History of NSCF

The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks has been in existence for more than 50 years. Initially much of the club’s activity, and most of the cross country skiing in Fairbanks, took place in the area surrounding the University, where Ivar Skarland developed a trail system that now wends its way through several subdivisions and neighborhoods north of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) campus.

Since the mid-1970s the focus of much of the club’s efforts has been Birch Hill. The Birch Hill trails were originally created by the late Jim Whisenhant and the Lathrop High School Ski Team (of which Jim was the coach). These trails were the site of the 1977 USSA Junior National Championships, the first major national event held in Fairbanks.

With funding from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, there was a major upgrade to the facility in preparation for the 1982 Arctic Winter Games, during which time the trail system underwent a major reconfiguration. Floyd Reishus, former Eielson HS Ski Coach and former UAF Assistant Ski Coach, is the person who designed and laid out the new trail system.

In 1984, the US Ski Association awarded NSCF the Paul Bacon Award, emblematic of excellence in race organization, to recognize our efforts in organizing a highly successful FIS World Cup event on only two weeks notice. The switch in venues from Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, was necessitated by a lack of snow there.

The trail system was further modified following the 1984 World Cup, incorporating a cloverleaf design that has made Birch Hill one of the most spectator-friendly trail systems in the world. The first trail lighting project began at Birch Hill that same year, with about six kilometers illuminated. Since that initial project, an additional five kilometers of trails, both at the Birch Hill Recreation Area and on the White Bear Trail on Fort Wainwright, have been lighted, bringing the total of trails available for night skiing to 11 kilometers.

The Nordic Ski Club has helped host a number of national and international events including the 1995 and 2003 Junior Olympics (for which the NSCF was again awarded the USSA’s Paul Bacon award), as well as several highly successful of Nor-Am and Super Tour events.

The tremendous progress that has been made, not just at Birch Hill, but in all aspects of the ski program in the Interior has been possible only through the hard work of many volunteers. Although it would be impossible to thank all the thousands of individuals who have contributed to the effort over the years, here is a list of recent club presidents:

  • 2012-2013: Pat Reinhard and Bruce Jamieson
  • 2010-2012: Mike O’Brien
  • 2009-2010: Mike Ruckhaus
  • 2008-2009: Dan Johnson
  • 2005-2008: Nick Nugent
  • 2004-2005: Byron Broda
  • 2003-2004: Jim Mery
  • 1999-2003: Steve Sorensen
  • 1998-1999: Kent Karns
  • 1997-1998: Kent Slaughter
  • 1996-1997: Peter Delamere
  • 1995-1996: Donna Hawkins
  • 1994-1995: Mary Lou Luebke

Through the efforts of many people, NSCF, since its inception, has played the leading role in creating a large and strong cross country ski community in Interior Alaska.

Birch Hill Recreation Area

The late Jim Whisenhant, after whom the Birch Hill ski trails are named, is the single individual most responsible for putting Birch Hill on the path to becoming the facility it is today.

This is a draft article about the history of work at Birch Hill. At this time it is primarily a timeline of various projects, with brief comments on some items. Please feel free to contribute your historical knowledge by sending emails with your information to John Estle.

1975

Original trail clearing activity at Birch Hill, led by Lathrop HS Ski Team Coach Jim Whisenhant. Those doing the trail work included:

[who?]

1976

1977

USSA Junior National Championships held in March

The stadium used for the 1977 Junior Nationals was used as a parking area for the 2003 Junior Oylmpics

1978

1979

1980

1981

Trail project – This year was the first major trail project at Birch Hill Recreation Area since the original clearing. This was done in preparation for the 1982 Arctic Winter Games. The project was funded by a state or borough grant. The trails were laid out by Floyd Reishus, the Eielson High School Ski Team coach, under the oversight of a committee that included Bob White, among others.

