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  • Julie Spackman

Skeetawk Delivers All Things Snow

The view from Skeetawk was breathtaking this morning as the sun lit up the Chugach Mountains across the Mat-Su Valley on one side, and illuminated the jagged ridges of the Talkeetnas on the other. The temperature hovered around 25F (-3.89C) degrees with minimal wind–perfect conditions for the opening day of the alpine competitions.   


The single three-person chair lift was running and open to the public, and locals gathered to make the most of the great conditions and excellent views from the rotating lift. The mix of local skiers and boarders along with competitors is fitting for the community ski area.  Skeetawk is derived from the Dena'ina word Shk'ituk't, which means "where we (all) slide down.”  Today, the lower terrain park was alive with snowboarders while giant slalom racers sped down the Cat-accessed mid-mountain runs.


On the top of the slope, the Rail Jam competition rallied over a 100 yard (92m) run. Four different rails challenged riders in each of two parallel runs. With the very last rail close to a steep embankment, practice runs were important to ensure that athletes knew to take the last one at a speed just fast enough to carve out one last turn- but not so fast so as to go off the edge. 


The riders practiced on the rails, taking them one at a time and respecting each other’s space. If an athlete fell off a rail, those waiting above to “drop in” to the course patiently waited while the area cleared. As athletes descended the course, a wiggle of the hips positioned the board crosswise to the mountain and allowed them to check their speed before taking a rail. Later in the afternoon, athletes were scheduled to compete over an hour and a half of snowboarding tricks and skills.


In snowboarding, each run is not scored, but the progression of difficulty of the athlete’s tricks is noted over the collection of runs. An overall score for style is determined at the end of the group of runs. 


Northwest Territories parents Cynthia White and Jennifer Lavers watched and cheered as team members warmed up on the course. 


“Ideally they choose their moves and line at the top of the course,” White said. “During the competition, they will need to advance their moves with each run, in order to earn a better score.” 


Four athletes came out on top after today’s Rail Jam competitions: Miah Gillis (U14F) is bringing home the gold for Alberta North while Team Yukon’s Aven Sutton (U16F), Leo Spiers Leung (U14M), and Stian Langbakk (U16M) secured the remaining three golden ulus!

 

AWG concerns itself with safety within all competitions, and safety in alpine sports is no different. Ski patrol plays a vital role with athletes reaching speeds of 70-95 miles per hour in the Giant Slalom and the potential of injury during a Rail Jam. Skeetawk’s dedicated professional ski patrol and AWG volunteers are supported by a nine-person group from Minnesota. Over 70 athletes will be competing in alpine sports over the course of the AWG.


Bryanna Kollmann, a professional ski patroller in Minnesota just happened to know one of the alpine sport coordinators for AWG. He asked if she would come up for the Games and she said, “Sure! Can I bring some friends?” 


Mary Helm is a registered nurse on the Minnesota ski patrol. She emphasized the efforts to keep the athletes safe. The ski patrollers work together with a “safety first” mantra. They approve everything from checked equipment before competition, to the groomed surfaces, to safety logistics regarding the athlete transport vehicles. The ski patrol is ready to respond to injuries and save lives. 


“If they fall, we haul!,” Mary said. 


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