Full Circle: Kikkan Randall Returns to Anchorage as the Executive Director of NSAA

Rachel PerkinsAugust 9, 2021
Kikkan Randall with her Olympic gold. (Photo: NNF)

On July 28th, the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) announced the hiring of Kikkan Randall as its new executive director. If you’ve found your way to this publication, we assume that Randall needs no introduction, but Olympic Gold Medalist, three-time World Cup Sprint Champion, mother to Breck, the example of success at the international level needed to propel the American women’s team into their current powerhouse status, and cancer survivor are just a few of the many descriptors that could be included in her bio. You can learn more about her illustrious career and retirement here

From the NSAA press release: “Alaska’s Nordic skiing legend and Olympic gold medalist returns to lead the organization that sparked her cross-country skiing passion…

‘We are thrilled to have Kikkan return home to Alaska and serve as the NSAA’s Executive Director,’ said Joey Caterinichio, NSAA’s board president. ‘Kikkan is a product of Alaska skiing who has participated in NSAA’s Junior Nordic program and brought home an Olympic gold medal. We couldn’t ask for a better role model for our community or leader for NSAA.’

FasterSkier connected with Randall on August 4th to learn more about her transition into the role, which she began remotely from Penticton, British Columbia, at the beginning of August. Randall will relocate to Anchorage later this month.

As Caterinichio mentions in the press release, Randall grew up skiing with NSAA youth programs, beginning as a “Polar Cub” and continuing through middle and high school racing. She continued her career racing at multiple Olympic trials and national championships put on by the NSAA. And now, she describes her return to Anchorage as “coming full circle.” 

“My son [Breck] is five years old,” Randall said in the call. “So I’m starting to see the lifestyle of skiing through his eyes. And it’s a chance to take all the experience [I’ve gained through my ski career], and now put it back into  getting more people excited about skiing, and enhancing their experience. I just can’t think of a better way to capitalize on the last 38 years worth of experience.”

In recent years, Randall estimates that the NSAA is composed of roughly 2,500 members — a number she hopes will grow given the city of Anchorage is home to 300,000 residents. The organization has had an executive director intermittently, but over the last few years has been led instead by the board of directors. She explained that the reinstatement of an executive director and a reorganization of the responsibilities of the administrative team will help refine operations and allow for more fluid and effective development for NSAA. 

Randall is approaching her new position as she did her goals in skiing: seeing it as a process, which will require her to first put in the work to learn the organization and community it serves from a new perspective before utilizing her experience to implement changes. 

“The organization has been in existence for 50 years,” Randall explained. “It’s got a great rhythm with established programs and events. So as I come in, I’m really looking to just learn a lot more about the way things have been done, what’s working and not working, and make sure that that experience through this next season is very consistent. Then as I learn, I hope to be able to look at every asset of the business and figure out ways where we can enhance our efficiencies, get more people into the sport, have more recognition in the community, and have strategic partnerships, both locally and nationally and potentially internationally.”

Several members of the U.S. Ski Team lift up Kikkan Randall after she won her third-straight World Cup sprint Crystal Globe a the end of the 2013/2014 season. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

Randall mentioned growing the NSAA’s culminating community event, the Tour of Anchorage ski marathon, which takes place in early March. While the race is one of the largest marathons in the US, it sees primarily Alaska-based participants. While several APU elite team skiers that are in the area at that time typically capture the prize purse — Rosie Frankowski and Tyler Kornfield were the 2021 winners — Randall sees no reason the event could not attract a broader and perhaps international field with some strategic changes. 

“So it’s going to be, you know, keeping on top of all the added administrative tasks and responsibilities, making sure the business is running well, staying on budget, analytics, coming up with some strategy for the future, overseeing and supporting the team on the deployment of the programs. And then working closely with a very engaged Board of Directors, to again, just continue to make sure that the experience is consistent, and then look for ways to grow. So my plan is: year one, just, you know, really get in and contribute. And then start to look at where we can really grow.”

While Randall was based in Alaska throughout her ski career before relocating to Canada, she acknowledged that it has been much longer since she actually spent a winter there. World Cup racing kept her in Europe from November until March each season. That said, she believes her history with the organization, paired with the fresh perspective of a relative outsider, helps her identify ways to increase the organization’s visibility and grow its membership base.

“In a sense, I’m going to be kind of new coming back to Anchorage. And I think that’s going to be helpful in that it’s going to allow me to just really try to get in and talk to people and find out: ‘Do people know about the club? Who is buying memberships? Where do we see opportunities?’ I think a huge focus in this first year will just be building public awareness.”

NSAA is primarily funded by memberships, donations, and community partnership. There are no trail passes or fees required to ski on the trails in Anchorage, which are owned by the city but groomed by the organization. And quality grooming is expensive. 

Randall explained that many skiers who are less versed in the collaboration between the city and NSAA are unaware of this piece of the puzzle and simply see it as free access to quality skiing. As such, increasing the visibility of the organization and the retention and recruitment of paid membership will be an important component of Randall’s new job.

“We’ve got to connect the dots so that people know that the club is [providing this service] and continue to build on that partnership with the city. So I think that’s going to be a great focus this year.”