The trail system consisted of a 5km “Basic” loop, with a 2.5Km cutoff. Coming off the “Basic” loop were four 2.5km loops, plus a warmup loop that included some of the present “Warmup Loop”, for a total of 16+ kilometers of trails. The 2.5km loops were named after colored geometric forms. The loops included:

  • Green Circle (present day North 40, previously known as the Old Green and Black Gold)
  • Black Cross (present day Black Hole)
  • ???? (present day Outhouse loop)
  • Yellow Triangle (present day Tower loop)

The project included construction of a very narrow stadium near the center of the current Stadium. This original stadium was approximately 1/3 of the width of the current Stadium (expanded in 2003). The original stadium included two flagpoles near the center of the stadium, to hold the flags needed to fly for the Arctic Winter Games. However, they were in the way for most events.

At or near this time, a small log warming hut was built on the site of the present day “Old Warming Hut.”

1982

7th Arctic Winter Games held in March utilizing new trail system

1983

Trail Project – 10km White Bear Trail constructed on Fort Wainwright land

1984

FIS Cross Country World Cup Men’s 15km interval start and 3x10km relay held in March

Trail Project – In March, some small modifications were made to the trails to accommodate the World Cup event. The two large flagpoles in the middle of the stadium were removed to accommodate the relay start. Bob Baker had the pleasure of cutting down the poles with a chain saw.

Trail Project – Major trail system reconfiguration in response to the World Cup event. The World Cup racers started, went into the woods and then reappeared just before the finish of the race. UAF Ski Coach John Estle initiated a project to convert the trail system into a cloverleaf design that would bring skiers back into the stadium. This concept has turned Birch Hill into one of the best places in the world to watch cross country ski races.

Among the changes were chopping up and re-routing the Basic 5km loop, so that it’s new segments became access routes to the 2.5km loops sprouting from the sides. Additionally, the Warmup loop was expanded to include portions of the old Basic loop, and its direction was reversed.

1985

Lighting Project – Initial Birch Hill Lighting project? – 5.7km of lights

Trail Project – 1985 was the year that skating came into vogue, so lots of work was done to widen the Birch Hill trails to accommodate both skating and classic skiing.

1986

1987

Biathlon range added on Fort Wainwright in preparation for 1988 Arctic Winter Games

1988

10th Arctic Winter Games held in March

1989

1990

1991

First log warming hut burned

1992

New log warming hut constructed (this building is now called the “Old Warming Hut” – 2003)

1993

1994

1995

Heated bathrooms added to new log warming hut thanks to FNSB Mayor Jim Sampson

USSA Junior Olympic Cross Country Ski Championships held in March. Kent Slaughter is Chief of Competition.

1996

1997

1998

1999

NSCF President Steve Sorensen is the driving force behind the construction of the Terrain Garden

2000

Trail project – East Ramp and West Ramp added, Ramp is widened, Relay Alley is constructed to accommodate large mass starts safely (i.e. JO Relay) and Relay Loop comes into existence.

Lighting project – Lighting is added to Relay Loop – about 1km of lights added for about $90,000.

2001

Trail project – Tower Direct added for use at Junior Olympics

Lighting project – Lights are added to East Ramp, Tower Direct, West Ramp

2002

Birch Hill Cross Country Ski Center (BHCCSC) construction begun in May 2002 (completed February 2003); funded by $2.25 million federal Economic Development grant secured through Senator Ted Stevens, supplemented by $200,000 contribution from FNSB to increase the size of the Assembly Pod and basemen (the “Cave”).

Lighting project – 3.2Km of lights on White Bear from boundary of Birch Hill Recreation Area to Sonot Cutoff and back; funded by $267,000 federal grant through Defense Department

Biathlon Range Stadium Lighting Building project – this project included construction of a 10-point 50m biathlon range, construction of a stadium sufficient to accommodate biathlon starts and finishes and penalty loop, lighting sufficient for shooting at night, and a building to accommodate race officials, timing, etc. Funded by a $985,000 federal grant through the Defense Department.

