The next time you go cross-country skiing in Juneau, keep on the lookout for a group wearing matching grey jackets.
Several times a week between now and the end of winter, the Juneau Nordic Ski Team will be training together with its numerous coaches on the various Juneau trails.
The team has swelled to 25 skiers this year. Some, like Arne Ellefson-Carnes, 17 and the son of JNST coach Merry Ellefson, have been skiing long before they hit middle school. However, others had absolutely no prior experience with the sport until they hit high school.
“Those beginning nordic skiers, again they’re older kids, their coordination’s figured out. It’s not like teaching kindergarten through even fourth or fifth grade,” Juneau Nordic Ski Club President Frankie Pillifant said. “And you can talk a little bit more in-depth about concepts than you would with younger kids.”
“And then the older team members, they’ve been really helpful in sharing and welcoming their skills,” she added.
The team, which accepts middle and high school age students, welcomes the experts and novices alike. All that is required to join is an interest in the sport.
“The goal of the JNST is to share the love of skiing and provide an environment where all athletes train to improve ski skills, and race,” Ellefson wrote in an email.
The team stays afloat thanks to an “amazing army of parents and friends” who take turns helping out at practices. Pillifant estimates there are just under 20 coaches total who will volunteer their time coaching the team this season.
Having an abundance of coaches ensures every skier receives individual attention and learns something new each practice.
“It’s kind of cool, it’s such a wide range of ability,” Ellefson-Carnes said at the annual JNSC meeting and potluck last week. “There’s a lot of great coaches who are really good at teaching the new skiers, the beginning skiers. And then (the new skiers) move up into the next group, and there’s this next coach that will get them into the advanced group. There’s a lot of individual coaching that’s very nice.”
The team was founded eight winters ago. At that time, only the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Cooperative Extension Services 4-H program provided structured youth cross country skiing. Eventually, skiers like Ellefson-Carnes were ready to receive more specialized instruction as a way to prepare for racing.
“One of the things that’s really great about the team is that it takes the middle school and high school kids and so they’ve already got some athletic abilities,” Pillifant said. “So we’ve had lots of different athletes with different abilities come to the ski team and many have stay with it for a number of years.”
The team practices at least three days per week throughout the season, which began on Nov. 11 and ends with the March 10 “Border-to-Border” race.
Some of the team will also travel to Whitehorse, Yukon, for the Mt. Lorne Loppet on Feb. 17. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com.