Once a week, 21 students in third- through eighth-grade strap on skis and go for a spin on the trails near Tri-Valley School.
The Denali Junior Nordic Ski program started in 2011 and quickly became a popular after school winter activity. It introduces the sport of cross country skiing and promotes physical activity.
Kids don’t have to own ski gear, the program provides it. This year, due to COVID safety protocols, these young skiers checked out gear for the entire season. They no longer have to turn it back in after every ski.
“Everyone is storing their gear at home,” said Martha Tomeo, who spearheads the program with the help of volunteer coaches and parents. “They bring it, they show up ready to ski. It gets us out on the trails faster.”
They ski a series of trails on a large parcel of land adjacent to Tri-Valley School.
“It’s actually perfect for us,” Tomeo said. “It’s right out the door. There are nice, really flat loops in the wooded areas just behind the soccer field. And then there’s the hill between there and the post office.
“When the snow conditions are right, it gives us terrain variation,” she said. “We can practice all those basic steps for turning, flat and gliding, uphill and downhill.”
There is even one steep hill, but that is off limits unless conditions are safe.
The program benefits from strong support from local businesses, including Three Bears Grocery and Subway and groups like the Alaska Education Ski Foundation. It is sponsored by the longtime nonprofit Kids In Motion.
Over the years, the program has supported cross-country ski lessons in physical education classes at Tri-Valley School and has also coordinated ski meets with other ski clubs, from around the state.
The program is also working on a future project that will benefit the local community.
Tomeo said the club expects to label nearby trails and post signs/maps at local trail heads. The multi-use trails are used regularly by skiers, snowmachiners, all-terrain vehicles, cross-country runners and others.
The signs at the entrance of trails will help orient users with posted maps and information about the trail system to encourage responsible shared use. Maps of the trail system will be printed and posted to withstand weather conditions.
“This is a really nice way to have a piece for education,” Tomeo said. “It’s a great way to partner and give back to the school.”
Tri-Valley School approved the project, she added.
The club also partners with Denali National Park, keeping track of trails specifically groomed for skiing. A full moon is forecast on Thursday so this week, skiers will meet at Denali Thursday for an evening ski on the park road.
Like many parents, Tomeo began this program when her own children benefited. They’re older now, but she still loves making it happen.
“I love it and I love that it gives me another excuse to interact with kids outside the classroom,” said Tomeo, who works as the school librarian at Tri-Valley School.
She gave special thanks this week to Travis Guhrt, who volunteered to repair a hinge on the trailer that houses the ski gear. Guhrt works at Usibelli Coal Mine but also teaches welding at Tri-Valley School.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.
In the interest of full disclosure, readers should know that Kris Capps is president of the nonprofit Kids In Motion.