Stadium Reconstruction project – As part of the earthwork for the BHCCSC, the Birch Hill ski stadium was reconstructed to accommodate the new race formats such as sprints, skiathlons (pursuits), mass-starts and the large relay fields such as those that would happen at the 2003 Junior Olympics. Work included substantial cutting in the center of the stadium, and filling in the NE corner of the stadium. The stadium dimensions are about 35m-36m wide by about 175m long – a far cry from the original stadium constructed in 1981 for the Arctic Winter Games

Trail projects – the upper 1km portion of the Old Green/Black Gold/North 40 was widened to serve as a warmup loop for Junior Olympics. A new cutoff trail was built so that Junior Olympics coaches and skiers could test wax using the North 40 loop and access the testing area from the lower parking lot, where all the waxing trailers would be located at Junior Olympics. Trees were cleared from the lower portion of the North 40, but no cat work was done at this time.

Trail projects – all the old luge bridges were taken out and replaced with solid fill. This included three bridges: two on the Competition 1km, and one on Black Hole

Trail projects – start mesa

2003

Birch Hill Cross Country Ski Center completed in February and opened in time for the Alaska State High School Cross Country Ski Championships and the USSA Junior Olymipic Cross Country Ski Championships.

Parking lot/access road project

2004

2005

Black Funk Cutoff, Classic Sprint Cutoff, and South Tower segment added

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Major Events Hosted by NSCF

Below is a listing of major events hosted by the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks

International Events

1982 – Arctic Winter Games

1984 – International Ski Federation Men’s World Cup Race, March 19-20
15km Classic won by Gunde Svan
3 x 10Km Classic Relay won by Sweden (Jan Ottosson, Thomas Wassberg, Gunde Svan)
Chief of Organizing Committee: Lance Parrish
Chief of Competition Committee: John Estle

1988 – Arctic Winter Games

National Events

1977 – US Ski Association Junior National Championships
Short individual race, long individual race, relay (all classic technique)

1995 – US Ski Association Junior Olympics
Prologue (non medal event) at Alaskaland (Pioneer Park)
Short individual race, long individual race, relay (all classic technique)
Chief of Competition Committee: Kent Slaughter

2003 – US Ski Association Junior Olympics
Sprint (free), short individual race (free), long individual race (classic), relay (cl-free-free)
Chief of Organizing Committee: Kent Karns
Chief of Competition Committee: John Estle

Other Major Events

Several Nor-Am/SuperTour events in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, including the US Ski Team and/or the Canadian Ski Team, as well as many top national-level racers from the US and Canada, some college teams visiting from the lower 48, and occasional Japanese participants.

Late 1970s to present day
1-2 Tang Cup/Besh Cup USSA Alaska/Cross Country Alaska (CCAK) Junior Olympic Qualifying races each year

2002 – ASAA State High School Championships
Long interval-start free, short interval start classic, cl-cl-fr-fr relay
Chief of Competition: Greg Whisenhant

2003 – ASAA State High School Championships
Chief of Competition: John Estle

2004 – ASAA State High School Championships
Long interval-start free, short interval start classic, cl-cl-fr-fr relay
Chief of Competition: Greg Whisenhant

2005 – ASAA State High School Championships
Long mass-start free, short interval start classic, cl-cl-fr-fr relay
Chief of Competition: John Estle
Included the first mass-start event in the history of the ASAA Championships
The event was scheduled for Anchorage, but was moved to Fairbanks about 10 days prior to the event due to a lack of snow cover on the Anchorage trails.

Annual Events

Turkey Day Relays – held every year since approximately 1966 on the day after Thanksgiving. Jim Whisenhant is credited with starting this event and nurturing it to the point where it became one of the major events on the NSCF calendar.

Skiathon – held in early March on the UAF and Skarland Trails since the 1960’s or 1970’s (not an NSCF event)

Sonot Kkaazoot – held every year since 1988 on the last Saturday in March. The normal start and finish is on the Chena River near the Cushman Street Bridge. However, some years it has been held entirely on the Birch Hill Trails due to river ice conditions. The Denali State Bank has sponsored this event from the start. Bob and Sharon Baker were entirely responsible for the creation and sustenance of this event through the early years.

