Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion A Soldotna skier races by a group of people cheering Jan. 22, 2016, at the Tsalteshi Trails.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion A Soldotna skier races by a group of people cheering Jan. 22, 2016, at the Tsalteshi Trails.

Ski preview: Area skiers get antsy for snow

The icy breath of old man winter typically signals that snowy days are ahead, but amid the powder-free crisis that Southcentral Alaska has experienced in recent years, there can be no certainties of snow.

Still, area ski teams are ready to rock the trails, especially because they have region championships to defend.

A season after the Kenai Central girls and the Soldotna boys reigned as Region III champs, peninsula teams are once again hoping for snow, which has become a tease in recent weeks, so much so that Kenai ski coach Brad Nyquist took to digging out the old wooden boards of yesteryear to get his athletes going, making use of a heavy frost on the grass soccer fields adjacent to Kenai Central.

“You’ve gotta be creative,” Nyquist explained.

In February, the Kenai girls earned their second straight Region III team championship on the back of a 1-2 individual finish from Riana Boonstra and Addison Gibson. Both girls are back for their junior campaigns and, according to Nyquist, are looking primed for strong seasons.

“I think a top-10 (finish at state) is realistic,” he said. “They have goals for that. Addison was in the top 10 her freshman year, so she’s looking to get back in.”

On the boys side, the Soldotna Stars picked up a Region III championship with stellar results from a deep team. SoHi placed four boys in the top-10 individual standings to take the crown.

However, the Stars will be missing their top two skiers from last year, as Levi Michael graduated and John-Mark Pothast decided to skip the season, but first-year head coach Isaac Erhardt noted that the rest of the title-winning team is returning with the addition of several fast freshmen.

“I’d love to take regions again, but to be honest I don’t have a great idea of where other teams are at,” Erhardt said. “I’m kind of waiting to see where our team is at after two races in December.”

Erhardt is stepping up to fill the head coaching spot vacated by longtime ski guru Dan Harbison, who is essentially trading spots with Erhardt and taking on an assistant role.

With minimal snow on the ground, area coaches have taken to their usual methods of getting geared up, including ski-walking, hill-bounding, running with poles, dry-land activities and biking.

Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Nikiski and Seward will all be competing at the statewide Lynx Loppet meet in mid-December in Anchorage, but the first official race of the year will likely be a one-day event on the Government Peak trails near Palmer.

KENAI KARDINALS

In his fifth year as head coach, Nyquist has managed to build up a successful program, highlighted by an opening day race victory at the state meet by 2015 graduate Travis Cooper, followed by two consecutive Region III trophies by the girls team. The contingent followed up the region title with a seventh-place finish at state the next week.

Boonstra is a talent boosted by cross-country and mountain running — her resume includes a runner-up finish at the 4A state cross-country meet and a junior race win on Mount Marathon — and Gibson possesses a natural love for skiing. At the state meet last year, Boonstra finished 16th and Gibson was 19th.

“Addison looks pretty strong and consistent,” Nyquist said. “She’s very dedicated, and skiing is her passion, it’s one of the things she enjoys doing.”

In addition to Boonstra and Gibson this year, Nyquist said he is looking for continued depth in the third and fourth varsity spots on the team, positions he believes will be occupied by seniors Katie Cooper and Mackenzie Lindeman. Sophomore Maria Salzetti, the younger sister of 2016 graduate Mikaela, and junior Ithaca Bergholtz will also help to round out the varsity squad.

“Katie Cooper was getting right near Mikaela at the end of last year, and I think she’s stepped it up this year,” Nyquist said.

On the boys team, junior Karl Danielson is looking to be a threat among Region III schools, one year after finishing fourth at regions and 29th at state.

Joining Danielson will be senior Eric Kempf, who Nyquist says “is a lot stronger this year,” senior Patrick Michels, sophomore Trevor Debnam and senior Cy Dull, who Nyquist toted as a contender for a varsity spot.

Along with a class of freshmen and sophomores that are on the way up, Nyquist is optimistic about the boys team.

“They’re talking about wanting to push themselves this year,” he said.

Joining Nyquist on the coaching staff is Chris Bergholtz and Kailey Mucha.

SOLDOTNA STARS

Isaac Erhardt is now in his fifth year with the SoHi ski program, but is taking the reigns as head coach for the first time after two years of assistant coaching. Joining Erhardt and Harbison will be volunteers Steve Milliron, Paul Kupferschmid, Krista Arthur and Jeremy Herr.

Erhardt said he had the team run with poles from the mouth of the Kenai River to the mouth of the Kasilof, a 10-mile jaunt.

“We’ve been trying to build up our aerobic base, and it’s frankly a tricky time to train,” he said. “Roller-skiing is kind of out with the icy roads and sand and gravel being put down.”

The boys team claimed the Region III title last season, then followed it up with a seventh-place finish at state.

But, with Pothast and Michael out of the picture, Erhardt is putting the workload on his next line of skiers, including junior Koby Vinson and sophomore Jeremy Kupferschmid, both top-10 finishers in the region last year. A week later, Vinson was 31st at state while Kupferschmid was 40th.

“In specifically talking to Koby and Jeremy, they feel they have an increased level of energy,” he said. “I’m still looking at a really strong boys team, I’m just excited to see what they can do.”

Along with the Alaska Nordic Racing program and the Strength and Speed Training curriculum in school, the team has been receiving a large amount of offseason training.

In addition to Vinson and Kupferschmid, the Stars will feature junior Josh Shuler and senior Addison Downing.

The Soldotna girls also lost a key member to graduation. Hannah Pothast finished 17th at state last season, a week after bringing home finishes of third and sixth at the region meet.

