After finishing up my race season, I had the opportunity to venture north to the small village of Shungnak, Alaska. This tiny community is located in Northwestern AK, above the arctic circle and is home to around 250 people. I was joined on this trip by three other skiers: Reid Goble, Michaela Keller-Miller, and Jake Brown. The four of us lead a “Skiku ski week” for the kids at the local village school. Skiku is a non-profit organization that sends skiers into dozens of rural Alaskan villages with the aim of getting youth and families active and healthy on skis.
(Flying From Kotzebue to Shungnak)
We flew into the village on a small bush-plane and were welcomed by the principal who took us to the school via snowmobile! During our typical day, we would wake up, eat breakfast, and head to morning Zumba and assembly with the kids. We would then take the kids outside for skiing in shifts throughout the day. First, we would have the PreK-Kindergarten kids, then 1st-2nd graders, then 3rd-5th graders, then Middle school and Highschoolers. We played a lot of games, did some epic scavenger hunts, learned how to ski down big hills, and did some fun obstacle courses on skis. Once the school day was done, we would do two to three hours of “after school skiing” for any who wanted to come. This was usually the majority of the kids, so it was pretty wild and fun. During our after-school skis, we would do loops around the village, check out the Caribou fields, and most popular, we would go ski down to the big hill at the edge of town.
(Doing laps on the snow-drift hill outside the school)
(Enjoying the sunshine and skiing...even though it is -20)
The kids were so excited to ski every day and they never wanted to stop. On the first day, one of the kindergarteners put in a 4+ hour day and was a bit frustrated when we told him we had to be done! Every day was about -20 ° F in the morning and never warmed up above 0 °F. Even though it was crazy cold outside, we never heard any of the kids complain. They were just so stoked to be out there. Along with the kids, we also got to ski with a lot of the teachers and staff at the school! The adults were right out there learning alongside their students which was pretty amazing to see.
(After-school skiing through the village)
At the end of the week, we put on a 3-kilometer race for the kids around the town. Everyone got into it and flew through the course after having just 5 days on skis!
(Everyone racing hard!)
During the week, we also got to take part in some local activities, including skinning a fox, sleeping outside in an arctic tent, eating Caribou soup, watching the northern lights, and witnessing a sled dog race come through town. The community, school, and teachers were all extremely welcoming, and I felt so lucky to be there. As professional Nordic skiers, we spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves, so having the opportunity to give back to the ski community in a small way was very special.