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Alaska Olympian uses clinics to teach village kids how to ski

Beth Bragg
Skate skiing on the old airstrip in Noorvik. Blue sky and hard snow made for great skate skiing.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese and Charlie say goodbye after hot chocolate and snacks with Rachel, Lars, Katy, and the breakfast club.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman spends some time with the Selawik skiers
Photo courtesy of NANA
Fischer skis lined up and ready to go for afternoon checkout
Charlie Renfro
Skiing the big hill in Noorvik was the challenge of the week. By the end of the week everybody was pointing the skis and going for it!
Charlie Renfro
Who's first? The high school class takes turns going down the big hill in Noorvik.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Evelyn Dong, Andrew Kastning, and Lars Flora take a break while skiing over to Selawik from Noorvik. The trip was approxitemately 35 miles.
Charlie Renfro
Roger Franklin and Lars Flora share a laugh. Roger was a great inspirational to the NANANordic coaches.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman shows us how it is done on Nordic Skis in Noorvik.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman, John Glenn, and Dani Hess get ready to hit the trails with the first grade class of Noorvik.
Charlie Renfro
Andrew Kastning eats school lunch with the Noorvik elementary school
Photo courtesy of NANA
Dani Hess defends John Glenn during a game of Ice Basketball. Noorvik
Charlie Renfro
Flying in Noorvik. Jumping in the villages was called flying and we always found a nice place to fly near the village
Photo courtesy of NANA
Forest Tarbath, one of three seniors at Service High School who participated with his senior project, takes his ski skills to Kiana and gets ready to head to University of Chicago next fall to study economics.
Lars Flora / NANA
Selawik High School class wrapping up a morning ski with the director of NANANordic coach Lars Flora, and assistants Rachel Samuelson and Katy Rehm.
Reese Hanneman / Engine Room Media
Gary Westlake bombing down the lake.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Noorvik Bears hanging out on the bluff
Photo courtesy of NANA
Fifth grade geared up and ready to get out on the skis.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Photo courtesy of NANA
Tyrone from Noorvik picked up skating and was cruising around town in no time.
Reese Hanneman / Engine Room Media
Sara Studebaker, 2010 Olympic Biathlete, spends time teaching the basics of skating.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Morning ski with the first grade in Kiana.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Crystal Pitney instructs two Kiana students. The terrain in Kiana was perfect for cross country skiing.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Scott Warren started his first job at school at the age of 21 in Kiana. Now working as the Principal and a key founder of NANANordic. Robin Kornfield, Scott Warren and Lars Flora were the original threesome who put the details together last summer to launch NANANordic.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Lars get ready to take out the first graders of Kiana
Photo courtesy of NANA
Forest Tarbath gives to thumbs up to the NMS school lunch. NMS helped out by providing food for 17 coaches throughout the month.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Zach Hall defends Kiana student Bryton in a game of Ice Basketball.
Photo courtesy of NANA
The NANANordic program started April 9 in Kotzebue, where more than 250 students participated in the program.
Chris Arend / NANA
NANANordic director and team leader, Lars Flora, approached NANA Development Corp. (NDC) last spring with the idea for NANANordic, a program that brings together some of the worlds best Nordic skiers to help introduce the lifetime sport of Nordic skiing to the residents of the NANA region.
Chris Arend / NANA
The NANANordic team that traveled to Kotzebue consisted of former UAF ski team member Tamra Kornfield, Mariah Cooper, a member of the Ojibwe band from Hayward, Wis., which is the home of the American Birkebiner, the largest ski race in North America, NANA Nordic director and team leader, Olympic Nordic skier, Lars Flora,and Alaska Pacific University ski team member Dylan Watts.
Chris Arend / NANA
"It is amazing to see how kids who had never been on skis before on a Monday be totally comfortable skate skiing by Friday," Flora said. Some brave enough to attempt some ski jumps.
Chris Arend / NANA
Mariah Cooper, volunteer NANANordic coach, poses with a student while practicing cross-country skiing on the frozen ice of the Kotzebue Sound.
Chris Arend / NANA
Caribou crossing the trail. Around 2,000 caribou were on their way up North
Charlie Renfro
Skate skiing on the old airstrip in Noorvik. Blue sky and hard snow made for great skate skiing.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese and Charlie say goodbye after hot chocolate and snacks with Rachel, Lars, Katy, and the breakfast club.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman spends some time with the Selawik skiers
Photo courtesy of NANA
Fischer skis lined up and ready to go for afternoon checkout
Charlie Renfro
Skiing the big hill in Noorvik was the challenge of the week. By the end of the week everybody was pointing the skis and going for it!
Charlie Renfro
Who's first? The high school class takes turns going down the big hill in Noorvik.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Evelyn Dong, Andrew Kastning, and Lars Flora take a break while skiing over to Selawik from Noorvik. The trip was approxitemately 35 miles.
Charlie Renfro
Roger Franklin and Lars Flora share a laugh. Roger was a great inspirational to the NANANordic coaches.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman shows us how it is done on Nordic Skis in Noorvik.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Reese Hanneman, John Glenn, and Dani Hess get ready to hit the trails with the first grade class of Noorvik.
Charlie Renfro
Andrew Kastning eats school lunch with the Noorvik elementary school
Photo courtesy of NANA
Dani Hess defends John Glenn during a game of Ice Basketball. Noorvik
Charlie Renfro
Flying in Noorvik. Jumping in the villages was called flying and we always found a nice place to fly near the village
Photo courtesy of NANA
Forest Tarbath, one of three seniors at Service High School who participated with his senior project, takes his ski skills to Kiana and gets ready to head to University of Chicago next fall to study economics.
Lars Flora / NANA
Selawik High School class wrapping up a morning ski with the director of NANANordic coach Lars Flora, and assistants Rachel Samuelson and Katy Rehm.
Reese Hanneman / Engine Room Media
Gary Westlake bombing down the lake.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Noorvik Bears hanging out on the bluff
Photo courtesy of NANA
Fifth grade geared up and ready to get out on the skis.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Photo courtesy of NANA
Tyrone from Noorvik picked up skating and was cruising around town in no time.
Reese Hanneman / Engine Room Media
Sara Studebaker, 2010 Olympic Biathlete, spends time teaching the basics of skating.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Morning ski with the first grade in Kiana.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Crystal Pitney instructs two Kiana students. The terrain in Kiana was perfect for cross country skiing.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Scott Warren started his first job at school at the age of 21 in Kiana. Now working as the Principal and a key founder of NANANordic. Robin Kornfield, Scott Warren and Lars Flora were the original threesome who put the details together last summer to launch NANANordic.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Lars get ready to take out the first graders of Kiana
Photo courtesy of NANA
Forest Tarbath gives to thumbs up to the NMS school lunch. NMS helped out by providing food for 17 coaches throughout the month.
Photo courtesy of NANA
Zach Hall defends Kiana student Bryton in a game of Ice Basketball.
Photo courtesy of NANA
The NANANordic program started April 9 in Kotzebue, where more than 250 students participated in the program.
Chris Arend / NANA
NANANordic director and team leader, Lars Flora, approached NANA Development Corp. (NDC) last spring with the idea for NANANordic, a program that brings together some of the worlds best Nordic skiers to help introduce the lifetime sport of Nordic skiing to the residents of the NANA region.
Chris Arend / NANA
The NANANordic team that traveled to Kotzebue consisted of former UAF ski team member Tamra Kornfield, Mariah Cooper, a member of the Ojibwe band from Hayward, Wis., which is the home of the American Birkebiner, the largest ski race in North America, NANA Nordic director and team leader, Olympic Nordic skier, Lars Flora,and Alaska Pacific University ski team member Dylan Watts.
Chris Arend / NANA
"It is amazing to see how kids who had never been on skis before on a Monday be totally comfortable skate skiing by Friday," Flora said. Some brave enough to attempt some ski jumps.
Chris Arend / NANA
Mariah Cooper, volunteer NANANordic coach, poses with a student while practicing cross-country skiing on the frozen ice of the Kotzebue Sound.
Chris Arend / NANA
Caribou crossing the trail. Around 2,000 caribou were on their way up North
Charlie Renfro

