First Class of Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame to be Inducted Thursday

BrainspiralApril 23, 2015
Several members of the U.S. Ski Team lift up Kikkan Randall after she won her third-straight World Cup sprint Crystal Globe on Friday in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)
Several members of the U.S. Ski Team lift up Kikkan Randall after she won her third-straight World Cup sprint Crystal Globe in 2014. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

In 1999 Cross Country Alaska created a process, took nominations and voted on the inaugural class for the Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame but their efforts would never come to fruition as business of the ski world took over. While the Hall of Fame was put on the back burner in 1999, it has resurfaced again in 2015. This year Cross Country Alaska made it a priority to recognize those who influenced the nordic community, from forging the way with inspiring performances to developing local trails. Many know of the recent Olympians who walk and ski among us, but Cross Country Alaska wants to highlight and promote the people and the stories of those who have played a part in the rich cross country ski history of Alaska.

The original class of of 12 selected in 1999 remain, but with one addition – Kikkan Randall, who automatically qualified as an inductee with her many World Cup podiums. The full list of the 13 inductees can be seen below.

The first class of the Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame:

Tom Besh – University of Alaska – Anchorage’s first full-time ski coach from 1977 to 1990 and Olympic coach

Jim Burkholder – Alaska coach (University of Alaska – Anchorage, Anchorage high schools) and skier, Olympic coach and Olympic official

Audun Endestad – Member of U.S. Olympic Ski Team (1984)

n Estle – Alaska coach, University of Alaska – Fairbanks coach, U.S. Ski Team coach

Lin Hinderman – Alaska high school and junior coach and skier, organizer and Olympic official

Sven Johansson – U.S. Army Biathlon unit coach who was instrumental and getting the sport started in Alaska upon arriving here in 1951.

Jim Mahaffey – Alaska coach (Alaska Methodist University – the precursor of Alaska Pacific University) and skier who helped build trails and programs

Dick Mize – Alaska coach, school administrator, and skier, member of U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team (1960)

Judy Rabinowitz – Member of US Olympic Ski Team (1980, 1984)

Kikkan Randall – Member of US Olympic Ski team (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014), Three-time Sprint World Cup Champion

Bill Spencer – member of U.S. Olympic Ski Team (1988)

Lynn Spencer – Member of U.S. Olympic Ski Team (1976, 1980, 1984)

Jim Whisenhant – The father of cross-country skiing in Fairbanks

The Alaska Ski Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place Thursday at Kincaid Park chalet. See Schedule below:

6 p.m. – Dinner and silent auction

7:15 – Vintage fashion show

7:50 p.m. – Induction ceremony

Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame Bios:

Tom Besh 

As a life-long Alaskan, Tom Besh was introduced to cross country skiing in junior high school. He, his brother, and friends would brave skiing on the edge of the Glen Highway to reach the closest Nordic trails around which were maintained by the military at Arctic Valley. Besh was encouraged and supported by many local Nordic enthusiasts such as Barney Seiler, Sven Johansson, Jim Mahaffey, and Dick Mize. This Nordic community took him in and even convinced his mother, Maxine Jackson, to be on the board of the Nordic Ski Club. It became a family affair, and Maxine would often provide traveling skiers, Tom’s friends and competitors, a spot on her living room floor and followed their successes for the years to come. While skiing at East High, Tom earned a spot on the first Alaskan Junior National Ski Team and ultimately received a scholarship to Western State College where he earned All-America honors as a skier and graduated with a degree in education.

After a short stint in the air force, Besh returned to Alaska to begin what would become an epic career of teaching and coaching at the high-school (East, Bartlett, and Service) and collegiate levels His collegiate teams produced one national championship, 19 All-Americans and numerous top-10 NCAA Championship finishes. A one-time member of the U.S. Ski Team, Besh frequently served as U.S. Ski Association’s Alaska Division coach and was an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Nordic team at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. He was also the US Ski Team Coach at the World Universities Games in West Germany-1987 and Sapporo, Japan-1991.

