It’s all in the spirit of fun that three Juneau youth were spending a Sunday afternoon striding laps around the meadows below Eaglecrest Ski Area — that and the fact they also want to go fast.
Johnny Elliott, Duncan Smith and Aaron Blust are part of a new Nordic skiing development team that has formed this year under the insurance umbrella of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club. Coach Tom Brayton said the group is officially called the Juneau Nordic Youth Development Team, but the athletes, who range in age from 9-18, have dubbed it the “D-team.”
Brayton, who has been a volunteer ski coach with the 4-H Nordic Club for about seven years, said the group essentially consists of members of the local 4-H Nordic Club that had outgrown the program and were in search of something more challenging.
“The 4-H group is a great thing,” Brayton said. “But it’s huge, there’s not enough coaches … so we end up focusing on the kids that can’t ski as well, and the older ones pretty much go by themselves.”
But now, instead of skiing on their own, the development team offers these “graduates” an opportunity to hone their skills and prepare for a more competitive skiing career.
Members of this new Nordic development team meet throughout the week to work on core strength, endurance, technique and speed, to name just a few. Right now there are six “pretty hard core” participants, Brayton said. Each member has individual goals that range from specific finish times to just finishing, but all the skiers also just want to enjoy time on the snow, he said.
Elliott, 14, is one of those individuals.
“It’s a fun way to get exercise with a bunch of friends and the view up here at Eaglecrest is really nice.”
Elliott plans to race in this year’s Tour of Anchorage and also in the Buckwheat Classic in Skagway this spring. Both are 25 kilometer races. Elliott said he has never raced that distance before. Still, he knows his goals: 2 hours for the skate race and 2 hours, 30 minutes for the classic race.
Nine-year-old Blust said he “just likes skiing.” He too is going to race in the Tour of Anchorage.
“I feel excited,” he said. “I just want to finish it.”
Brayton said he hopes to see the program grow and begin to follow in the footsteps of some of the high school Nordic skiing programs in the Anchorage area.
“What I’m hoping,” Brayton said, “is that it will morph into a high school team.”
He said there’s plenty of races in the Whitehorse area that a local team could travel to. Plus, he said, there are always the bi-weekly club races held on Sundays. Brayton said the club holds cross-country races every other Sunday starting at the A-Frame on the Nordic Lower Loop trail at Eaglecrest. Start times vary, but they kick things off around 11 a.m. — typically.
For the Juneau Nordic Youth Development Team, Brayton said he ultimately envisions a 501c3 organization that will not only support a high school team, but also infrastructure at Eaglecrest. A wax room, for instance, is a near necessity when it comes to a ski team.
Brayton said the program is just getting off its feet. This year the dues, which cost $250 per athlete, covered dryland training, three coaching sessions per week and insurance. Participants also had to buy a season Nordic ski pass to Eaglecrest Ski Area. Coaching was all done on a volunteer basis.
Despite this, it’s easy to argue the benefits far outweigh the costs.
“These kids are growing in many ways just by being out here walking on skis,” Brayton said. “The real benefits are very long term. They will have set goals and achieved them ... and that’s an incredible skill.”
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.