Show-and-tell came to Northwest Alaska last month on skinny skis.

Two-time Olympian Lars Flora led a group of accomplished cross-country skiers into the region for week-long clinics at four schools, where the visitors taught kids how to ski and showed them, by example, how elite athletes keep their edge.

At Davis-Ramoth Memorial School in Selawik, assistant principal Susan Daniels saw how the athletes influenced the children.

"I remember one student who said, 'Skiers don't drink pop' and it was this ah-hah thing: 'They don't drink pop!' " she said. "It was much more than skiing. They noticed what they eat and drink, the whole lifestyle."

About 650 schoolchildren in Kotzebue, Kiana, Noorvik and Selawik participated in NANANordic, a program developed by Flora and sponsored by NANA Development Corporation.

Flora rounded up 17 skiers to join him at one or more of the villages, and everywhere they went, they bore gifts: new skis for each school.

"We had 70 pairs and left about 20 in each village," Flora said.

Flora, 33, said the project in some ways mirrors the RuralCAP Ski Go Club program founded by Jennifer Johnston, now an Anchorage Assemblywoman.

• "I knew Jennifer had run a ski program for several years up there and it was very similar to my proposal -- bring a group of coaches and skiers up there," he said. "That was discontinued a few years ago so this is kind of passing the torch."

BUILDING CONTINUITY

NANANordic will go to other villages next year, with the goal of eventually visiting all 13 in the region.