During many of these years Tom worked with Nordic Ski Club members, families, and friends to design and build ski trails at Bartlett and Service and was instrumental in the formation in many local events, including the Crow Pass Crossing, the Seawolf Triathlon and the Tom Besh Homestead Hill Run. Some of Besh’s accomplishments can be named but most of his contributions to the Nordic community were intangible. He was often quiet and pensive in his coaching and teaching but his words of encouragement and motivation were largely heard. Daughter Kendra Besh will remember her dad as a teacher and coach but also as someone who was always learning and engaging in a new challenge or adventure often bringing others along for the ride. He is the voice many of us hear at the top of a hill…the one that makes us turn it on and work just a little harder.

Thousands of skiers called Besh coach and his lessons, whether technical or motivational, live on in many of us. These we pass along and model as we coach, live, teach, and nurture our Nordic Community today. The spirit of Tom Besh lives as we ski the Besh Lighted Loop at Service, challenge our abilities in the Besh Cup Race series, and share memories of our times with and among him.

Jim Burkholder 

Jim “Burky” Burkholder is a graduate of West Anchorage High School, and apart from living in Colorado to attend and coach for Western State College he has been enjoying all that Alaska, specifically Anchorage, has to offer. An avid skier, runner, hiker and biker; Burkholder was instrumental, along with his wife, Sally to build trails around Anchorage for future skiers to enjoy on every level.

Burkholder knew the importance of having ski trails for his middle school and high school skiers as well as putting Alaska on the map for national and international ski races. In 1968 he helped design and construct the Winner Creek Trail at Alyeska for the 1969 Junior Nationals Championships and in the late 1970s he helped plan and design Russian Jack Springs in preparation for the Arctic Winter Games.

UAA hired him as its first cross country running and ski coach in 1973 and throughout that time he also held positions as a regional coach for the U.S. Ski Team leading skiers to U.S. Nationals, World Junior Championships, Pre-Olympic and Olympic competition.

During his years as an Anchorage School District teacher and coach, Burkholder would often go directly from the classroom to the trail of the season. This was before the time of hiring excavating companies to do all of the work. Burkholder’s vision (along with his partners of Sally, Dick Mize, John Elliot, Don Richter, and George Moerlein to name a few) of creating trails next to high schools has contributed to the successful ski programs in Anchorage. This crew drove the equipment through the woods and began to create the excellent trail system that we all enjoy.

Throughout the years of trail building, Burkholder spent even more hours working directly with kids. Along with coaching junior high and high school skiing in Anchorage, he coached Junior National teams, took athletes on (sometimes epic) summer biking, canoeing, and camping trips, and bravely took high school skiers on international ski adventures. Even before trails like we enjoy today were built in Anchorage, Burkholder had 92 skiers on his Mears Junior High team in the late 1960s. The daylight wasn’t any longer back then either and these kids were spread out among many kilometers of trails. Luckily he stuck around the skiing scene long after coaching to be part of the committee to get sections of lighted trails around Anchorage. Since leaving the scene as a coach, Burkholder has been an official at NCAA Championships, been Chief of Course for World Cup & National Championships in Anchorage, volunteered in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics in the stadium area as a starter and works on the start crew for every Besh race or national race that Anchorage hosts. One thing that most every Alaskan skier of today’s World Cup have in common is they have felt Burkholder’s hand on their shoulder at the start of one of the many ski races for which he has worked as a starter.

Audun Endestad

Audun Endestad grew up in the west coast town of Bryggja, Norway. As is true of most Norwegians, he grew up skiing from an early age. In addition to working and doing chores on the family farm, he was very active in sports, including cross country skiing. In his teenage years his choice of sport was weightlifting and was the Norwegian West Coast Junior Champion in 1972.

