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Northern Exposures: From the desk of the Alaska Field Office

Mon, Apr  20, 2009 - By Natalie Dawson

In November 2008, I left the desert with my pickup truck loaded with all my possessions and drove north (to Alaska!)  The entire journey took me from the desert southwest, with a stop in the Colorado Rockies, northward to a couple of days of waiting out storms in Montana and a quick backcountry ski trip in Jasper, over to Prince Rupert, British Columbia where I stepped on a ferry boat and traveled across the Gulf of Alaska just in time to catch the few hours of sunshine in my new home of Anchorage!  Not two hours after getting off the ferry, I strapped on my skis for my first taste of Kincaid Park in the winter, the soft evening glow of the midwinter sun enticing me to the crest of every hill.  As the birch trees filtered the light, and I looked across Turnagain arm, with ocean in one direction and snow-covered peaks in the other directions.  I decided that all the people who tell you to visit Alaska in the summer are most definitely not Nordic skiers!

I have been working and living on and off in Alaska for eight years now, but to truly call this place home and start making permanent tracks is a completely different game.  I was excited to become a part of the Nordic community, intimidated to race against some of the strongest “citizen” racers in the country, and completely unsure of where I would wax my skis from week to week, given I was living out my pickup truck with no room for a waxing bench.  Over the last few months, however, I have quickly learned that Midwestern hospitality extends to the northern birch forests of Alaska as well.   Within weeks of beginning my northern adventure, I had met people in the Nordic community, successfully gained access to several waxing benches, and even found potential roommates through my ski trainings on the local courses. 

The racing season in Anchorage seems to really pick up in February, probably because January is extremely cold.  I found a training group (Only In Alaska-OIA) coached by Trond Flagstad, head coach for the UAA ski team.  The routine is typically circuits on Tuesday nights, and a Thursday night interval session, with any number of opportunities to ski with people on other days.  Members of this training group include Rob Whitney (former Subaru Factory Team member), Holly Brooks (2nd at 2009 Birkie), and Rachel Steer (former US Olympic team member).  All these folks welcomed a girl from Detroit, Michigan with open arms and immediately set to work on introducing me to the local ski community.  I had my first two opportunities to ski local races in mid-February, both races being a part of the Anchorage Cup series.  Coming off of strong races in January, I was humbled to come in 9th place in both races, although equally elated to see my name on the results list just below those of some of the strongest female athletes at Alaska Pacific University, the university ski team that won top honors last year and home training team for Kikkan Randall!

Early morning start at the Tour of Anchorage-Men’s elite wave

After the local races, everyone began to key on the Tour of Anchorage, which would cap off a week of Masters’ Nationals races as well.  The “Tour” as everyone calls it, is the biggest race in Alaska, with over 1,500 participants.  I participated in the Masters’ Nationals races (why not, they are in my backyard!) and finished strong, even after plowing trail on the first 4km of the 10km classic race on the first night.  We put together a strong team sprint team for the sprint event, and the Tour of Anchorage went well. 

Early morning start-Elite Women’s wave.  I am nervously checking out the competition!

Four days later, I boarded a plane for Steamboat Springs, Colorado to once again compete in the North Routt Courier de Bois 90km race.  I finished a humbling 5th this year, and realized that there are benefits to living at altitude that I can no longer reap while living at sea level!

The final race of the season for me here in Alaska was March 21st in Talkeetna, Alaska.  Talkeetna is home to many of the mountain guide services that lead trips up to the top of Mt. McKinley every year, and on a clear day, provides some amazing views of the Alaska Range.  Race Saturday was one of those clear days, and the 50km Oosik Classic race provided both a great local race experience with views of Denali, Foraker and other mountains in the Alaska Range for the entire day.  The track was set by snowmobiles, winding its way along frozen rivers, through bogs, and among black spruce forests for a truly “homemade” classical race experience.  In the spirit of spring skiing, my friend Kristy and I decided to “tour” the race, and I took my time taking photos of the mountains.

The Oosik Classic Race in Talkeetna with the Alaska Range in the background.


My race season has taken my representation of the uniform international and national, not the least being local representation of NSR right here in Anchorage.  I spent time in Europe earlier this winter, racing with my good friend Martina Stursova in both Italy (Befanolauf Ski Marathon) and in the Czech Republic (Jizerska 50 World Loppet Race).  After that, it was Michigan Cup races at Garland, the Noquemanon, the Alley Loop in (Colorado), the Boulder Mountain Tour, the Hickcock Duathlon (Anchorage), Sven Johansen (Anchorage), Masters Nationals, the Tour of Anchorage, the Courier de Bois 90km (Colorado), and the Oosik Classic (Talkeetna, AK).  During most of these races, kindness from strangers and random hospitality from within the ski community resulted in warm lodging, good food, good friends, and lots of inspiration to continue to travel and ski in the coming years!  I hope I can return the favors and build more good ski karma by providing travelers to the northern reaches of Alaska with a place to stay, wool blankets, and homemade Norwegian tea!

Alaskan friends enjoying the Oosik Classic Race, notice the big mountain in the background-that is Denali!!


Skiing at Val di Fiemme, Italy, home to a 2009 World Cup ski event.  NordicSkiRacer uniform sported at stadium during a training day.


The start of the 2009 Jizerska 50, a 50km classic race that is part of the WorldLoppet race series.  Almost 4000 skiers participated in this event.