from Norway arced clean turns down an icy Super-G course to finish second overall in a world class field. Astrid Stav came out hot on a cold day at Mt. Van Hovenburg to take silver in the Women’s 15 km freestyle races. On the men’s side, Jan Ronner, a sophomore Alpine skier from Austria finished 14th in the GS, and Caeden Carruthers put together two solid runs to get inside the top 20 in 19th place. In the women’s Alpine Combined Ainsley Proffit, a freshman Alpine skier from St. Louis, MO, put her Slalom skills to work and finished seventh, just behind her teammate Carmen Nielssen in sixth. A strong showing for a young Seawolf team looking to build upon a solid start to the season.
The games wrapped up on Saturday the 22nd with the men’s SL. Hunter Eid, Jan Ronner, and Caeden Carruthers gave it all they had, but in the end it wouldn’t be enough to crack the top 15. The team spent Saturday night watching Canada win the gold medal in Hockey, and on Sunday we loaded two trucks with 40 bags and headed south on US 87 for the Mass Pike into Boston. Alaska Airlines is a corporate partner and generously provides our ski team with unlimited checked bags. We obliged, but not completely without paying. Time is not only a measurement, it’s a currency.
To get from Boston to Denver on Alaska Airlines, we conveniently flew through Seattle. It did pad our mileage accounts, but we lost half a day gazing at middle American landscapes from 35,000 feet. Upon landing in Denver, we rented three full size pickup trucks, loaded them to maximum capacity, and headed for Laramie, WY for an overnight rest stop on our way to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of our team. Westminster College hosted a pair of Slalom races at Snowbird. The ladies gave Seawolf Nation a reason to believe. Ella Bromee came away with a pair of top ten results placing 5th and 6th. Alyssa Hill was 11th and 19th, and Ainsley Proffit was 15th and 17th, and Ashleigh Alexander was 19th and 20th. The boys held on to the second seed in SL with Leon Nikic leading the group in 12th and 13th. We clearly have some work to do. The skiing is getting better but we’re still missing the groundspeed.
We’re now in Montana packing up to head back to Colorado for some much needed training. The MSU races at Bridger Bowl were cancelled due to incredibly soft conditions. We got one run of the women’s Giant Slalom in the books, but during the opening of the second run, a trio of forerunners demonstrated just how dangerous these conditions can be. None found the finish line, and all three looked like they had been taken out by landmines or sniper fire. Spectacular crashes from late ski pressure into large holes gave the officials pause and the race was discontinued. We’ll pack it up and head south. How will the remainder of our action packed season go? Only time will tell.