As Juneau continues its transition into a winter wonderland, Juneau’s Nordic skiers are getting kits ready for the season of snow.
“That’s our mission, getting more people on skis more often,” said Juneau Nordic Ski Club president Frankie Pillifant in a phone interview. “It’s another way to play in the north lands. Snow is usable precipitation. Getting out in the winter is really nice.”
Nordic skiing, which varies from downhill skiing in its equipment and execution, is a form of cross country skiing better suited to level ground. Juneau has a number of Nordic ski tracks, Pillifant said, including loops at Eaglecrest, Montana Creek and elsewhere.
“One of the things the Juneau Nordic Ski Club does is provide close-in access to skiing on a trail,” Pillifant said. “This is family oriented. Little kids can come and ski on the trails we groom. We have seniors using the trails. We have families using the trails. All the trails we groom are on public lands and they’re multiple-use.”
The geography of the Southeast Alaska isn’t as convenient for Nordic ski tracks as the geography of the interior, Pillifant said.
“We don’t have a lot of kilometers here,” Pillifant said. “Not like Anchorage, or even Soldotna or Homer.”
Those that do exist here depend on the weather conditions, Pillifant said, usually resulting in about 20-30 miles of usable trails. Volunteers keep these trails groomed and maintained.
“It’s a little trickier with Nordic skiing in this community because we have fewer trail options that are groomed and it’s weather dependent,” said Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, co-coach of the Juneau Nordic Ski Team, in a phone interview. “As far as competition, boy, we would love to get out and travel and compete, but we’re gonna have to play it by ear.”
The team, which was recently transferred from the 4-H organization to the umbrella of the JNSC, is made up of members from Juneau’s middle and high schools. With the recent reorganization, the team will have both a middle and high school division, each to comprise 30 members, said Knutson-Lombardo. The organizzation and practice schedule is designed to reduce risk of coronavirus infection, Knutson-Lombardo said.
“4-H has nurtured this program for years. This year, it’s officially under the Nordic Ski Club,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “To move over to the Nordic Ski Club is a better alignment. It works on the grooming of our trails and works with Eaglecrest.”
The JNST generally competes against other teams, traveling to locations across Alaska and Canada. But this year, Knutson-Lombardo said, they’ll have to take it on the wing.
“The main goal is to get out and have fun, and pass on passion for nordic skiing. We also want to do that in a competitive setting and talk about goals,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “Nothing builds team unity like toeing the line together. It can be scary and brave but also fun together.”
The JNST and JNSC will often hold joint fundraisers during the skiing season to support the team. The team is also going to a sliding scale for dues so that money isn’t a gate for anyone who wants to join, Knutson-Lombardo said. Practices for the teams will begin on Nov.1 with dry-land exercises, moving to the trails as soon as the weather allows, Knutson-Lombardo said.
“We do maintain a pretty good fleet of boots and poles and skis. Most of our members have rented equipment for us. We do not expect or require people bring their own equipment,” Knutson-Lombardo “We have shifted our fee to participate. For the high school students, we’ve moved to a shifting fee scale for what the family can contribute, and we’ll try to fundraise the rest.”
The team and club also hold fundraisers to support the sport.
“We’ve done some cool fundraisers that align with our sport. The team has been great about finding fun fundraisers that jive with the mission of the team and also get the community to ski along,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “The ski club does put on community ski events. It’ll help drive home that they’re part of a larger ski community here. It’s a really cool community collaborative effort. It’s amazing how many people get out and Nordic ski in this town.”