Another goal, Flora said, is to create something sustainable, something that lasts even when the elite skiers leave.

Daniels said it looks like that is happening in Selawik.

One of the skiers joining Flora in Selawik was Charlie Renfro of Anchorage, who had made a previous trip to the region as part of Johnston's program. Back then he helped coach a boy named Delbert Mitchell, who is a young man now, still living in Selawik.

"He came to the school so excited -- 'Is Charlie still here? I remember when he was here six or seven years ago.' And they sat and talked as if no time had gone by," Daniels said in a phone interview last week.

"One kid came to me today and said, 'Is it OK for Delbert to take me skiing?' Lars was trying to find someone in the community to carry it on, so Delbert Mitchell will be taking kids out to ski a few at a time."

SUPPORT FOR THE PROGRAM

The first day in each village was Skiing 101, Flora said -- learning how to put on skis and pole straps. By the second day the kids were skiing and playing games on skis. By the third day they were ready to find a hill and catch air.

"We always had a group at the end skating around town, really psyched about skiing," Flora said. " 'How do I buy skis? Where do we buy skis?' They were psyched when they heard the schools got to keep the skis."

Though NANA was the primary sponsor, many contributed. The new skate skis came thanks to a discount from Fischer, one of Flora's equipment sponsors, and $15,000 from the Maniilaq Association's Diabetes Program. Olympic downhill skier Suzy Chaffee -- some will remember her as Suzy Chapstick -- chipped in some gear, and one of the skiers who helped coach, high school senior Mariah Cooper of Hayward, Wis., is a member of Chaffee's Native American Olympic Team Foundation.

Flora said he developed the program with assistance from Robin Kornfield, NANA Development Corporation's vice president of communications and marketing, and Scott Warren, the principal in Kiana.

Besides ski lessons for kids, NANANordic brought two doctors from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of Alaska to Kotzebue to speak to students about sports and asthma. It also introduced the Healthy Futures program to each of the villages.

INSTANT ENTHUSIASM

On school days, Flora's group took kids from P.E. classes out to ski. Weekends brought open-ski days that proved extremely popular. On the Saturday that Flora's group was in Selawik, more than 20 percent of the K-12 school's 250 students showed up.

"We had 35 for the first session at 10 in the morning, and generally kids don't like to get up that early on a Saturday," Daniels said. "For the afternoon session we had 65 kids. That really surprised me."

Flora said he saw the same enthusiasm in other villages.

"These kids are amazing," he said. "They have super-good endurance. On the weekend sometimes we'd ski two hours before lunch and two hours after. We would have kindergartners skiing for two hours."

SKIING VILLAGE TO VILLAGE

NANANordic's group of instructors included another Olympian -- Sara Studebaker, a 2010 Olympic biathlete from Boise, Idaho, who sometimes trains in Alaska -- and a host of other top skiers.

Andrew Kastning, the UAA ski coach, participated, and three Service High skiers -- Forest Tarbath, Hugh Cosgrave and John Glen, the reigning Skimeister in the Cook Inlet Conference -- based their senior project on the trip.

About a half-dozen skiers visited each village, with Flora visiting all four. NANA donated Alaska Airline miles to fly the instructors to the region, although Flora traveled from village to village on skis.

His longest trip was the 75 miles between Kotzebue and Kiana, which he and Dylan Watts broke into two days, because they were pulling a 40-pound sled. Flora skied the 25 miles from Kiana to Noorvik by himself and was joined by Renfro and Evelyn Dong for the 35-mile trip from Noorvik to Selawik. As they crested a hill on that journey, they encountered a herd of caribou that a Selawik villager estimated was 2,000 strong.

PERFECT PLACES FOR SKIERS

Kornfield, in a press release, said the project appealed to NANA because of its long-term potential. Flora said that with some instruction and equipment, kids could use the region's snowmachine trails as cross-country highways, allowing them to discover a healthy, lifelong activity.

"We're representing skiing as a great way to get outside and explore their communities," he said, "especially when they have snow right at the front steps of the school."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

NANANordic Coaches

• Lars Flora (2002, 2006 Olympic cross-country skier)

• Sara Studebaker (2010 Olympic biathlete)

• Andrew Kastning

• Reese Hanneman

• Charlie Renfro

• Greta Anderson

• Dylan Watts

• Crystal Pitney

• Tamra Kornfield

• Zach Hall

• Evelyn Dong

• Katy Rehm

• Rachel Samuelson

• Danielle Hess

• Forest Tarbath

• John Glen

• Hugh Cosgrave

• Mariah Cooper

Sponsors and supporters

NANA Development Corporation; Maniilaq Association; Girdwood Ski Club; Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska; Allergy and Asthma Foundation; DOWL HKM; Bering Air; Carlile Transportation Systems; Fischer Skis; Swix; Rossignol; Suzy Chaffee (nativevoices.org).


By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News