Audun first arrived in the U.S. in 1974 to be a cross country ski instructor in California. He began participating in races around the Sierras. As his performance improved, he expanded his racing horizons and soon reached the highest levels of competition in the U.S., both in National Championships as well as ski marathons.

Audun sought out optimal snow conditions in order to continue ski training which took him to Australia for seven consecutive summers. He moved to Alaska in 1979 and has been a fixture in Fairbanks ever since.

After gaining U.S. citizenship shortly before the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, Audun represented the US and posted an 18th place finish in the 50 k event. Audun also represented the U.S. in the 1982, 1985, 1987, 1989, and 1991  World Championships. In 1985, he was the top-ranked American skier in the FIS World Cup, ranking 26th overall. Audun was able to race in a World Cup event in Alaska in 1984 on his “home” trails at Birch Hill in Fairbanks.

During his career he was the Great American Ski Chase (U.S. ski marathon series) overall champion six times and won 13 individual U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association National Championships. In 1986, he was fourth overall in the Worldloppett (World ski marathon series). In 1990 Audun swept all the individual titles at the USSA National Championships at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, one of the high points of his domestic career. Although he was most famous for his performance in longer races, he was a threat to win over any distance.

Since retiring from high-level competition, Audun has set an example with his vigorous lifestyle. He has become a local legend for his many outdoor and backcountry exploits, both on skis and while hiking on foot. Heading out his front door into the Alaskan wilderness to ski for three to five hours is something completely normal for him. From traversing the Wrangell mountains and central Alaska Range on skis to hiking the Brooks Range with a huge pack on his back, Audun’s name has become synonymous with toughness and the ability to endure. Many a client has returned totally spent from his guided hunts happy and satisfied to have reached a new personal record in endurance.

Audun lives in Fairbanks with his wife, Olympic cyclist Sally Endestad and children Anja and Ari, in a log home he built on Chena Ridge near the Tanana River. He and his wife ran the Endestad-Atomic Ski Camp for master skiers for 17 years. He enjoys introducing adults to the wonderful sport of cross country skiing through recreational classes taught at the University of Alaska. He is a Master Hunting Guide who co-owns Alaska Heartland Adventures.

John Estle 

Skiing, coaching, organizing, trail developing, officiating – John Estle has experienced every level of competitive skiing. Upon graduating from Middlebury College in 1974, he spent the next four years racing. After coaching at the University of Vermont he headed north to Fairbanks to coach at UAF from 1982 to 1990. His skiers have been national champions at the junior, senior and master’s level, collegiate All-Americans; as well as Olympians including Audun Endestad and Aelin (Peterson) Allegood.

Estle spent 1990 to 1993 as the head coach of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, 1993-94 as program director and head coach at the US Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University, and served as the head coach for the US team at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. During his time coaching these programs, he was one of the first cross country ski coaches in the US to utilize computer technology to plan, record and evaluate training program.

Fairbanks has been fortunate to have Estle’s expertise in organizing FIS Men’s World Cup races, NSCF competitive events, Besh Cup races, Junior National Championships, Arctic Winter Games, and senior level racing such as the U.S. National Distance Championships/Spring Series. From spearheading the initial upgrade of the Birch Hill trail system in the 1980s in order to make cross country skiing more spectator friendly to managing the building of new segments in preparation for the 2003 and 2013 US Junior National Championships; Estle has always had a vision to put Fairbanks skiing on the cross country skiing map. The organizers of the 2014 U.S. Junior National Championships in Stowe, Vermont credit their success to what they learned when they attended the 2013 US Junior National Championships in Fairbanks.

Estle served as USSA & FIS Technical Delegate at U.S. Senior and Junior National Championships as well as served as Chief of Stadium on the Competition Committee for the 2002 Olympics in Soldier Hollow. His goal to raise the level of quality of coaching, quality of competition venues, race organizing, and officiating knowledge is foremost in working with all ski events to this day. Estle serves on the CCAK Board of Directors and runs a tight ship as Chair of the CCAK Competition Committee. Alaska is fortunate to have the talents of Estle, which have impacted our skiers from the 1980s until today.

Lin Hinderman

Starting her career as an alpine racer Lin Hinderman quickly made the change to cross country skiing when, while still in college, she was hired to coach her old high school team which was four way (for boys) in those days. It was 1967 and also the first year girls were allowed to ski in the Junior Nationals which she attended as a very inexperienced coach. She continued to coach in Montana until 1969 when the Jr. Nationals were held at Alyeska. After seeing Alaska and some heavy recruitment by Nordic Ski Club she moved north and started teaching and coaching for ASD and the Alaska Division (Forerunner of CCAK).

When Hinderman started coaching cross country she was one of the few women involved in the country involved in coaching the sport and for a number of years the only one working on a Junior National level. The novelty of this afforded many opportunities to attend U.S. Ski Team camps and training sessions and to work with some of the best coaches in the country. In 1968 she was an inaugural member of the first Women’s Cross Country Committee and in 1970 was a coach at the first Arctic Winter Games. She went on to coach 17 Junior National Teams, be part of the coaching staff for two World Juniors and spend 14 years coaching at Dimond High School with John Clark and Tania Spurkland

During Hinderman’s first summer in Alaska she teamed up with Jim Burkholder and Chuck Johnson for what might be considered the first sort of summer training program in Anchorage. It included building kayaks in the Richter’s garage and heading for the Six Mile River, ice climbing at Raven Glacier, training on Mount Marathon and any other number of epic adventures. In 1973, Hinderman started coaching with Tom Besh at the newly opened Bartlett High School and was also part of the Alaska Regional team. Moving to Girdwood in 1977 she developed a cross country program which produced skiers who went on to be varsity high school skiers, Alaska state champions, Junior National skiers, college All Americans and members of NCAA championship teams.

From 1991 to 1999 Hinderman organized and directed a Cross Country Christmas Camp for high school skiers from Anchorage, Mat-Su and Kenai. Knowing the importance of involving athletes as instructors, she called upon college skiers to help coach the camps. After 35 years of coaching Hinderman has spent the last 10 years as a FIS Technical Delegate and this year finally achieved a long time goal of earning a Green Grunt Jacket.

Skiers from the first group of skiers she coached are now in their 6o’s and many are still involved in skiing. Skiers of her last group are now in the Masters 1 division and many are coaching in some capacity or getting their own children involved in skiing. Hinderman considers herself extremely lucky to have been able to work with the people being inducted into the Hall of Fame; role models for all parts of life, not just sport. And there can’t be a better job than coaching a sport that attracts such dedicated, talented, smart, funny people.

Sven Johansson 

A list of the amateur athletic competitions won by Sven Johansson would be a long list in both Scandinavia and the United States. While his great love was cross country skiing, it is said that at one time he held national championship status in four different sports in Sweden: cross country skiing, biathlon, track and field and speed skating.

Sven was born in Neder-Kalix Sweden. He and his ten brothers and sisters worked on the family farm, that is except the brother who was one of Sweden’s top middle distance runners. On the day his brother was to set a new record, Sven was supposed to be the “rabbit” for his brother, running the first lap or two at record-setting pace before dropping out. Even after working hard all day on the farm and riding his bike to town, Sven felt pretty good after the second lap while his brother was having trouble keeping up, so Sven just kept going. It was Sven who, totally unexpectedly, beat his brother and set the new national record.

Johansson arrived in Alaska in 1951 and for 25 years coached and taught skiing to Alaskans. In the early 70s was the regional coach for the Alaska Division. Johansen was selected for both the 1956 and 1960 Cross Country Olympic Teams but was unable to attend in 1956 because of citizenship issues. He also won every Mount Marathon Race from 1954 to 1959 and always took his biathlon skiers to Seward to train for the race. Johansson would often “race” them up the mountain just to demonstrate he still could do it

Johansen was the coach of the Fort Richardson Biathlon Unit from 1968 to 1972. Many of those skiers went on to great athletic careers both as skiers and coaches: John Morton, Terry Aldrich, Ken Allegood, and the late Peter Hale to name a few.

