4H Nordic striding into 2011 season

All ages, all abilities benefit from volunteer-driven local cross country skiing program

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2011

The Juneau 4H Nordic Ski Club’s season is back in full swing and has once again been a success so far in the new year.

One of the club’s team leaders, Kerry Lear, said of this season: so far, so good.

“It’s going really well. We have 68 kids enrolled in the program this year,” he said. “We started our first meeting the second week of January and meet 10 times each year on Sunday afternoons from 1-3:30 p.m. every week.”

As in past years, interest in the program has been palpable among Juneau youth of all ages.

“We’ve been trying to hold it to (around 65 kids) because several years ago we were getting upwards of 70 or 80 kids and we were having a hard time getting enough volunteer coaches to take care of them,” Lear said. “So we try and hold it around 65, but inevitably a big family or something comes in and that changes.”

Not only does the ski club attract newcomers every year, but it also has a long list of loyal members.

“Well over half the kids are returners from the prior year, and we’ve got one boy who’s a junior in high school and has basically done it, I believe, since kindergarten,” Lear said. “Some kids have gone quite a ways with it, and then every year we always end up with new cohorts, the little guys.”

The Juneau 4H Nordic Ski Club welcomes kids from the first-grade level to seniors in high school and exposes them to different instructional skiing opportunities available to them in the area.

“We tend to piggyback with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, and sometimes throughout the year — usually in February or March — Eaglecrest or the Juneau Nordic Ski Club will end up making a race,” Lear said. “We certainly encourage the kids to participate if they want, but in a lot of ways, the skiing itself is more about getting out. We encourage families to come along as well so it’s kind of a social ski just as it is a technical lesson.”

The program is not limited to beginners or those more advanced.

“But we get all kinds of mixes of kids who are just interested in going out for a ski, then there are usually two or three kids who will go the competitive route,” he said.

The club is a volunteer-based organization, and Lear said it’s doing great in that department. Over the years it has thrived on members of the community willing to give their time for no cost, and that has not changed in 2011.

“We’ll never turn volunteers down, but we’ve had really good luck with a core group of about five adults who have been with the program for several years,” Lear said. “Then we have a group of 10-15 volunteer coaches, some of which have to work around their schedules and others who are there pretty much every week. Some of those are parents of kids in the program and some are just people who enjoy teaching skiing.”

Members also have easy access to ski equipment if needed. The 4H Ski Club has been able to stock up over the years, but it got some financial help from the outside that really allowed for some stability,

“About two years ago we ended up getting a grant, with the help of Odin Brudie, for around $4,000 that allowed us to update a lot of our equipment,” Lear said. “Then every year with rental fees, we usually have enough left over to order equipment and build up an inventory.”

And with the Buckwheat Ski Classic approaching on March 26, Lear said he expects some club members will participate.

“We usually end up with five or six kids who want to go up with their families and do that. We certainly support them in doing that,” he said. “Typically we’ll have kids who are on both skate (skiing) gear and classic gear, which are the two disciplines in Nordic (skiing). Sometimes we end up helping them out with that because the Buckwheat is a classic race.”

For more information on the Juneau 4H Nordic Ski Club, visit the group’s website at www.jnski.org or call 465-8749.

• Contact reporter Matthew Tynan at matthew.tynan@juneauempire.com.

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