Who out there loves to ski? Skate. Classic. Touring. Ski Trains. Races. Downhill. Skijor……the best part about skiing in Alaska is that it’s right outside your door, in every direction, and in every format. You choose. But, I’m writing today about skiing because we’ve had a depressing start-up to our ski season thus far-brutally cold and few snow dumps. Now that December is almost over and I’ve only skied once, I’m feeling like I’m in a tragedy. To be honest, I have become a weather snob over the years, but I’ve normally skied a bunch by this time of year. It’s currently -4 out, and while I shouldn’t be complaining because I have friends suffering through -40 up north, skiing in those temps just isn’t that fun for me. What’s the point of living in Alaska, and enduring the long winters if you can’t ski? Or, maybe I should say prefer not to?
When I was little, my dad taught me how to downhill ski and I grew up adventuring around the country at different ski resorts. Because my dad was a pilot, we could afford those types of vacations and my love for the sport grew as I did. Coming to Alaska brought me to other styles of skiing, but due to ending up loving to live here, years ago, I decided that I needed to learn all of the types the best I could…..I’ll never be a rock star on sticks, but at least I’m out there.
My evolution with skis all began when I first moved to Fairbanks, AK. My first objective, other than finishing school, was to learn how to love long winters. Loving winter is one thing, but a Fairbanks winter is a whole different ball game. With -30 temps, most of the time, the skiing sucked. Even when conditions were decent, the cold made for some slow going snow so I never truly embraced skiing up there. Sometimes though, you would get a day where the snow was like butter underneath your skis, and the sound of your blades swooshing across it was near perfection. There is nothing like being out in the winter with the near silence, beauty, and your hard-working breath racing against the sound of your skis in the snow. I get that a lot more often in Anchorage, where I live now.
My first objective of finishing school was met though, and back in 2000, I moved to the bush to teach in Tuntutuliak, a village in the southwest of Alaska. I got a husky from there. Huskies live to run and they are super easy to train too. My dog Lia was a great runner and I immediately began to investigate skijoring as an option. This is where you are skate skiing, hooked to your dog via a bungee tow line so that your dog is running in front of you, essentially pulling you across the snow. I figured that if I was with Lia learning how to skate ski, my skills would improve faster because she would want me to be able to keep up with her. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of me skijoring with her, but she was amazing at it, even when we’d wreck or fall, turning into a yard sale with all of our gear, she would be smiling the entire time. She loved it. At first, I was just classic skiing near the city, but once I got Lia, and returned from the village, my world of skiing opened up a bit more because skate skiing is FAST, but skate skiing with a dog is SUPER FAST. Plus, you get a killer workout. But, once Lia was no longer in my life, neither was skijoring. When I think about getting another dog, all I do is think about Lia and skiing with her. She taught me so much about myself that it is hard for me to want another dog. I feel like I got that one just right with the first round.
So, I learned to ski without her. It has been an amazing time up here from day one.
Each winter, my friends and I plan cabin trips for skiing or we go to small towns nearby to enjoy a different location. There are so many epic places to enjoy all over the state. In addition, Anchorage offers free skiing on one of the best trail systems in the country for cross-country skiing. There are also races, the Iditarod, and downhill options….it doesn’t stop. Over the years, I’ve gotten loads of opportunities to journey through the woods to different cabins, as well as learn how to deal with gear on my back and freezing limbs, all while trying to ski. Sometimes, I’m not really skiing-it’s more like a fast walk. I’m also an expert at generating yard sales all over the trail with my gear as well as down the side of a mountain. I’ve gotten lost, starved, close to death, and simply beat down on my skis, but I keep coming back for more.
I think it’s because skiing teaches me about my endurance with life. Sure, you can get that while running in the summer, and even by going to the gym. You can get reality-checked by doing a long race of sorts or by trying out something new. Some of us reach that challenge simply by lasting through a day of work, but I find that skiing does it best of all because you are tested in combination with many other obstacles: weather, gear, people, your mood, the snow conditions. When you add up all of the challenges associated with skiing, it’s a huge lesson in life about what you can handle. Sometimes when I go skiing, I come off the snow wanting a complete do-over because I have no idea whose body I was just in during that session. Other times, I go out there and I reach a unique level of elation. Skiing reminds me to love and celebrate all of me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m suppose to know by now, at my age I mean. My birthday is coming up. When I entered the 40s last year, I was a bit shell-shocked; having remembered my parents turning 40, I felt like it was a mistake. Me? 40? Did I know what I’m suppose to know? How do you know when you’ve got it all figured out? Do you ever feel that way? Does it matter? Aren’t I suppose to be taking life a bit more seriously? All of these questions were swimming in my mind the first few months of being 40. Nothing new, but I guess I was hoping to feel like I had an advantage over others when really, I felt the opposite. Aging is so bittersweet at times.
Now that 41 is almost here already, it seems to be blazing by me. I want it to slow down, and be the pace of my skis going across the snow. In the end, I know that I don’t know everything. I know that whether I’m 41 or 75, I’m going to still be confused about something in life and that’s o.k. The important thing for me to remember is how I feel when I go skiing and to make sure that I chase those challenging reflections. Here is to me skiing forever, and learning with each round.
Get out there or better yet, come up to Alaska in the winter!
Thanks for reading, sharing, liking, commenting, and reflecting!
3 thoughts on “Growing Up Skiing in Alaska”
Yes, it’s a bit of a bummer that the 18 inches of snow we just got in Fairbanks cannot be used for another week or so. 42 below in town today…
Yes…..I hope it lifts soon for you guys!
On Sun, Dec 16, 2012 at 2:35 PM, Strucknwords