Anchorage's cross-country ski community was rocked Friday by the death of Lars Spurkland, president of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage and former head ski coach at East High.
A race will be held Saturday at Service High in honor of Spurkland, a 1993 graduate of Dimond High.
Spurkland, 39, suffered a ruptured aneurysm on Wednesday that caused cranial hemorrhaging, friend Jerry Ross said. He died Friday morning.
"No matter what the environment was, he was always very chill," said Tamra Kornfield, program director for the NSAA. "You could rely on him to settle everyone down. He was really humorous, easy to work with.
"He gave me my two favorite jobs," she added -- a job as an assistant ski coach at East and her current position with the ski club.
Spurkland's nordic ski roots ran deep. His parents, Tobben and Tania Spurkland, have long been involved in Anchorage skiing, and Lars and brother Jan raced for Dimond and went on to compete collegiately, Lars at Nevada-Reno. His wife, Raye Ann Neustal, is director of ski lessons for the NSAA.
Spurkland was involved in orienteering as well as skiing and even did some ski jumping as a kid.
"He grew up on the trails with his mom and dad," said Michael Graham, the former principal at East High who works as the school district's chief academic officer. "It's pretty cool -- after college he returned and worked with high school teams, and he definitely had an impact that way."
Spurkland was easy to spot on the trails -- he stood 6-foot-7.
"The most I can say about him is besides being a big guy he was a huge personality, always smiling," said Anson Moxness, a friend who worked for Spurkland at Spurkland Engineering.. "If the skiing was good in the spring and we didn't have a lot of work, the two of us would go for a ski instead of working. He was always laughing. ...
"He was more than just my boss. He was a great friend."
Spurkland's position as president of the NSAA is something he took on out of a sense of duty, friend and APU ski coach Charlie Renfro said.
"He's just one of those people who did a lot, a lot, a lot for the ski community and didn't expect anything in return," Renfro said. "He coached high school skiing because he loved skiing. He was president of the NSAA because he loved skiing and it was a position that needed to be filled -- he was one of those people from our generation that was stepping up for that."
Kornfield said Spurkland's background as a ski racer and coach served him well as NSAA president. He was in his second year as president and brimming with ideas on what direction to take the club, she said.
Spurkland's death marks the second time this week that Anchorage high school athletes are mourning the loss of a coach. Erik Peterson, an assistant football coach at West and assistant track coach at Dimond, was killed Saturday in an avalanche north of Anchorage.
Spurkland coached at Dimond for three years before spending five seasons as the East coach. His death was a surprise to the kids he had coached.
"It was a huge shock for everyone, I think," said Thomas O'Harra, a senior on last season's T-birds squad. "Lars was a great guy, and he always genuinely cared about everyone on the team and how they did. I'll never forget him."
O'Harra said he plans to be at Service for Saturday's race, which starts at noon.
The race isn't a sanctioned high school race. The two-day Lynxloppet -- which was started by Spurkland's parents, according to Renfro -- was canceled due to thin snow at Kincaid Park, but teams from Fairbanks, Valdez and Homer were already in town, so the Service race was hastily arranged, said Moxness, who is the head ski coach at West High.
"When I heard this morning of his passing, we decided to name it the Lars Spurkland Scramble," Moxness said.
A memorial is planned, Kornfield said.