Johansson was somewhat of a legend up at Hatcher Pass where the Biathlon Unit trained. The story goes that one day Johansson had just spent considerable time and effort setting new ski tracks for the biathletes when a snowmobiler roared up, obliterating the tracks he had just set. Barely controlling his temper, he tried to explain the purpose of the tracks and politely asked the snowmobiler to ride his machine elsewhere. Apparently the snowmobiler responded something to the effect that it was a free country and he’d ride his machine where he wanted. At that point, Johansson called to one of the athletes skiing out to the range, calmly asked for the athlete’s rifle and a 5 round clip of ammunition and emptied it into the machine. The stories about Johansson Johansen would fill several volumes.

Sven Johansen was the first Alaskan named to the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, Every year on his November 24th birthday Johansson would ski his age in kilometers, typically at Hatcher Pass. It would have been 52 kilometers in 1976 but Johansson died that September in an industrial accident.

Jim Maheffey 

The accomplishments of Jim Mahaffey are rooted deep in Alaska skiing; with his competitive career beginning at Elmendorf. Air Force Base He was on the Armed Forces Ski Championship Teams 1950-52 and unlike today though, he did not limit himself to just one kind of life on boards. While at Western State College (1953-1957) he skied in four disciplines – Downhill, Slalom, Jumping and Cross Country. He did not leave his rifle far behind and by 1960 he was an alternate on the US Biathlon team at Squaw Valley, California. Alaska owes credit to Western State College for much of its lineage of cross country ski leaders. Along with Mahaffey, Western State College gave Alaska Dick Mize, Jim Burkholder, and Tom Corbin, the core group of individuals who developed ski programs that have put Alaska on the cross country skiing map.

Mahaffey’s personal ski accomplishments naturally led him into the world of coaching. He coached the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ski Team from 1963 to 1967. In 1964, he coached the first Alaska Junior National teams – in both cross country and alpine. In 1967 he coached the first girls’ team where skiers Barbara Britch, Debbie & Sharon Strutz, and Janie Whitmore went 1-2-3-4 in the first race. More than a few Alaskan skiers can credit their love for skiing and accomplishments to things they learned from Mahaffey including Olympians Gene Morgan, Barbara Britch, Margie Mahoney, Allison Owen, Lynn Spencer and Bill Spencer. In 1967 Mahaffey left UA Fairbanks to coach in Anchorage at Alaska Methodist University (AMU). While coaching at AMU, Mahaffey’s program dominated their conference in both alpine and Nordic events. He brought cross country skiing to the Bering Strait, the Northwest Arctic and the Lake & Peninsula School Districts. Mahaffey started the Tuesday Night Race series and was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Nordic program that Alaska Pacific University (formerly AMU) enjoys today.

While they may not realize it, it’s a sure bet that most of our top Alaskan skiers of today have less than six degrees of separation from Mahaffey; if only you consider that they all have likely skied on the trails named in his honor. Many of our skiers and coaches of today were led by the very people who Mahaffey coached or skied with. Mahaffey cherishes the people and experiences that cross country skiing has brought to his life; and he also expressed that being able to accomplish what he has was due to his constant support of his wife Dee.

Dick Mize

Dick Mize has had many “firsts.” He competed in the first NCAA Cross Country Championships while skiing for Western State College; competed in the first World Biathlon Ski Championships in Austria; as well as placed first in more races than most of us have entered…all before 1960. Then, in 1960 he was named to the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Ski Team in Squaw Valley, California. He continued to compete in most any event that came his way; from mountain running, to trail running to marathons.

