FVCS Nordic Ski Club
By Peter Erickson
Glacier City Gazette Intern
Every Monday after school, during cold winter months, children of Four Valleys Community School Nordic Ski Club meet on Girdwood trails to learn, play and have a good time on skis.
Coaches like Briana Sullivan run kids through games and drills that build on techniques and help to develop love for this classic Girdwood sport.
Though Nordic skiing has become an established institution in Girdwood Valley, FVCS Nordic Club will always be tied to its grassroots beginning. Heather Durtchi was among the first that organized the ski club in 2004.
“She and other local parents wanted to introduce their kids to Nordic skiing as a team sport but didn’t want to make the drive to Anchorage,” said Catherine McDermott, Executive Director of FVCS.
Durtchi did the research, rallied parents and the FVCS Nordic Ski Club was born.
“Girdwood is a can-do kind of community where if we have an idea and want to make something happen, we do it, and the support is there,” said Gabriele Hoessle, current head of FVCS Ski Club.
Hoessle was one of the original coaches from back when the club was just getting off the ground, her daughter’s participation being the motivating factor.
“And now I run the program because it is all about getting the kids outside and learning a sport that will be with them even when they are old,” Hoessle said.
According to coaches this involves familiarizing students with equipment and teaching them techniques that will make them stronger skiers, all while keeping things fun from a ‘kid angle’ by introducing skills and drills through games like capture the flag on skis.
Before any of this can happen though, the kids need to be outfitted with gear, often times provided by the club.
“Over the years I have purchased used skis, poles and boots. I have a very large collection of gear that I then loan out to children who don’t have any so they can ski. I think I outfitted 13 children this season,” Hoessle said.
Volunteers are an integral part of Ski Club success. When Durtchi started the club it was parents who volunteered to outfit and coach the kids.
“Now, half of my volunteers are community members who don’t have children but enjoy supporting them in getting outside and having fun,” Hoessle said.
After the kids are outfitted and the season is underway, Hoessle’s commitment shifts to communication with parents, detailing where the groups are to meeting and updating according to conditions.
She also develops a small lesson plan for volunteers, providing a structure of learning to be incorporated into a day’s fun.
As Monday approaches, Hoessle gets in touch with local volunteer ski trail groomers, letting them know where the club will be training. According to Hoessle, they are very supportive and always have the trail freshly groomed for the kids.
“And we have snacks at each session. I organize parents to volunteer for that. They make hot drinks and bring nutritious snacks. The children love that part,” Hoessle said.
Coaches are thankful for effort each Ski Club member provides.
“[The kids] are incredibly lucky to have her,” coach Briana Sullivan said of Hoessle. “Our community is so fortunate. The Nordic program is successful because she is so dedicated and energetic.”
“Gabrielle is the type of volunteer who brings enthusiasm and dedication to everything she does.” McDermott said. “She covers all the bases, and leaves no detail out. She keeps the skis and boots in repair and waxed, and outfits skiers who don’t have their own gear. It’s a huge task, and she does it with grace and excellence. She leads the program with a ‘what will make this fun for the kids?’ attitude, and the kids always have a blast.”
Under normal winter conditions, the program relies on multi-use groomed trails connecting miles of skiing in the valley. These become prohibitively difficult or even inaccessible during low snow years.
Fortunately for the club, Alyeska Resort has allowed Ski Club use of Wade’s Way Magic Carpet area as an alternative to unusable trails.
“In fact, in 2015, Nordic skiing at the Magic Carpet was the only time the kids were able to get on skis,” Hoessle said.
Thankfully this year has been comparatively forgiving as the club has had access to the first kilometer of the Girdwood Nordic 5k. This location has provided the club with a unique ecological lesson tie in.
“The meadows are so fun to ski, yet need a thicker base layer of snow and solid freeze,” Hoessle said.
According to the club, a minimum of 18 inches of snow is necessary for a groom or track pack in order to best protect the wetlands. As the kids learn these facts they gain respect and appreciation for the ecosystem they ski within.
“Our location is one of the prettiest places and we are very fortunate to be able to gather and get out together,” Hoessle said.
This holistic approach at teaching is only the beginning for Ski Club members. Once they graduate, Nordic Ski Club members possess the skills to move onto middle school teams, and often times many do.
According to Catherine McDermott there is a noticeable bump in the number of applicants to junior high teams in comparison to the size of the programs.
“The FVCS program helps to get the kids started young and introduces Nordic skiing as a team sport at an early age,” McDermott said.
Through FVCS Ski Club, participants form bonds and a deep love for a sport that will become a part of who they are, and all while playing in a brilliant setting and growing into athlete adults.