The snow dump early last week provided the perfect setting for Saturday’s Black Stone Axe Ridge Warm Up Rally, which organizers hope will be the first of many.
The event was hosted by the Kenai Central High School Nordic ski team at the Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview Middle School, and provided skiers of all ages a day of lessons and racing on the recently groomed trails.
With youth and adult skiers divided into several groups based on skill level, high school skiers and staff from KCHS guided a grand total of 33 skiers signed up for a day designed to teach fundamentals of the sport. The event proceeds went to the Kenai Nordic Booster Club.
The consensus among the crowd that received lessons was the rare opportunity for the community to tune up technique and gain some valuable insight from those that have years of experience in the sport.
“It’s great to see our kids connect with the community,” said Kardinals head coach Brad Nyquist. “Just seeing all the people enjoy the opportunity to get some lessons and embrace winter.”
Nyquist said he has been trying to host an event like this for years, since he was an assistant coach, but the team’s race schedule combined with unpredictable weather has kept the program from doing it.
“I’ve always heard people in the community ask me, ‘When are you going to do ski lessons?’” Nyquist said. “There’s interest in the community, and it’s fun to see people out here.”
Now with one year under their belts, Nyquist said he hopes to see the event becomes an annual deal for the community to support and receive lessons from the high school team.
The skiers that showed up Saturday morning received over two hours of lessons from coaches, high school athletes and even a former Olympian, as Ninilchik’s Todd Boonstra came out with his wife, Kelli, to help out.
Following a short early afternoon break, the crowd lined up for two race distances, with a two-kilometer course taking novice skiers out on the Squirrel and Owl loops, and a 4K route taking more experienced racers out on the Wolf loop.
The efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the community.
“From one to 10, it’s a 10,” said Kenai’s Rusty Hippchen. “Great day, great weather, for a great purpose. It’s good to get the whole family out and support the ski team.”
Hippchen was out with his two youngest children, Alaska, 5, and Olga, 7, to learn something and to join their older brother, Tyler, who is a varsity skier on the high school team. Hippchen said his kids participate in the Tsalteshi Trails Youth Ski Program that begins in January, so Saturday’s event was a good warmup for that.
“It’s our first time coming out to ski for the season,” he said.
Another happy skier was Michelle Lee, who was out with her son to support the team while getting the chance to break out her skate skis.
“I got skate skis last winter … I’ve always been a classic skier,” Lee said. “I’m not very good at all at skate skiing, so I was super happy that they were offering adult lessons. You hardly ever get that.”
Lee said she strapped on her skate skis about “three or four times” last winter, and with no formal training, it proved to be a difficult task to tackle, but Lee said that was the draw of Saturday’s event.
“Just to be doing something a little bit different,” she said. “I love to be outside, and the winters can get long, so the more I can do outside, the better.”
Black Stone Axe Ridge Warm Up Rally
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
(Results don’t include instructors from ski rally)
2K youth — 1. Tania Boonstra, 12:00; 2. Olivia Tews, 20:11; 3. Lucia Carson, 20:19; 4. Olga Hippchen, 25:17; 5. Sofia Tews, 26:12; 6. Alaska Hippchen, 37:53.
2K women — 1. Audrey McDonald, 13:30; 2. Sheilah-Margaret Pothast, 21:05; 3. Michelle Lee, 23:06; 4. Frances Jurek, 30:25.
2K men — 1. John Pothast, 21:07; 2. Mark Jurek, 24:40.