So before you click the link and head to the blog a word of warning, this one will be fairly photo laden. However it’s hard to spend a week in the Arctic and not go photo crazy. A few of these are my pics but all the photo genius and praise needs to go to Seth Adams, one of my companions for the trip. He does great work and you should check out his blog here!
On Monday of last week Lauren and I packed our bags again and headed to the airport. This time we were heading into the Alaskan bush as part of the NANANordic Program to bring cross-country skiing to the native children in remote villages. We spent the week teaching all the kids in school to ski and anyone who wanted to try after school. We ended up skiing over 8 hours a day with only 30 minutes off. It’s pretty amazing how enthusiastic the kids are for skiing. They are just so excited to see us and get outside. Generally there isn’t much extra curricular activity going on in the villages so it’s something they look forward to all winter: the week when the “skiers!” come to town.
There are 190 kids at the Noorvik school, a small village above the Arctic circle in Northern Alaska. In addition to Lauren, Seth and me, we had two other coaches in our group: Luke, a talented 15 year old APU high school skier, and Rob, a Paralympic Biathlon coach from Wyoming. Overall a great crew with lots of different backgrounds and experiences but a lot of great energy and overall a lot of fun. We would take 6 one-hour long lessons in the day as kids had skiing for PE that week and then in the afternoon we had free sessions where anyone could come, plus an infrared rifle that the kids could try their marksmanship on. After school we would have upwards of 50 kids come to ski and we only had 58 sets of skis and every time they would almost all be used up.
The village has roughly 600 people in it perched on the edge of the Kobuk river.
The aim for the week is simple, get the kids outdoors having fun. However there is an undertone to our mission to teach kids that skiing could be a part of their everyday life in the village. They could use it to go hunting, for transport or just for leisure and they don’t need to just rely on snowmobiles to get around.
One kid told us that on the weekends they sometimes stay up till 6:00am in the morning playing video games so this is our challenge. To try and change this culture and bring a healthier lifestyle to the kids.
For each session we just try to progress the kids skills but still keep it fun, playing games and doing activities. All simple stuff but it keeps them smiling.
On Saturday we were meant to fly back to Kotzebue, then fly home. Instead, we decided to go for an adventure! Early Saturday morning, we packed a small daypack each and then skied along snowmobile trails for 55km through the frozen Arctic tundra to Selawik, another village in the region, before flying back to Kotzebue. An amazing experience, it took over 5 hours but it was worth it. This is just one of those moments when I can let the photos do the rest of the talking.
I’m back home in Anchorage now and I had another moment when I realised how important these programs are to these communities. It was 10:00am and I was buying a bottle of champagne to celebrate a friend selling his house when an Alaska Native man in his mid 30’s walked into the bottle shop and tried to purchase a bottle of $9.99 vodka. The cashier refused to sell him the bottle because he was already heavily smelling of alcohol and unable to stop himself from swaying. All fair enough reasons to me. Now I know what I’m doing isn’t putting roofs over peoples head nor jobs to work but I hope it can show a glimpse of another possibility the kids could follow. Every year the program expands and goes to even more school. This year 130 volunteers went to 40 schools for a week doing what I did. Promoting another choice in their village and life.
Hopefully it works. I really enjoy the program and heading to some of the most remote parts of the world to share with kids my passion for skiing and the outdoors.
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment.