Due to a variety of reasons related to COVID-19, the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks will change all its scheduled in-person competition events to “virtual” events through the remainder of 2020.
This decision by the NSCF Board of Directors is based on the rapidly increasing rate of COVID-19 infection in Fairbanks and across Alaska, local and statewide hospital capacity (especially regarding ICU beds), and Governor Dunleavy’s extension of the public health emergency through December 16.
The first “virtual” event will be this coming weekend (November 21-22).
“The club has decided to create virtual events because we want to encourage people, especially young people, to get outdoors and stay active during these stressful times,” said Chris Puchner, NSCF president. “Organized competitions are motivating for many people of all ages. We hope our virtual events will help keep people active and healthy.”
Because of the short timeline, please be patient as we scramble to put together an event that will draw meaningful participation but will not expose volunteers or staff to increased risk of infection. There is a lot to think about to make this happen.
Please stay tuned for a more detailed statement from the club regarding the decision, and how the virtual races will be conducted.
Continue reading for a letter from the NSCF President and Competition Events Program Director that more thoroughly explains the reasoning behind the decision to make the races “virtual” through 2020.
Dear NSCF Members, Racers, Parents, Coaches and Race Crew Volunteers,
It goes without saying that the current circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic have placed the NSCFairbanks in unknown territory when it comes to organizing events. Since the coronavirus first became “a thing” this spring, many adjustments have been made to event organization in every sport where competition had been planned.
Because there is so much difference in competition environments from sport to sport, each sport has been faced with making plans that conform to the needs of the sport while ensuring the safety of competitors, coaches, race volunteers and officials, spectators, and peripheral event personnel. Adding to the complexity of that task is the constantly evolving knowledge of the disease, AND the constantly changing level of infection and hospitalization on local, regional, state and national levels.
Luckily, the international sport governing body of skiing (International Ski Federation/FIS), the national governing body (US Ski & Snowboard/USSS) and the state body (Cross Country Alaska/CCAK) have done a lot of heavy lifting in developing, utilizing advice from highly-qualified medical personnel, risk mitigation protocols which can be implemented to substantially reduce the risk of infection to all participants in in-person events.
Two things are obvious: 1) there is no way to reduce risk to zero, and 2) implementing those protocols and conducting races only makes sense if other external factors (e.g. infection rate, hospital capacity utilization) are not at critical levels.
To assist the NSCF BOD in determining the optimal course of action for the welfare of the club and its members and other event participants, and advisory group was formed to discuss the conditions and protocols under which it might be possible to conduct an event without undue risk, AND to evaluate external conditions to see if they excluded the possibility of conducting races in a responsible manner. This group included three physicians, a representative of Nordic Ski Patrol, an EMT/Outdoor Responder and key members of the NSCF’s race crew.
Between the first and second meetings of this group, two things happened: 1) a patient from a rural area who would normally have been sent to hospital in Anchorage was sent instead to Fairbanks, due to Anchorage’s lack of capacity; 2) Governor Dunleavy issued an emergency declaration the basic thrust of which was that every resident of the state needs to hunker down, to the extent practicable, for the next 3-4 weeks.
In light of those two events, and given the rapidly rising infection and hospitalization curves, the NSCF has determined that there should be no in-person competition events through the remainder of 2020.
However, because we believe that it is important that we encourage people – especially young people – to get outdoors and exercise during this unusual time, and because we know that organized competition is motivational for a number of people of all ages, the NSCF will organize “virtual” events at Birch Hill on the weekends scheduled for races, beginning with this coming weekend (November 21-22).
Because this is happening on short notice, please be patient as we do a bit of scrambling to put together an event that is sufficiently attractive to draw meaningful participation, while being practical from the standpoint of not exposing any volunteers or staff to increased risk of infection. There is a lot to think about to make this happen.
The advisory group will meet again (more than once) in the next several weeks to evaluate conditions in the local community and the state to see if that policy should be extended beyond January 1, 2021, or, if there is a substantial favorable change in conditions, to begin, on a cautious basis, implementing all possible mitigation protocols, to begin to once again hold in-person competitions.
We believe strongly that it is important that we follow a process in making these decisions, and that it makes sense to periodically evaluate conditions and adjust policies accordingly, rather than simply make a blanket decision for the entire season when no one knows how conditions will change over that timeframe.
Organizing races has been a major part of the club’s mission since the club’s inception in the 1960’s. We know that there are many members of the club, and the greater ski community, who are motivated by competition. We believe that if conditions improve to the point where the risk mitigation protocols reduce the risk to levels deemed acceptable by the NSCF BOD, we should provide to our membership the option to participate in organized, in-person events. Absent that improvement, there is no reason to create greater risk by holding and in-person event when conditions don’t warrant it.
The NSCF, above all, desires to ensure the safety, health and well-being of its membership and the greater Fairbanks ski community: racers, volunteers, coaches, parents, etc. The NSCF will only resume organizing in-person events when it can be done without an unreasonable risk to the health of participants.
John Estle, NSCF Competition Events Program Director
Chris Puchner, NSCF President, for the NSCF BOD