It wasn’t only about his competition though. Mize wanted to make sure young athletes who he was teaching and coaching would have trails on which to run and ski. Beyond his namesake trail that we have all skied countless times at Kincaid Park, he helped with the design and construction of the Arctic valley Biathlon Range and Trails, the Russian Jack Springs, Junior Nationals cross country ski course (of 1969)in Girdwood, the Hillside/Service trails, and most trails around Kincaid. Though he “retired” from the Anchorage school district (1983), like other members who are being inducted into the Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame, Mize didn’t stop serving the community of Anchorage. He actually continued working in the school district and continued working on trails; while also finding enough time to train for competition in World and US Masters Championships from 1983-2010.

The past 12 years Mize has worked with the Kincaid Project Group to make upgrades to the Kincaid Park area that include getting the snow making system up and running. This ski season, when the high school skiers were fast asleep, on many nights when Mother Nature cooperated with “just the right cold temperatures and humidity”, Mize and his buddies could be found making the rounds to the snow guns. This gave the skiers the opportunity to log kilometers during the “winter that wasn’t.” It is fortunate that CCAK could round up Mize and his wife, Ann to attend the Alaska Cross Country Hall of Fame induction ceremony as they often spend time back in Gunnison hiking and enjoying the mountains of the western Colorado.

Judy Rabinowitz

Judy Rabinowitz’s memories of skiing in Fairbanks are from the days before chairlifts and before she had even begun school. She saw no point in turns, would bomb straight down the hill and then wait for one of her parents to take her between their legs up the T-bar. By her early years of high school she often ailed from the “spring ski flu” and could be found skiing at Skiland. When she learned it was actually possible to ski and stay warm (relatively) even in the dead of the Fairbanks winter she discovered that the coolest people at Lathrop High were the Nordic skiers led by the wonderfully warm and wise Coach Jim Whisenhant. She remembers herself as an incompetent skier taken in by “Whizzy” and the skiers of Lathrop teaching her the basics which helped her make it to the Junior Nationals that year and the next.

When Rabinowitz headed off to college, it turned out that Harvard had something of rag tag ski team. The team, such as it was, would do a bit of dryland training and then would drive north to the snow to compete. Meeting and competing against Middlebury College skiers who doubled as U.S. Ski Team B Teamers inspired Rabinowitz to take a leave from Harvard to give skiing an earnest go.

Rabinowitz was fortunate enough to make the U.S. Team quickly, and learned from her talented and tenacious Alaskan teammates Betsy Haines and Lynn Spencer. Between 1978 and 1984 she spent time in West Yellowstone, Montana, European glaciers and even Australia in search of early and summer snow. In 1979, during the Midwestern Dannon series those who were not in Europe hopped into the American Birkebeiner. She managed a win despite never having never skied a 50k. In 1980 she made the Lake Placid Olympic Team as an alternate. Cheering her teammates along the courses impressed upon her just how fast and well one needed to ski to compete at the international level. In the next years she made World Cup and World Championships. 1983 was her most successful year as she consistently cracked the top 20 in the World Cup, with a ninth place highest finish, and won a national championship or two. The following year she made the Sarajevo Olympic team.

While Rabinowitz ultimately went on to law school and has followed a career of working for the U.S Department of Justice she rediscovered Nordic skiing on the masters circuit. In 2008, she competed in the Masters World Cup held in McCall, Idaho. Once there she found herself on a relay team with former Olympians Laura McCabe, Leslie Tompson and Beth Heiden Reid. They were quite pleased to win the gold over their counterparts from Russia! All in good fun, of course.

Kikkan Randall

Kikkan Randall is at this time one of the most well-known cross country skiers, not only in Anchorage, Alaska, USA but in the world. In 2007, Randall scored the first ever World Cup victory for an American woman in cross country skiing and notched two more World Cup Top-ten finishes to close the season ranked 15th in the world in sprint rankings. It is this achievement that earned her a place in the Alaska Cross Country Skiing Hall of Fame. Then things really took off from there…

In 1999 the guidelines included rules for automatic induction which state that any individuals winning medals at the World Championships or Olympic Games will be automatically and immediately inducted into the Alaska Cross Country Ski Hall of Fame without the requirement of a vote.