Kikkan Randall celebrates her second Birkie finish in February 2020. (Photo: ©2020 American Birkebeiner Ski foundation)

Like many other towns in the U.S., a desire for outdoor recreation sparked increased interest in cross-country skiing in Anchorage over the last two winters. Randall aims to bring these new skiers into the fold in order to promote retention and also encourage them to purchase memberships

“I also think partnering with, you know, with the retailers who are seeing, like who’s coming in and buying equipment right now and making sure we have a good presence to support them, and then they could help promote us with awareness. Just so hey, you’re buying skis, you’re getting into this. How about a membership, right? And here’s, here’s all the reasons why that is compelling — not only does it support the grooming, but you know, hopefully it has a larger benefit [to the skier] because you get to be a part of something bigger: a community… I have ideas of what it might be like or what might work, but it’s gonna be fun to just get in and talk to people and, and see what unfolds.”

Retirement feels like the wrong word to describe Randall’s transition out of her professional ski career over the past three years. Rather than wowing the North American ski community with her rigorous training and prolific success on the World Cup, we marveled at her seemingly superhuman capacity to dive into numerous meaningful projects as an advocate and inspirational figure. All while going through breast cancer treatment and parenting a small child. 

So how did all of these projects and roles evolve into her decision to pursue the executive director position at NSAA? Randall condensed her whirlwind journey over the last few years into a synopsis, with a serendipitous ending.

“Coming off my ski career, I was fortunate to have a lot of cool opportunities and a lot of things I was interested in. And, you know, right as I was preparing to really jump in the pool, I found out I had cancer. So I had to press pause on things for about 10 months, while I went through treatment. And you know, that may have actually just been kind of nice to just have some time to think through and plan out. And then once my treatment was done, I did jump in the pool. I had all these great opportunities to go out and talk about all the things I learned from my Olympic career, all the things I was learning through my cancer journey, you know, being that face for skiing domestically, whereas I’d always been in Europe [in the winter]. So there were so many cool opportunities that I spent 270 days on the road. And as I got through that, I realized, while those were all really cool opportunities and I was making an impact on people, I had to balance it with family time, you know, just personal health balance, like being able to still work out. 

“So, that inspired me as we headed into 2020 to kind of reevaluate all the things I was doing and think about what steps I needed to take to actually start to build a career that was going to fit that life balance. And I worked with a career coach at the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which got me turned on to accounting of all things. Realizing that all the data analytics I did on my training actually translated really well into analyzing financials and spreadsheets. So actually, that inspired me to go back to school at APU and finish my business degree.

“So I was considering that track, then the pandemic hit, and travel went away, which was kind of nice. But then I also had to kind of reinvent what I was doing. And I really just, in 2020, just went on the search of like, how can I take all of the experiences and skills that I’ve built through skiing and turn that into a career? And I’ve talked to a lot of people and tried different things. And so I was starting to realize, like, well, I love you know, I love leadership, I love working on teams, I love building strategy, and then coming up with plans to execute. That said, I love sport. I love skiing, you know, working with the International Olympic Committee, which was really cool to learn, and to see the inner workings of the IOC, and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. But it was very big and broad, you’re looking at all sports, all nations. And it was also pulling me, you know, away from my family priorities. 

“So now, that brings me to 2021, and I’m still going through this exploratory process. You know, January through March, I kind of mulled over the decision about backing down from the IOC. Just because I wanted to be home and focus on Breck and focus on building my career and realizing I didn’t have the time and bandwidth to really focus on the IOC position to the level I felt it deserved. And if I couldn’t do it, I’d rather have somebody else be in that position. 

“So I mulled over that for a few months and announced that in June, and literally coming off the heels of that big decision, I got the call about NSAA about the position. And I went ‘Whoa! This is a chance to stay involved in sport, come back to Alaska, be involved with skiing, but yet kind of test the waters of leadership and business skills and all of that. This just feels like the right next step for me.’ And that’s why I’m excited about it, because I just feel like, I can’t think of a better confluence of the skills and experience and connections I have from my past. And putting it into a way that allows me to build a future where I feel like I’m contributing, and challenging myself and growing, but in a way that’s just so connected to the people I love being around, and to the passion that I have around skiing.”

Kikkan Randall will move back to Anchorage with her son, Breck, in mid-August. (Photo: Instagram @kikkanimal)

Apart from a seemingly dream career opportunity, Randall says it feels “so good” holistically to be moving back home to Anchorage with Breck. 

“When this came up — it’s a chance to come back, and be closer to my family, and be closer to all my friends and the community that literally raised me. I think back on all of the great memories from my childhood, and I’m so excited to have Brett get the chance to experience those same things now.”

In closing, Randall reflected on how impactful it has been to see the positive reception of the announcement of her role from her supporters.

“The press release went out last week. And it’s been so cool to see that the community is so excited to hear I’m coming back. I was joking with a friend — I was telling her about the release and the response. And she was like, ‘Only you would get a press release about your new job!’ And it just makes me realize and just have gratitude for the community support I’ve always enjoyed, and just how open the arms are to have me come back. For people to be excited about the potential in this new role. It’s a little bittersweet because I’ve made some friends here in Penticton as well, but they all know that this is a really good thing for me, so I’m grateful to have their support as well. 

“I’ve always felt the love when I would have a big performance, but over the last couple of years, I’ve really learned to appreciate the value of how much people support me when I’ve been through cancer, or through making this big life transition to come back. So I’m just really excited to be around all the people that have been so supportive.”

Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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