With barely an inch on the ground, it would have been hard to scrape up enough to make a snowball. And yet there it was, 30k of remarkably groomed trails.
The crazy thing about the Birch Hill Cross Country Ski Area in Fairbanks, Alaska is how little snow accumulation it takes for the skiing to be great. The trail surfaces are very smooth, and mostly covered with organic peat, so skis really only need a heavy frost to glide. This is why it is the perfect late-fall training zone.
The APU Nordic Ski Team just returned from an incredible early-season training camp in Fairbanks, where they took advantage of the incredible trail prep and grooming that the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks provided to hundreds of early season skiers.
In addition to being able to train 4-5 hrs a day on race-worthy trails, the athletes helped as volunteer coaches for the first ever First Tracks Ski Camp hosted by Challenge Life. The idea behind this inaugural event was to get a huge group of Alaska’s high school skiers together for a massive ski-season kickoff training camp. The camp was the brainchild of Mike Hajdukovich of Challenge Life; he imagined a setting where the kids could train a lot together, chill out in between sessions, and have a good time as a group without all of the stresses that accompany most ski trips because of the racing aspect.
The event was a huge success. There was a huge group of kids that came from all over the state to enjoy the awesome skiing opportunities and a chance to train alongside some of the best cross-country skiers in the country and the world. Olympic stars Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks, along with local standouts Reese Hanneman and Becca Rorabaugh and about ten of their APU teammates handled the coaching duties, while APU director Erik Flora lead the whole thing. All of the coaches did a great job of keeping the training advice simple yet effective, and everyone was constantly having fun.
One other benefit of the training camp was getting a first-hand tour of the brand new race courses designed by mastermind John Estle. Many of the tough courses used during the 2008 and 2009 Spring Nationals have been refined and tweaked to offer some world-class and FIS homologation-pending trails. Flora and his team got to ski on the new courses, which will be featured heavily in the Fairbanks Mini-Tour, which are North America’s first FIS races of the year on November 18th-20th.
The APU Nordic Ski Center would like to extend a special thanks to Challenge Life for hosting a great event, and to the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks and John Estle for their amazing grooming, trail work, and hospitality.