The Arctic Circle.

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.

First flying to Kotzebute on a small but normal plane. Photo credit Seth Adams
First flying to Kotzebue on a small but relatively normal plane. Photo credit Seth Adams
Touchdown in the Arctic. We were greeted to strong winds and snow. Photo credit Seth Adams
Touchdown in the Arctic. We were greeted to strong winds and snow. Photo credit Seth Adams
Flying to Noorvik.
Flying to Noorvik.

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.

Lauren about to start a game with some of the kids.
Lauren about to start a game with some of the kids.
With a class. Photo credit Seth Adams
With a class out on a frozen lake. Photo credit Seth Adams
Lauren taking a class photo with equipment laid out in front read for the next class. Photo credit Seth Adams
Lauren taking a class photo with equipment laid out in front ready for the next class. Photo credit Seth Adams

The village has roughly 600 people in it perched on the edge of the Kobuk river.

Part of Noorvik looking down from the hill we played on with the kids. The big building to the left is the school.
Part of Noorvik looking down from the hill we played on with the kids. The big building to the left is the school.
Waiting for the thaw. Photo credit Seth Adams.
Waiting for the thaw. Photo credit Seth Adams.
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Lauren and I enjoying a 10:30pm sunset over the Kobuk river and Brooks Mountain Range. Photo credit Seth Adams.
A grizzly but common sight. A family had just butchered a Caribou out the front of there house. later i noticed some seals in the shed to waiting to be butchered. Photo credit Seth Adams
A grizzly but common sight. A family had just butchered a Caribou out the front of there house. Later I noticed some seals in the shed too, waiting to be butchered. Photo credit Seth Adams
The natural fridge. the temp never goes above 0 for months so a blanket to just cover it from the sun is all it needs. Photo credit Seth Adams
The natural fridge. The temperature never goes above 0 degrees C for months so a blanket to just cover it from the sun is all it needs. Photo credit Seth Adams
Due to the some of the first contact with "white people" being Russian, many of people follow the Russian Orthodox faith. Photo credit Seth Adams
Due to the some of the first contact with “white people” being Russian, many of people follow the Russian Orthodox faith. Photo credit Seth Adams

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.

Using the Infrared lazar rifle. Photo credit Seth Adams
Using the Infrared rifle. Photo credit Seth Adams

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.

Luke leading the kids across the lake. Photo credit Seth Adams
Luke leading the kids across the lake. Photo credit Seth Adams
Still a kid at heart. The kids call jumping flying so often they would ask if we had seen them fly. Photo credit Seth Adams
Still a kid at heart. The kids call jumping “flying” so often they would ask if we had seen them fly. Photo credit Seth Adams

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.

skiing the Arctic. Photo credit Seth Adams
Skiing the Arctic. Photo credit Seth Adams
On the road to Selawik. Photo credit Seth Adams
On the road to Selawik. Photo credit Seth Adams
On the track to Selawik. A cross stands alone. A man lost to the Arctic. Photo credit Seth Adams
On the track to Selawik. A cross stands alone. A man lost to the Arctic. Photo credit Seth Adams
For 20km we could just make out the faint lines of the 4 wind turbines in Selawik. At first when we saw them it was exciting but they never seemed to get closer until the final bend in the river! Photo credit Seth Adams
For almost 20km we could just make out the faint lines of 4 wind turbines in Selawik. At first when we saw them it was exciting but they never seemed to get closer until the final bend in the river! Photo credit Seth Adams
Flying back to Kotzebute, first on a small 8 seater. For the record, these pilots are amazingly good and super smooth! Photo credit Seth Adams
Flying back to Kotzebue, first on a small 8 seater. For the record, these pilots are amazingly good and super smooth! Photo credit Seth Adams
Lauren, Myself, Luke, Seth and Rob. Photo credit Seth Adams
From left: Lauren, Myself, Luke, Seth and Rob. Photo credit Seth Adams

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.

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