Raised in Anchorage, Randall has a pedigree of Olympic blood (Uncle Chris Haines – 1976 and Aunt Betsy Haines – 1980) but has earned her own place in Olympic history as a four-time Olympian, a World Champion, a three-time Overall World Cup Sprint Champion and has numerous World Cup victories.

Randall still finds time to give back to her community of Anchorage as well as the world-wide community by promoting the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles. She is the President of Fast and Female USA which focused on empowering girls through sport for life. Randall is passionately involved with Healthy Futures, a local organization that promotes the benefits of healthy, active lifestyles to youth. You will often see her leading a pack of runners at youth events keeping “fun” at the foremost of recreation.

Bill Spencer 

It’s often the Alaskan backcountry where Alaskan skiers get their first taste of skiing. Bill Spencer spent his early days touring with his family around the Kenai area and then learned to alpine ski at places that most of today’s young skiers haven’t heard of: the Soldotna ski hill, the Manitoba Mountain rope tow and the Independence Mine rope tow. He then discovered Alyeska and started alpine racing and qualified for several Junior National teams as well as competed at the Arctic Winter Games.

Spencer’s sister Lynn, inspired him to take up cross country skiing so wearing a pair of blue jeans and a new pair of Rex Gold Crown skis from Barneys’s Ski Chalet, his cross country ski career began. Spencer had experience with coaches he considers mentors to him; such as Tom Besh, Tom Corbin and Jim Mahaffey – and has fond memories of packing the ski loops at Alaska Methodist University with snow shoes and doing circuits in the “Bat Cave” under the stairs. It was the time given by these coaches as a young athlete that motivated him to pay it forward to the next generations of skiers.

While he ultimately had success making the 1988 Olympic team, the years spent prior included coaching, creating a glacier ski training destination and helping develop junior skiers. Spencer coached youth in Bozeman while going to school and then went on to coach the women’s team, alongside his brother who coached the men’s team, at Montana State University. After graduation, along with his sister and Jim Galanes, the vision of ski camp on Eagle Glacier would start to take shape. Spencer would land his float plane on the glaciers and ski around trying not to fall into crevasses. Then, in the early 1980s, along with Lin Hinderman, John Estle, and Galanes, spring training camps at Hatcher Pass, Turnagain Pass and Alyeska for junior skiers were started; which developed some of the first crew of young skiers who would go on to have competitive ski careers of their own such as Nina Kemppel, Tim Miller, and Chris Grover current U.S. Ski Team Head Coach.

The onset of skate skiing leveled the playing field for Spencer during the era of the 1988 Olympics and he took it to the next level by developing the first skate-specific rollerskis known as Billboards. After the Olympics, Spencer used his international racing experience to help develop trails and bring a new level of ski technology and waxing to the college circuit while coaching at UVM and UAA. While many ski enthusiasts know of Bill Spencer as an Olympic skier; there are also many collegiate athletes he coached who know him for his development of National Champions and All Americans. Spencer enjoys the distraction of a good trail building project and continues to lend his expertise to help with the development of trails from Talkeetna to Homer.

Lynn Spencer

Lynn Spencer spent her early years touring around the family homestead on the Kenai Peninsula. Her Dad made a small lighted hill on the homestead where the whole family skied together. They started more advanced Alpine skiing when Alyeska opened. Spencer has great memories of spring skiing in the mountains on cut down ‘white elephants” at Johnson Pass and Independence Mine. She was skiing at Independence during the 1964 earthquake. When the family moved to Anchorage in 1968, Spencer began Alpine racing, although still skiing cross country in the mountains in the spring.

