One success


Sadie Bjorsen (second from left) and Kikkan Randall (far right) head big gang of Alaska Nordic skiers headed to Olympics/USSA photo

Alaska, a state mired in recession, got a bit of good news on Friday – it’s home to one at least business proving hugely successful in the cold, snowy north.


The Nordic Ski Center at Alaska Pacific University was this year responsible for producing just shy of half the skiers named to the U.S. Olympic Cross-Country Skiing Team.

Led by 35-year-old Anchorage reared Kikkan Randall, an already four-time Olympian, skiers from the APU University Elite Team filled nine of the 20 slots on the U.S. team. All told, almost half of the 22 members of that team are headed to the Olympics Feb. 9 through Feb. 25 in Pyeongchang, Korea.

One will, however, be competing for a different country.  Jessica Yeaton, who was born in Australia and moved to Alaska at age 12, will ski for the country of her birth. Yeaton grew up in Alaska, went to school in Montana, and then moved back to Alaska to train under the tutelage of APU coach Erik Flora, who has turned a tiny, 49th state university into a something of a manufacturing plant for world-class Nordic skiers.

The poor stepsister to the large University of Alaska system, APU reports an enrollment of fewer than 750 students and is the days considering a transition from a small, liberal arts school into the nation’s 37th “tribal college,” which could provide access to federal funding. 

A financially struggling institution, APU has only one athletic program – Nordic skiing. But it has been a monster of a success.

Along with the big group of cross-country skiers headed to the Olympics, APU has helped Alaska load the rosters for the U.S. national teams for the FIS Cross Country World Junior and U23 Championships in Switzerland later this month.

The U.S. Olympic Committee Coach of the Year in 2014, Flora has attributed APU’s success to both careful physiological conditioning and a psychological can-do attitude that started way back in 1988 with a then unknown Randall, a young woman possessed of big talent and even more determination.

Together she and Flora worked their way toward her first Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002. Along they way, the duo picked up a lot of company on the road to success.

“What people see is if they can do it, I can do it,” Flora told FasterSkier in 2014. “It kind of trickles through the group … to be out in the rain day after day … after a three-hour [workout] and knowing that you have to get up and do it all again the next day…”

That would be rain falling at the Thomas Training Center on Eagle Glacier, near a mile high in the Chugach Mountains above the ski-resort community of Girdwood just east of Anchorage. The ability to train almost year-round on snow there has been a definite plus for APU.

Jim Galanes, the APU ski coach before Flora, long pitched Eagle Glacier as “the best summer skiing in the world,” and it’s only got better with upgrades in the housing in recent years.

A top-notch training facility coupled with Flora’s now international renown as a coach attracts Nordic skiers to Alaska from all over the country, but Flora remains committed to fostering Alaska talent as well.

There are a whole gang of young Alaskans in his Olympic pipeline along with that gaggle of  2018 winter Olympians identified as “from” elsewhere, although many have been calling Alaska home for years.

While Alaskans in other businesses might be fleeing the state because of the economic downturn, skiing is one business that has the flow going the opposite direction.



4 replies »

  1. Craig, this story really strikes at my heart. I totally agree with you that Alaska Pacific University has become the premier nordic program in the country and is nothing short of a fantastic success. Interestingly you and I crossed paths back when I managed (salvaged) the Eagle Glacier Nordic Training Center (as it was called then). When I took over operation the common thinking was it was another Alaskan “white elephant” – long on dreams buy short of practicality. And it certainly had been mismanaged by USSA and USBA along with the crash of the Anchorage Olympic bid.
    So I also give credit to Jim Galanes. APU, and Erick Flora for helping APU take over ownership of the USFS permit and supporting the Thomas Training Center operations. I think everyone can now agree that the facility at Eagle Glacier is an extremely valuable component of the nordic skier success. Additionally, a number things have occurred since APU took over. 1. Reliable helicopter service. 2. A large increase in skier sponsorship support from Alaska businesses which was lacking before. However, I would like to remind everyone that the development of the Eagle Glacier facility was supported by major contributions from Alaska businesses during the Olympic heyday, surplus profits from Peter Uberroths LA Olympics and many many volunteers in those years. There were a few bumps along the way but we can now all be proud of its current success.

    • strike at the heart of (something):
      “To attack the central part or most crucial element of something; to attack the part that allows something to function.”

      • Craig, haven’t they invited you to hang out and write a story yet from 5500ft? It truly is a wonderland. February would be PrimeTime! March! April! May! The nordic athletes rarely use the facility before July. These other months should be called fundraising months. But I haven’t been to Eagle since Nina hung up her skis and Kikkan started.

  2. Is Bean’s Café a “business”? What products does Bean’s Café make or what services does it sell to fund its operation? Answer – not much. It is an organization that relies on donations from others to fund its operations. It would be a stretch, and somewhat of an insult to people (such as me) that operate real businesses, to refer to Bean’s as a “business”. It’s not. It’s a non-profit charitable organization.

    Same with the APU ski program. It is not a business. Elite skiers don’t fund all the costs of their training. They don’t sell products or services that cover all their costs. It is a charitable organization. If funds from donors and grants dried up, its revenues wouldn’t come close to keeping its doors open. Just like with Beans.

    So it’s a stretch to say this is a recession bucking business in Alaska. Cuz it’s not a business and it takes lots of good will money being pumped into it to keep it alive. And when a lot of the money comes from Conoco … you gotta ask where their head, and heart is. You got homeless people sleeping in the atrium of Conoco’s high-rise offices downtown, but Conoco execs give money to APU elite skiers instead of giving it to Beans or other homeless-related non-profits.

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