Ski coach Darin Markwart (far right) leads a group of Tsalteshi Youth skiers, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Ski coach Darin Markwart (far right) leads a group of Tsalteshi Youth skiers, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Youth skiing returns to local trails en masse

 

As an outlet for spending energy and learning a great sport, the Tsalteshi Trails Youth Ski Program has served the local ski community well for nearly a decade.

Recent winters have left an inexorable void as warm temperatures and meager precipitation have left the snowpack with a lot to be desired.

However, the good ol’ days have returned.

A bountiful snowfall this season has given hope to those that like to get out and enjoy the winter wonderland. The Tsalteshi Trails Youth Ski Program has helped spur that interest in youngsters who stand to benefit from the sport of cross-country skiing.

This year, the program has enjoyed a turnout of about 110 kids, ranging from 6 to 12 years old, that have come out to learn the basics of skiing and the enjoyment that it offers. Even as the past three years haven’t been as kind to snowgoers, the program has still managed to draw large crowds of youth skiers that number in the triple digits.

“We’ve had to come up with refunds for some of them,” said organizer Carly Reimer, referring to recent winters where the trails did not even get enough cover to set a classic track.

Reimer has played an integral role in organizing the program for the past three years, and has had to deal with keeping interest up amidst the poor snow years. The program, affiliated with the nonprofit Tsalteshi Trails Association, was brought to life with the help of Reimer’s husband, Adam, who Carly estimated brought it all together around nine years ago.

Since then, the program, which compensates its coaches, has attracted some of the top skiers in Alaska to coach it. This year’s crop includes such names as Darin Markwardt, a Matanuska-Susitna valleys native and 2010 Region III nordic ski coach of the year at Palmer High, and Kelli Jo Boonstra of Ninilchik, a former U.S. Ski Team member who nearly qualified for the 1998 Winter Olympic games in Nagano, Japan, falling just two positions short of the accomplishment.

“I think this is just worth gold,” Boonstra said of the Tsalteshi program. “To get kids out and active in the winter is wonderful.”

Boonstra lived for nine years in Galena with her husband, Todd, a former Olympic skier, and three children, all daughters. The eldest daughter, Riana, is a junior at Kenai Central High School, where she stars on the cross-country running and skiing teams.

Kelli Jo and Todd Boonstra coached the middle and high school teams in Galena, and both played roles in establishing the town’s youth ski program, which continues to flourish today. The family moved to the Kenai Peninsula in 2011.

Markwardt’s athletic achievements include six top-10 finishes in the men’s Mt. Marathon race, a feat that was built up with years of cross-country skiing experience from his youth. Markwardt points to winters spent in the Palmer Junior Nordic program with coaching from former longtime Colony High School ski coach Ed Strabel that helped invest his future in the sport.

“Keeping kids involved at a young age is important,” Markwardt said. “It’s a lifelong sport that has value, it’s a healthy activity and it helps build relationships.”

The program doesn’t just confine itself to the Tsalteshi Trails as its name suggests, but also ventures out onto the popular Headquarters Lake in Soldotna and the Kenai Golf Course, which is regularly groomed for skiing.

On a recent Saturday at the golf course, young skiers ventured out onto the trails for fun-filled lessons, which included answering Alaska state trivia for those in Markwardt’s group. After the trip out onto the trails, it was time for a lively game in the driving range area. The 90-minute lesson ended with a healthy snack.

Reimer said interest in the program is capped at a certain amount of skiers per coach, typically around 10 to 20 kids in each group.

“I was watching the registration this year, and it was slow at first,” Reimer said. “Then when the snow came down, it was like, ‘Boom!’”

Reimer added that the program hits on all areas of the sport, but stresses classic technique over skate, or freestyle, due to the ease of access to backcountry wilderness that classic offers.

“When I was growing up, that’s all I did,” Reimer said. “My family always would take me to the refuge to go skiing and we would have adventures.”

A line of skiers of all ages take advantage of the good conditions at Kenai Golf Course on Jan. 28. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A line of skiers of all ages take advantage of the good conditions at Kenai Golf Course on Jan. 28. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A young skier romps around with his family, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A young skier romps around with his family, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Tsalteshi Trails Youth Ski Program coach Darin Markwardt (red hat) quizzes a group of young skiers, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Tsalteshi Trails Youth Ski Program coach Darin Markwardt (red hat) quizzes a group of young skiers, Jan. 28 at the Kenai Golf Course. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Life

The welcome sign for the City of Kenai, as seen in this city Facebook page photo.
History with a sense of humor, Part 1

The first part of a two-part collection of humorous tales gleaned from old newspapers on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Ward off Halloween’s mystical monsters with these garlic-infused cheesy shells and pepper sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tasty Halloween

Keep spooky creatures at bay with garlic-infused shells and pepper sauce.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.