The GRP skiers are coming off a bit of a break- following our last races of the year in Sun Valley, Idaho, we had almost a month with no scheduled training and therefore some time to ourselves to rest, see friends and family, and reset before the next training season begins.
I had an awesome opportunity during this break to be a coach for NANA Nordic. For those who are unfamiliar with the program, NANA Nordic brings ski coaches to remote native villages in Alaska where they spend a week teaching the kids there how to cross country ski. The goal is to spread the love of skiing far and wide, and also provide transportation and recreation in an area of the country where there’s snow for a good portion of the year, and almost endless snowmachine trails. My NANA program was based in Shungnak, AK, a small inland village, pop. ~ 300, on the Kobuk River. The nearest town is 10 miles away, but there are no roads in that region of Alaska. You either fly or snowmachine in, or you don’t go.
I had an absolute blast during my 5 days in Shungnak and while I was there to teach, I ended up learning a lot too! I left with a sense of happiness that can only be gained by sharing something you love with enthusiastic students.
1. If you’re not wearing the biggest grin every day you “get” to ski, you may be doing it wrong
Training for skiing day in and day out, it’s easy to get lost in the tedium. But once you start thinking of training as something you “have to do” rather than something you get to do, it becomes a lot less fun. Skiing with the kids in Shungnak was a great reminder that skiing is a gift. There’s nothing like experiencing gliding on snow for the very first time, and the excitement that the kids brought every day was infectious.
Susana, one of our kindergartners, stoked on the day
1st graders are THIS EXCITED to ski!
2. Don’t be afraid to make the leap.
Jump practice was one of the favorite parts of the day. Once the kids got over their initial nerves, they couldn’t stop making laps. Jumping can be scary, and a little dangerous, but the feeling in the air makes it all worth it.
Ashton goes big
3. Falling- and getting back up- are all part of learning
Some of the groups we skied with had a ratio of about 3:1 time spent on the ground to time spent standing on skis. On the first day, there were tears and looks of utter confusion. By the last day, the falls were still happening but they were followed by kids popping right up with with grins. We told the kids that you have to fall about 10,000 times to become a really good skier, and for some reason they believed us.
Exercising patience- mine and theirs
4. Confidence is key
When we arrived in Shungnak, the kids had made signs to post all around the school. This one was my favorite-
“Welcome NANA Nordic. Your (sic) awesome! However, we are the best! – Shungnak”
Gotta love it! Shungnak actually has a pretty cool story. A few years ago, the school was not doing very well and attendance was very low. The school brought in a new principal, Roger Franklin, who had a whole new attitude for the school that emphasized community. In other words, everybody in the town needed to contribute to their kid’s schooling. Every morning at assembly Roger asks the kids, “What comes first?” and they all yell out, “EDUCATION!”. Attendance is now at record highs, and they’re hoping that the tests scores will continue to climb as well. I checked out their attendance board, and while 90% and higher was very common, one day they had 100%!
5. Fast friendships are the best ones
I was amazed by a few things in Shungak, the first being how the kids remembered the NANA leaders from last year so well and told us stories about them every day. They must have done a great job, and we had a lot to live up to! The other thing was how quickly we bonded with the kids (and each other). Nothing brings people together like skiing together everyday, all day long.
Giving hugs before ski practice, after ski practice, and about a million more on the day we left
The “quatro amigos” as the principal called us, going for a ski after school
6. Winning is important, but sportsmanship trumps all
The second to last day we were in Shungnak we held a race for all the kids on Main Street. The younger kids did just a short out and back, while the older kids did a pretty challenging loop around the town. Everyone did awesome and I loved how all of the parents and teachers came out to support the racers. The teachers were really happy to see that the kids who won the races weren’t necessarily the top students, but they got to be recognized in front of the school for winning.
The 1st-3rd graders off the line. Like most mass starts, this one was a little messy
I loved this- all smiles even going back to retrieve a lost pole! Then she skied as hard as she could and passed all the girls for the win.
7. Skiing is the same everywhere!
Whether coaching the Catamounts back in Craftsbury, competing overseas, or doing something totally out of the ordinary like NANA, it’s still the same stuff, just getting outside every day to do something you enjoy. Thanks to NANA, the town of Shungnak, and the other coaches and teachers for a great week.
Middle schoolers out on a long ski
Alaskan sunsets at 10:30 pm
Snowmachining as the transport of choice