Junior Nationals 2023 Fairbanks HOST
Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks
The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks (NSCF) was incorporated in 1967 by a group of local cross country ski enthusiast who wanted to organize get togethers and events for their like-minded fellow Fairbanksans. UAF Athletic Director Fred Boyle started a ski program at UAF in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and was succeeded as ski coach by Jim Mahaffey who significantly elevated the program. Jim left the year that NSCF was incorporated. In the 1970’s Jim Whisenhant, a teacher at Lathrop High School who would go on to start Beaver Sports, started a cross country ski team at Lathrop High School, and helped get programs started in other schools around the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB).
Until the mid-70’s much of the club’s activity, and most of the cross country skiing in Fairbanks, took place in the area surrounding the University, where Ivar Skarland developed a trail system that now wends its way through several subdivisions and neighborhoods north of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) campus. In the mid-1970s Jim Whisenhant and his Lathrop Ski Team began clearing trails on Borough property at Birch Hill, starting the development that has turned into what you see at Birch Hill today. That initial push to create trails at Birch Hill resulted in NSCF hosting the 1977 US Ski Association Junior National Championships, the first major national event held in Fairbanks.
As Birch Hill became a more “official” borough facility through the early-to-mid-1980’s the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks & Recreation Department had virtually all responsibilities for management. Although NSCF volunteers had been responsible for much of the off-season trail maintenance throughout Birch Hill’s existence, it was not until the mid-1980s that the NSCF volunteers took responsibility for all winter grooming at Birch Hill. By the early 1990’s grooming tasks had reached the point where the club hired grooming staff and paid them for their work.
The club’s professionalizing of the grooming program was the first step toward reaching the current situation, where the NSCF and FNSBP&R are partners in a Joint Management Agreement which divides responsibilities between those two parties. In addition to that agreement, there is a further three-party agreement between NSCF, FNSBP&R and US Army Alaska (USARAK) covering joint use of Fort Wainwright military lands adjacent to the borough park, and on which more than half of the kilometers of the Birch Hill trail system are located.
With the takeover of grooming responsibilities, the club began to build a grooming an maintenance fleet which now includes two PB100s, five Ski-Doo Skandics and two Alpina Sherpas, as well as a Caterpillar Skidsteer and a Caterpillar mini-excavator for off-season trail work. All of this equipment is operated by the NSCF’s paid trails crew of four, under the leadership of Tom Helmers.
As the club grew, it expanded its program offerings beyond trail grooming in response to the needs and requests of the membership. The club’s initial offerings included organized tours and occasional races. In the early 1990’s the club started its Junior Nordic program, with club volunteer coaches offering introductory instruction and higher-level instruction to elementary and middle school-aged students. A few years after that, the club created an Adult Lessons program, targeting both people who had never skied and wanted to learn, and skiers who simply wanted to improve their existing skills. In 2006, the NSCF BOD approved the creation of the FXC (Fairbanks Cross Country) junior race program. The club hired Peter Leonard as its first coach. Leonard shepherded the FXC program for its first 13 years, growing from a program with half-a-dozen skiers into a program with over 100.
The NSCF’s Competition Events program has grown to become one of the most highly-regarded race organizations in North America. Seven years after the first Fairbanks Junior Nationals in 1977, the NSCF hosted a FIS Men’s World Cup race in 1984, for which the US Ski Association awarded NSCF the Paul Bacon Award, emblematic of excellence in race organization, to recognize the club’s efforts in organizing the World Cup event on only two weeks notice. The switch in venues from Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, was necessitated by a lack of snow there.
In addition to those evens, NSCF has been the organizing entity for the US Junior National Championships in 1995, 2003 (for which the NSCF was again awarded the USSA’s Paul Bacon award) and 2013, USSA SuperTour Finals in 2008, 2009 and 2017, Arctic Winter Games in 1982, 1988 and 2014 as well as multiple Alaska State High School Championships, RMISA collegiate competition and annual Junior National Qualifiers. In a typical winter, NSCF organizes at least 14 competitions including the Turkey Day Relays, the four-race Town Series, the three-race Distance Series, a weekend with two Junior National Qualifying races, the two-race Region 6 High School Championships, the Skiathlon classic race at UAF, and the club’s spring ski marathon, the Sonot Kkaazoot. Busier winters have up to 20 races when adding in special events.
In addition to the paid grooming staff, and the paid coaching staff of the FXC program, the NSCF pays hourly staff and contractors to perform a number of administrative tasks (bookkeeping, membership management, sponsorship solicitation) and to lead and support club programs (junior nordic, adult lessons, competition events and a chief of timing). The NSCF has grown to approximately 1000 members with an annual budget in the neighborhood $500,000 and a solid financial foundation.
Through the efforts of many people, NSCF, since its inception, has played the leading role in creating a large and strong cross country ski community in Interior Alaska. The tremendous progress that has been made, not just at Birch Hill, but in all aspects of the ski program in the Interior has been possible only through the hard work of the NSCF members and volunteers. Although it would be impossible to thank all the thousands of individuals who have contributed to the effort over the years, here is a list of recent club presidents:
2019-present Chris Puchner
2017-2019 Steven Hansen
2016-2017: Bruce Jamieson
2012-2016: Pat Reinhard and Bruce Jamieson
2010-2012: Mike O’Brien
2009-2010: Mike Ruckhaus
2008-2009: Dan Johnson
2005-2008: Nick Nugent
2004-2005: Byron Broda
2003-2004: Jim Mery
1999-2003: Steve Sorensen
1998-1999: Kent Karns
1997-1998: Kent Slaughter
1996-1997: Peter Delamere
1995-1996: Donna Hawkins
1994-1995: Mary Lou Luebke
1991-1992: Dave Musgrave
1990-1991: Jim Marcotte