Spencer was named to the Alaska Jr. National Alpine team in 1970 and 1971. She began her cross country career skiing for Dimond High School and from there was a forerunner of firsts for the young US women’s cross country program. In 1972 she was named to the Alaska Junior National Nordic team. That was also the year of her first international competition at Top of the World Championships in the Northwest Territories.

After high school Spencer skied both Alpine and Nordic, first for UAA with Coach Jim Burkholder and the AMU with Coach Jim Mahaffey. She was first named to the U.S. Ski team during this period. Spencer competed on three Olympic teams; 1976 in Innsbruck, 1980 in Lake Placid, and 1984 in Sarajevo. She was on the World Cup Circuit from 1976 to 1984 and was a member of the U.S. team during this time also competing in world championships. Spencer ‘s record, including a seventh place relay finish in the Lake Placid Olympics and a ninth place 10K finish in a Canadian World Cup served as an inspiration for aspiring female cross country skiers in the U.S. For a time she was the only American woman who had accumulated World Cup points.

After retiring from racing Spencer returned to Anchorage and in 1984 was a co-founder of the Junior Nordic Program where she coached until 1994. She was the Race Director for the 1991 Anchorage Junior Nationals and worked on the Nordic Trails Program during the 1990s. Spencer continued her role as a pioneer when she was hired as a groomer for NSAA a job she held from 1990 until 2003 and to date is the only woman to have that job. Skiers from all over the country continued to enjoy the summer training opportunities made available when Spencer, her brother Bill, and Jim Galanes found the funding and the site for the Eagle Glacier Training Center.

Influenced by all of the people in this first inaugural class, skiing is still a major part of Spencer’s life; mostly because she just loves to ski.

Jim Whisenhant

Jim Whisenhant, affectionately nick-named Whizzy is known as the father of cross-country skiing in Fairbanks. In 1954, Jim hitchhiked to Fairbanks and in 1955 and transferred from Texas A & M to University of Alaska Fairbanks where he started skiing. When he graduated he began teaching and finally ended up at Lathrop High School.

At Lathrop, Jim started a cross country skiing program, using military skis that were trimmed down to resemble racing skis. Whisenhant received permission to take the ski team up to a site on top of Birch Hill to clear brush and cut trails, which was how the Jim Whisenhant Ski Trails originated.

In 1970, he and Dick Mize finally convinced the Anchorage School District to allow the state meet to be held in Fairbanks. Mize had assured everyone the temperature would be “fine.” When the Anchorage skiers got off the plane it was 30 below. It looked bleak but the temperature moderated and the relay was held at Alaska Land using the whole property including the railroad trestle. They pulled off a great state meet. Whisenhant often told his skiers to “leave everything out on the trail,” which was not difficult for them to do, knowing their coach did the same. Jim Whisenhant, with that soft spoken, southern voice made you want to be a better athlete and a better person. Whizzy excelled in dedication and concern for others.

In 1972, Whisenhant began selling canoes so people could participate in canoe races. During this period of time Jim and his wife Elizabeth were legendary canoe racers (Whizzy and Lizzy). All the young guns were out to beat them, including Chuck Johnson and Lin Hinderman, who practiced for months. Needless to say, their dream of glory far exceeded their talent and the Whizenhants had nothing to worry about for many years. In 1973, Beaver Sports was opened and became a place to get all types of athletic and recreation gear.

Whisenhant spent many years acting as an organizer and official for racing in Alaska. In 1980 he was an official at the Lake Placid Olympics, and was a board member of the Arctic Winter Games for 14 years serving two years as president. He was appointed to serve as an International director of Arctic Winter Games by Gov. Jay Hammond in 1982.

During his 19 year career, Whizzy coached countless state champions and produced numerous All-Americans, Junior Olympian and Olympians. And while the Birch Hill Ski Trails now named in his honor is a great legacy, perhaps his greatest legacy is the hundreds of skiers he coached over the years who continue to be involved in the sport of skiing.

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