Equinox Ultra Ski – was held near the vernal equinox starting in the mid 1990’s. Initially the course went from Fairbanks to Nenana on the Tanana River, but later reversed direction. Audun and Sally Endestad have been the major forces behind this event. This event is no longer held, but has been replaced by the Tanana River Challenge, which is put on by another group.

Race Series

The Town Race Series was begun in the winter of 1996-1997. The number of races in the series have varied from 3 to 5 per season. There have been four races per season for the past several years. This series has introduced sprint racing, the skiathlon (FIS term: non-stop pursuit), and other race formats to the Fairbanks racing community. The owners of the North Pole refinery, MAPCO, Williams, and Flint Hill Resources Alaska, have been the series sponsor since the second season. Event sponsors, in order of longevity, include Fairbanks Youth Sports, Beaver Sports, GCI, Auto Service Company, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Thanks to these sponsors, no elementary, junior high school or high school student has ever had to pay an entry fee for these races. John Estle was the creator of this concept and the series. Volunteers trained in this series have been responsible for the high quality events hosted by the NSCF since this series started.

The Distance Series was begun in the 1998-1999 season. This series includes three races, and is focused toward adult and masters skiers. All Weather Sports was the series sponsor for the first several seasons before the business was closed. Since then, the series has been sponsored by Chest Medicine Fairbanks (Owen Q. Hanley, MD) and Raven Cross Country (Fred Raymond). The series is a staple of the season and regularly draws 50-80 racers per event.

UAF Ski Team

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has had a ski team since the late 1950s, and UAF athletes have competed at the national level since the mid-1960s.

The UAF Ski Team was started by then Athletic Director Fred Boyle in the late 1950s. Fred was a skier himself, and his rule was, “If the skiers can beat me, then they are good enough to go Outside to race.”

UAF Ski Coaches

If you see any errors here, please contact the author, John Estle.

1959-1963 – Fred Boyle (also Athletic Director)

1963-1967 – Jim Mahaffey (moved to Alaska Methodist University–now APU–to coach)

1967-1974 – Bill Smith (Bill was a friend of Jim Mahaffey’s and a teammate of Jim’s at Western State College under Sven Wiik; he also served as UAF rifle coach until the early 1980’s)

1974-1975 – Brian ???? (can’t remember the name)

1975-1976 – Ole Kristiansen

1976-1977 – Tom Besh (he moved from UAF to be the first coach at UAA when they were starting up their program; he was killed in a plane crash in the Talkeetna Mountains in 1992)

1977-1978 – Guy Thibodeau

1978-1981 – Mark Woldseth

1981-1982 – Marianne (Vanenkevort) Carlson and Woody Wenstrom (they were coaches at West Valley HS, and when a search for a coaching candidate came up empty in 1982, they served as coaches for one year.

1982-1990 – John Estle (came to Fairbanks after coaching at University of Vermont; left UAF to become Head Coach of US Cross Country Ski Team)

1990-1999 – Paul Beberg (had been assistant coach to John Estle for prior two seasons; before that he worked with the program at University of New Mexico)

1999-2004 – Bill McDonnell (came to Fairbanks after coaching at St. Michael’s College in Vermont)

2004-Present – Scott Jerome (came to Fairbanks after coaching at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota)

UAF All-American Skiers

We need help here! Please contact John Estle if you can add to the list or fill in the blanks.

1986 – Stowe, VT – Anne Berit Nilsen, 6th in Individual

1987 – Anchorage, AK – Anne Berit Nilsen, 4th in Individual, Donna (DeVoe) DiFolco, 7th in Individual, Nilsen-DiFolco-Diane Linn – 3rd in Relay

2004 – Hanover, NH ? – Sigrid Aas, National Champion in skating and classic events (UAF’s only national champion in skiing)

2007 – Steamboat Springs, CO – Marius Korthauer, 2nd in _____, __ in ________; Bart Dengel, 8th in ?????

