Ever wonder what those cross-country runners do in the winter to stay fit. Chances are, at least for the high schoolers, you’ll find quite a few of them strapped into skis.
For Homer High School’s Nordic ski team, close to half of the teammates are also runners, according to head coach Cole Talbot. Those who don’t run competitively are just as active, he said, with everything from hiking with their families to fishing in the summer.
Talbot had his first year with the team last winter when he was a volunteer assistant coach. Born in Anchorage, he’s been skiing since he was 2 years old. He skied competitively for Service High School and at University of Vermont before returning to be a coach at Service. His move to Homer last year saw him switching from a team with upwards of 80 members to the Mariners’ group of less than 20 students, he said.
“I think the coolest thing is working with a smaller group,” Talbot said.
This allows the coaches to have more of an impact on the athletes and for their work with them to be more effective, he said.
Much like Homer’s active running community, the cross-country skiing extends far beyond the confines of Homer High School.
“It’s been a really wonderful way to become apart of the community as well,” Talbot said of his coaching.
Many of the high school skiers come up through the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club’s Junior program for kids. Then they usually transition to racing at the middle school level, Talbot said, so that by the time they reach the high school team, they’ve got a solid base of training.
“My job is actually very small in terms of what happens on the entire team,” he said.
The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club helps support the high school team, as do the parents of the student athletes, he said.
More than the experience the students get from a supportive skiing community, they get to the high school level with a tight-knit group of teammates. Siblings Jacob and Katie Davis have experienced this firsthand growing up in Homer.
“I got into it because of my sister,” Jacob, a senior, said. “My parents were just looking for something to do in the winter, and Katie did it. I didn’t do it, but I did it the next year because my friends were in it.”
“I’ve always just loved snow and … loved getting outside when it’s wintertime,” Katie said.
Jacob described skiing as one of the few sports in addition to running that has a strong community presence outside of high school in Homer.
“It was really the first thing that I was a part of, and it just stuck with me,” he said.
Both siblings said many of the teammates have been skiing together for years and know each other well.
“It’s a really great community,” Katie said. “Everyone is just super supportive of each other and we all just get out and have fun with each other.”
Looking ahead to this season, Talbot said coaches are focusing on strength training and endurance. The team does leg and core strength training exercises specific to skiers throughout the season, he said.
“The biggest two things for us in terms of getting the kids … ready to ski fast and ski efficiently is that they have to have a good … aerobic basis,” Talbot said.
Katie, a junior, said the fact that the sport has multiple aspects other than strength is part of why she likes it so much. It requires mental strength and technique as much as endurance.
This year’s team has seven freshmen and a few upperclassmen who haven’t been on the ski team before. The girls team is pretty solid, Talbot said. the boys team has four seniors, so there’ll be a bit of turnover next year, he said.
“For me, the biggest thing right now is building a really solid team right now in terms of building their support,” Talbot said.
The girls team only saw one senior graduate last year. In addition, some of its strongest skiers are sophomores and juniors, so they’ll be around the keep the team strong next year as well, Talbot said.
“Last year we did lose to Grace (Christian School),” Katie said. “And I think that we have a pretty strong girls team this year, so I think that we can definitely challenge them.”
At the same time, she said it’s nice to see so many new skiers in the program. Jacob also noted that a big part of being on the team is simply having fun and helping to build up that larger Homer ski community.
“Skiing is really … a pretty lifelong sport, especially living in Alaska,” Talbot said.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.