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Skiers in Anchorage, Fairbanks plan Thursday rallies

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: November 8, 2016
  • Published November 8, 2016

Around the same time the Board of Regents is scheduled to wrap up the first of two days of meetings this week, people in Anchorage and Fairbanks plan to send the board a message:

Save Alaska skiing.

At 5 p.m. Thursday outside the Loussac Library in Anchorage and the Patty Center in Fairbanks, hundreds are expected to rally in support of college skiing — one of the sports being targeted for elimination as the university confronts the loss of millions of dollars in state funding.

"We want people to know it's a good cause," said Charlie Renfro, a former cross-country skier at UAA. "People travel here from all over the world to ski. To take away a program like this doesn't make sense. This is the team with the best GPA, with the most NCAA champions. To start with them doesn't make sense."

Renfro and others started a Save Alaska Skiing website and Facebook page soon after UA president Jim Johnsen proposed to eliminate skiing at both colleges and indoor track at UAA.

Though skiers are expected to make up the majority of those at the rallies, Renfro said the mission of Save Alaska Skiing is to support the entire athletic programs at UAA and UAF.

"We don't want to see any sport cut," he said. "We'd like to have a little more discussion before we go forward."

As of Tuesday afternoon nearly 5,000 people have signed a Save Alaska Skiing petition. Among them are some of the all-time best alpine skiers from Alaska who didn't compete in NCAA skiing but who say their careers were bolstered by the UAA ski team.

Olympic and World Championship medalist Hilary Lindh is one of them.

Lindh, who grew up in Juneau, said in a Facebook post that University of Alaska skiing "played a huge role in my development as a ski racer."

When Lindh was a junior-level race, the University of Alaska Juneau had a ski team and Lindh trained with them. Often the UAJ ski team and Juneau Ski Club combined resources to come to races in Anchorage, where they would compete against the Seawolves.

"When I was 14, my biggest competition in the state came from the UAA women's team," Lindh wrote. "They were who I chased and wanted to beat.

"… The UA ski teams do so much for the state — aside from bringing great people to the state who end up staying, its athletes inspire and motivate the next generation of Alaskans. The benefits go far beyond the obvious and are realized state-wide."

Andre Horton of Anchorage, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, experienced those benefits as a junior skier for the Alyeska Ski Club. A couple of times a year, he got to race against the Seawolves at Alyeska, and those opportunities allowed him to improve his point-rankings and push his career forward.

"I never could have made the national team without the shoulders of UAA," Horton said Tuesday. "Those foreigners have really good points, and they're ranked really well. When I was young I'd go to those races and really (improve) my points.

"… We need their elite point-base to succeed. We can't drive next door to a race with good points."

In a letter to the regents, Anchorage's Kieffer Christianson — the reigning national champion in giant slalom champion — said the UAA ski team helped him earn a spot on the national team.

"I watched ski racing on TV whenever I could, I read every ski racing magazine I could get my hands on from front to back, but the UAA ski team provide real life experience," Christiansen wrote. "Alaska has a strong network of junior racers, but the presence of a successful Division I collegiate ski team is irreplaceable."

Renfro said 500 people, maybe more, are expected to attend Thursday's rally in Anchorage. Food vendors and a DJ will be on hand, he said.

"We want to keep it as positive as possible," he said.

The Save Alaska Skiing group is acutely aware of the budget crisis the university faces, Horton said.

"We can't keep spending money. We understand that," he said.

But there may be ways to absorb budget cuts without eliminating entire teams, he said. One of Save Alaska Skiing's goals is to urge regents to give people time to explore those alternatives.

Oil revenue has been the lifeblood of Alaska's economy for years, Horton said.

"Give us two or three years of weaning us off oil so we can fund ourselves," he said.

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