Fairbanksans in International Competition

Beginning in the mid-1970s many NSCF members have been on US Ski Teams at major international competitions. Below is an incomplete listing of Fairbanksans who have skied and coached for the US at Junior World Championships, World University Games, World Championships, and the Olympic Games. Included are people who grew up in Fairbanks and skied in international competition after they left Fairbanks to go to go to college, or who moved away from Fairbanks, and UAF skiers who competed in those events while at UAF or while residing in Fairbanks.

We know this list is incomplete and is missing some people and events. If you know of people who have been left off this list please contact John Estle.

1972

Olympic Winter Games – Sapporo, Japan – Chris Haines (formerly of Lathrop HS)

1974

European Junior Championships (precursor to Junior World Championships) – Tom Siebels – Bronze medal in Relay with Tim Caldwell and Bill Koch

1976

World University Games – Lake Placid, NY – Marianne (Vanenkevort) Carlson, Roxanne (Vanenkevort) Buckmeier

Olympic Winter Games – Innsbruck/Seefeld, Austria – Chris Haines

1980

Olympic Winter Games – Lake Placid, NY – Judy Rabinowitz

1982

Junior World Championships – ? Norway ? – Ian White (competing for Australia)

World Championships – Oslo, Norway – Judy Rabinowitz, Audun Endestad, Ian White (competing for Australia)

1983

Junior World Championships – Mara Rabinowitz, Andy White (competing for Australia)

World University Games – Sofia, Bulgaria – Matt Vanenkevort, John Estle (Assistant Coach)

1984

Olympic Winter Games – Sarajevo, Yugoslavia – Judy Rabinowitz, Audun Endesdad (18th in 50Km), John Estle (Assistant Coach)

1985

World Championships – Seefeld, Austria – Audun Endestad

1987

World University Games – Vysoke Tatry, Poland – Donna (DeVoe) DiFolco

World Championships – Oberstdorf, Germany – Audun Endestad

1988

Olympic Winter Games – Calgary/Canmore, Alberta – no Fairbanks participants

1989

World Championships – Lahti, Finland – Audun Endestad

1991

World Championships – Val di Fiemme, Italy – Audun Endestad, John Estle (Head Coach), Floyd Reishus (Wax Technician)

World University Games – Sapporo, Japan – Kelly Larimore, Paul Beberg (Assistant Coach/Wax Technician)

1992

Olympic Winter Games – Albertville/Les Saisies, France – John Estle (Head Coach), Floyd Reishus (Wax Technician)

1993

World Championships – Falun, Sweden – John Estle (Head Coach)

1994

Olympics – Lillehammer, Norway – no Fairbanks representatives

Junior World Championships – Breitenwang, Austria – Aelin Peterson, Nick Smetzer, John Estle (Head Coach)

1995

World Championships – Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada – no Fairbanks representatives

1996

No Olympics or World Championships

1997

World Championships – Trondheim, Norway – no Fairbanks representatives

World University Games – Muju, South Korea – Paul Beberg (Head Coach)

1998

Olympic Winter Games – Nagano, Japan – no Fairbanks representatives

1999

World Championships – Ramsau, Austria – no Fairbanks representatives

2000

No Olympics or World Championships

2001

World Championships – Lahti, Finland – no Fairbanks representatives

2002

Olympic Winter Games – Salt Lake City/Soldier Hollow, Utah – Aelin Peterson, Members of Stadium Crew: John Estle (Chief of Stadium), Norma Haubenstock, Susan Faulkner, Lance Parrish

2003

World Championships – Val di Fiemme, Italy – Aelin Peterson

2004

No Olympics or World Championships

2005

World Championships – Oberstdorf, Germany – no Fairbanks representatives

2006

Junior World Championships – Tyson Flaharty

Olympic Winter Games – Torina/Pragelato, Italy – no Fairbanks representatives

2007

Junior World Championships – Elisabeth Haberman (UAF – Soldotna)

World U23 Championships – Tyson Flaharty, Bart Dengel (UAF – Valdez)

World Championships – Sapporo, Japan – no Fairbanks representatives

2009

World Championships – Liberec, Czech Republic

2010

Olympic Winter Games – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

2011

World Championships – Oslo, Norway

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017