Alaska: A true skiing culture

by • December 2, 2016 • Highlights, Home Display, ToastComments (0)177

UAA Seawolves Nordic skier Hailey Swirbul chases, and eventually passes, UAF Nanook Sarissa Lammers during the 2016 Alaska Cup races, held Nov. 19-20 in Fairbanks. The University system is facing deep cuts, but for now alpine and Nordic skiing is safe from elimination.  Courtesy Zachary Hall/ UAA.

UAA Seawolves Nordic skier Hailey Swirbul chases, and eventually passes, UAF Nanook Sarissa Lammers during the 2016 Alaska Cup races, held Nov. 19-20 in Fairbanks. The University system is facing deep cuts, but for now alpine and Nordic skiing is safe from elimination. Courtesy Zachary Hall/ UAA.

Ski and track teams dodge university cuts that never should have been proposed

When the University of Alaska system announced in late October that it would recommend the elimination of the cross-country skiing team in Fairbanks and the Nordic, Alpine and indoor track teams in Anchorage, my first thought was not really a thought, rather a reaction: disbelief.
Trying to survive fiscally necessitated the need to trim programs, reasoned University president Jim Johnsen in making the announcement on Oct. 27. And he is right: The University of Alaska system is facing sharp cuts amid a stagnant economy and less financial support from the state.
What followed in the weeks to come was an outraged protest among the Nordic and alpine skiing community, stunned that such a sport as skiing would be cut in Alaska of all places, where a bulk of the nation’s best competitive skiers fine tune their racing skills. Eliminating skiing, they argued, was like cutting football in Texas or basketball in Indiana, or beach volleyball in California.
The cuts hit close to home, too. While my son does not go to college in Alaska, he has friends who do, some of whom are on the track and ski teams being earmarked for elimination. He, too, is skiing in college and was shocked by the news. He had only these words, which he sent in a text: “Yeah I heard. I think it’s really stupid.”
He isn’t the only one. Fortunately, Johnsen and those who are struggling to find solutions to their financial woes, came to their senses and on Nov. 10 informed UAF and UAA coaches that the cuts would not happen. As difficult as it might be, he said, they would find another way.
And this is a good thing for Alaska – not just the student athletes who were directly affected, and the coaches and staff, who also would be out of work – but for Alaska as a whole. Skiing is part of this state’s identity and is as vital to winter as fishing is to summer. To be the home to some of the best skiing in the world, yet not have a presence on the collegiate level, just defies logic.
This month, those in the cross-country skiing community are breathing a huge sigh of relief: For now, collegiate skiing is safe. To take it a step further, we asked a few Alaskans to share their thoughts on what cross-country skiing means to them. After all, you don’t have to be a collegiate-level competitor to truly understand and appreciate what cross-country skiing is all about. See our story, “Skiing Is,” on pages 16-17, to read more about these folks and how skiing has shaped their life. True, the university has financial woes, and education comes first. But it’s not always about books and pencils: Skiing teaches us more than just how to glide over the snow, shaping who we are and what makes us Alaskans.
The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, one of the best ski-advocate nonprofits in the state, also chimes in with their suggestions on other ways to enjoy Nordic skiing. See details on their backcountry touring trips and festive Ski Train outings, just a sampling of what this great group is about (Page 6).
Meanwhile, skiers – challenged already by a lack of decent snow – are at least free of one less menacing worry. Their sport is safe for now, and we Alaskans should make sure the budgetary ax never threatens it again.

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