FAIRBANKS — Imagine someone from Fairbanks moving to Australia to coach surfing. Hard to comprehend, isn’t it?
Now, imagine someone from Australia moving to Fairbanks to coach cross-country skiing. Sounds even more preposterous, doesn’t it?
After all, who in their right mind would move to Fairbanks from Australia?
Meet 28-year-old Nick Grimmer.
Grimmer moved to Fairbanks from Australia six months ago after being hired as an assistant coach for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks’ junior training and racing program, FXC. He also is the head coach of the Lathrop High cross-country ski team.
Never mind the fact most people don’t even know there is snow, much less skiing, in Australia. Grimmer is here to tell you different.
“It’s much better than here,” Grimmer said of skiing in Australia compared to Fairbanks. “It’s rarely below 32 degrees when we ski.”
As evidence, Grimmer pulled up a picture on his computer that showed him racing in Australia last June. While he is wearing a spandex racing suit, the racer behind him is wearing a T-shirt.
Grimmer grew up in Mount Beauty, a town nestled in the high country of Victoria, about a four-hour drive north of Melbourne. Billed as Australia’s premier alpine village for skiers and snowboarders, Mount Beauty is located at the base of 5,200-foot Mount Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria.
“I downhill skied until I was about 12 and then I got bored with it,” Grimmer said. “The lines were long and the runs were short. By the time I was 13 I had exhausted all the downhill possibilities.”
So Grimmer took up cross-country skiing. With about 65 kilometers of immaculately groomed trails in the area, the cross-country skiing is world class, he said.
Grimmer has an impressive Nordic resume. He was — and technically still is — a member of the Australian national cross-country ski team for all but one year between 2002 to 2011. He raced in the last two world championships and on the World Cup circuit from 2008 to 2011. Grimmer qualified for the Australian national team again in 2011 but turned down a chance to be on the team to come to Alaska.
“I would say I’m retired, but you have to be a lot better than I am to retire,” he said with a laugh. “We had a saying in Australia that if you’re not in the top 30 you quit, you don’t retire.”
His top place in a World Cup race was 69th, which he said “was good for an Australian.”
The story of how Grimmer ended up in Fairbanks goes like this. While racing for the Australian national team in Europe, one of Grimmer’s coaches was Jeff Ellis from Canada, who happens to be married to Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall, the top Nordic skier in the U.S.
Several Australian skiers had come to Alaska to train with Ellis and Randall at Alaska Pacific University and Grimmer heard good things about skiing in Alaska.
“They always said Alaska was fantastic,” he said.
When Grimmer, who aspired to be a coach, spotted the FXC job advertised on the website FasterSkier.com, it piqued his interest. The fact that his wife, Lescinska, a.k.a. Linky, still is on the Australian national team and is training for the 2013 World Championships in Italy, also was a factor in his decision to move to Alaska.
“Linky wanted to keep skiing and I always wanted to coach, so we needed somewhere where we could make her a better skier and I could coach,” Nick said.
Besides the cold, the biggest difference between skiing in Fairbanks and skiing in Australia is the length of the season.
In Australia, the ski season might last 10 weeks, from late June to late August. In Fairbanks, the Nordic season typically lasts six to seven months, from early October to late April.
“We’re lucky if we get 10 weeks of skiing in Australia,” Grimmer said.
Moving to Fairbanks from Australia has been a rude awakening for Grimmer, but not for the reasons one might suspect.
True, the colder winter climate in Fairbanks compared to Australia has been a bit of a shock, but nothing Grimmer hasn’t been able to deal with.
“It’s kind of a tourist thing,” he said last week in the middle of the winter’s worst cold snap, which kept temperatures in the 20-to-40-degree-below range for the better part of two weeks. “If you’ve never been in this kind of cold before it’s kind of fun to be this cold, if you know what I mean.”
The biggest adjustment Grimmer has had to cope with since moving from the land down under to the land of the midnight sun is the fact he had to get a job. Three of them, actually.
“In Australia, I never had to work; I got paid to ski,” he said, laughing. “Now, having to work three jobs is kind of annoying.”
In addition to working as a ski coach for FXC and Lathrop High, Grimmer is the Fairbanks representative for Alaska Medical Solutions, a company that delivers home orthopedic recovery equipment to patients around the state.
“I bring machines to people who can’t bend their knees,” is how Grimmer described the job.
Despite the increased workload, the Grimmers appear to be acclimating to Fairbanks. Other than their distinctive accents and the kangaroo logos on their racing suits, you can’t tell them apart from other skiers at Birch Hill. They scored a skookum house-sitting gig at a roomy log home in the Goldstream Valley complete with a sauna. Linky got a part-time job at Goldstream Sports, just a few miles down the road.
They drive a 1999 Jeep and a 1993 Subaru, the latter of which has already developed the prototypical bad CV joint, judging from the clicking sounds it was making as he pulled out of the parking lot at Birch Hill one night after practice last week.
Nick even tried growing a beard for the first time, an experiment that he had to recently start over after a grooming mishap.
“I trimmed it a little bit and took a big chunk out of it and had to shave it,” he said last week sporting a freshly shaven face.
Linky, who joined Nick in Fairbanks in mid-September after the ski season in Australia ended, still is warming up to Fairbanks, so to speak.
“I’m struggling somewhat,” Linky admitted during the throes of the recent cold snap. “It’s kind of cold dark compared to just about everywhere else in the world.”
The skiing hasn’t been as good as she had hoped, in large part because of the cold temperatures. She’s hoping conditions improve.
“Even though the skiing isn’t great now I’m hoping in February and March it will be good,” Linky said. “The good thing here is it’s got a long season. That’s why we came here.”
On the bright said, she said, “It feels better on this side of the solstice than it did on the other side.”
While the weather hasn’t necessarily been hospitable, the Grimmers have found Fairbanks very welcoming.
“Everyone I’ve met in the ski community has been really nice,” Linky said. “It’s been good that way.”
Nick is impressed at how much support cross-country skiing gets in Fairbanks.
“The whole town is based on skiing,” he said. “You say you’re the Lathrop ski coach or work for the (Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks) and people invite you in to give you cookies or feed you.”