In her place, Erhardt said he sees potential in junior Kellie Arthur, sophomore Hannah Delker and Eve Downing, as well as senior Molly Erickson, who returns after taking one year off.

HOMER MARINERS

The Mariners ski program will be donning new uniforms for the first time in a long time, and head coach Alan Parks is ready to see his athletes sizzle.

“We’ve got new uniforms and everybody is doing well,” he exclaimed.

Hovering around 20 kids, Parks said the team is on a small growth spurt. Parks said the Mariners have been on skis four times as of Wednesday, making trips up to Lookout Mountain ski area, which he described as “70 percent snow and the rest grass.”

“It’s enough to get the kids on it,” Parks said. “They’re on skis, and they’re learning agility for sure.”

After a bad snow year in 2014-15 left Homer scrambling up to Soldotna for local borough races, Parks said the weather has seemingly tilted in their favor this winter thus far.

“It’s just been an odd pattern of weather we’ve had,” he remarked. “Two years ago, we didn’t ski but maybe a handful of times in Homer, and last year was the opposite, we had the snow.”

The Homer boys squad is a close cluster of athletes that Parks said has skied together since junior nordic before their high school tenures. Parks said he has coached at least half of the team in their formative years.

Key varsity members included Jacob Davis, Hoxie Parks, Josh Wisner, Ben Kettle, Eric Super and Ty Schulz. Davis, Schulz, Parks and Wisner are all returning state skiers, with Davis topping Homer last year with a 53rd-place finish.

For the Homer girls, Rachel Ellert led the charge in 2015 and capped her season with a 49th-place finish at state.

But after Ellert graduated in the spring, the Homer girls are looking for a new top skier. Parks said a host of candidates could take over, including Maya Alexson, Katie Davis, Autumn Daigle, Katia Holmes or Brita Restad.

Parks said several of his boys are looking to finish in the top 10 among region competitors, but added that his goals for the skiers extend much further into their futures.

“I think as long as we can keep them excited and enthused about the sport and feel good about themselves, that’s a success,” Parks said.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

A more experienced team has greeted second-year head coach Luke Rosier this winter, and after graduating just two seniors from last year’s squad, Rosier said he is happy for the season to officially begin.

“It’s mainly about that theme of developing a skiing culture in Seward and building on some things,” Rosier said. “I want to be building a legacy for the team.”

Eleven of the 14 racers on last year’s squad were experiencing their first time on skis, Rosier said, but the Seahawks have nine returners, and are expecting a few more once the high school wrestling season ends in December.

It gives Seward a chance to field a relay team by the time the season-ending state meet rolls around, something the Seahawks had to improvise with last February, when girls standout Ruby Lindquist was given the OK by officials to join the Seward boys in the relay race on the final day of state.

“It was fun and intimidating for Ruby, she led the start, and lining up in the field of 30 boys, she got a lot of good comments from the spectators,” he said. “We would love to field a full relay team at state.”

Lindquist returns for another year, along with her sister Sadie, who joins Ruby as one of the most experienced skiers on the team.

The boys team includes four-year member Logan Smith, Igor Sturdy and Jedidiah Christianson.

Rosier was interviewed before Seward got about a foot of snow in a rogue dump Saturday. He said through last week, the Seahawks hadn’t been on snow and were doing aggressive dry-land training.

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

Fielding a full varsity ski team is tough for Bulldogs coach Anna Widman, but with just five racers, it is what it is.

Widman said the challenging trails near the high school are great for getting into ski shape, but a solid layer of snow is needed to get out on boards.

“It’s been really slow, we have no snow in Nikiski so we’ve just been doing a lot of hill-bounding, running and weight room stuff,” Widman explained.

Four boys enter the season with hopes of making regular appearances in varsity races. Included on the squad are senior Matthew Minium, Bryan McCollum, Martin Cox and Henry Heft.

The lone girl on the team is senior Tirzah Young.

More in Sports

Kenai Central junior Greg Fallon takes the lead for good at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Verdict from Kenai-SoHi dual: Nikiski trails are harder than Tsalteshi

Nice try, Anna Widman. Widman is the new Kenai Central cross-country coach… Continue reading

Homer's Jake Tappan rushes against Kodiak on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Charlie Menke/Homer News)
Mariners start season strong against Bears; Nikiski, Seward drop games

It may have been raining as the Homer football team took on… Continue reading

tease
Hansen competes at North American Rollerski Biathlon Championships

Justin Hansen, a 2022 graduate of River City Academy, said competing at… Continue reading

tease
Saturday prep football: Homer wins; Nikiski, Seward lose

The Nikiski football team opened its season with a 12-8 nonconference loss… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Wade James punts against Eielson on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, at Buck Nystrom Field on Eielson Air Force Base. (Photo by Jeff Olsen/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Kenai, SoHi football start season with victories

By JEFF OLSEN Fairbanks Daily News-Miner EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE — Asked… Continue reading

Nick Varney
Reeling ‘Em In: More tips from Nick on catching silvers

Now, here are a few more suggestions on how to pop those coho tumbling around the lagoon.

tease
Strausbaughs win ABC Life Choices 5K Run

The ABC Life Choices Celebrate Life! 5K Run was held Saturday in… Continue reading

tease
Week 1 prep football preview: Getting back to normal

The five high school football teams from the Kenai Peninsula begin the… Continue reading

Some great examples of genetic diversity with Kenai River king salmon populations. (Photo by Ken Gates)
Refuge Notebook: Where have the big Kenai River kings gone?

Over the years, fishing for king salmon has provided many anglers with… Continue reading

Most Read