As a serious snow dump looms tantalizingly close on the horizon, the Mariner ski team is geared up and ready for it. The team, which practices as a co-ed group of more than 20 members, has entered their fourth week of dry-land practice, and is looking ahead to their upcoming races.
“We’re all really sad there’s no snow,” admitted Head Coach Alan Parks. “But we have no control over the weather. We only have control over our athletes’ conditioning and having fun.”
Parks and his assistant coach, Alison O’Hara, who moved up from Homer Middle School this year to coach the Mariners, have gone to long lengths to keep training interesting and beneficial while the athletes wait out the warm spell.
“It’s like summer camp,” O’Hara joked, “Trying to come up with something creative every day.”
This philosophy has inspired practices as diverse as running agility drills with a soccer ball and strength training with rocks on Bishop’s Beach. In general, Parks and O’Hara try to split the week’s practices into sprints, hills and plyometrics or agility training, finishing on Fridays with a long, explorative distance run. O’Hara commented that the biggest hit for the team they coached last year at the HMS was an organized scavenger hunt, where groups of skiers took selfies in front of iconic town features.
Homer High School Athletic Director, Chris Perk, has been impressed with the diversity of workouts Parks and O’Hara continue to script.
“[Our] new coaches have been very creative in getting kids to work on their cardio by playing games so they don’t get burnt out before the snow flies,” said Perk. Being able to keep training light-hearted is important, he emphasized, since the season lasts until mid-February.
Besides building their strength and cardio, the skiers have been working on their technique as best they can. One day a week is dedicated to uphill ski pole bounding, where the athletes use poles to launch themselves in long strides up an incline. O’Hara claims that next to roller skiing, ski pole bounding is the most effective way to simulate skiing and help form important muscle memory that will benefit them on the trails.
Snow permitting, the competitive season will kick off next weekend with the Homer Invite, the team’s first home race. The meet is scheduled for Dec. 5-6, at the Lookout Trails on Ohlson Mountain. Friday’s competition will be a 1.5-2K classic sprint race and Saturday will bring a 5-7K distance skate race. If conditions continue to look bleak, the meet may be postponed or moved further up the peninsula. While this would no doubt be a disappointment, it’s a familiar change in plans, as it happened last season as well.
“Last year was pretty extreme,” Parks said of last winter’s dismal snow fall, where skiers were forced to do dry-land drills in January. “There was some snow in Soldotna, but we were still skiing over grass, leap-frogging from snow patch to snow patch. You’ve just got to keep it fun and energized.”
Senior women’s co-captain Aspen Daigle hasn’t let the slow start to the winter get her down. She aspires to place in the top 10 at regions, with the team taking at least third place. When asked what she wished more people knew about her sport, she touched on teamwork.
“Even though it’s an individual sport, it’s built upon team building. Every day we’re pushing ourselves to be better,” said Daigle.
Parks echoed her sentiment.
“If the community understood how hard these athletes work and how much fun they are having,” he said. “The experiences they’re having on this team aren’t something that goes away. It’s a life lesson, a life sport.”
O’Hara said community was key in her own experience of competing with the Homer Women’s Nordic team.
“I think it’s just such a great community of skiers here in Homer. It can be such a life changer because we have seven months of snow, so we might as well use it and have fun on it,” she said.
The Mariners urge the Homer community to come out and cheer next weekend at their home races. Additionally, they invite the public to partake in their upcoming fundraisers. A Ski Your Age benefit will be held on Dec. 26, with participants, old and young, attempting to ski their age in kilometers. A fundraising gala dinner also will be announced sometime in February or March. The tentative schedule of upcoming ski meets includes:
Dec. 5: Homer Invite at Lookout Trails, 3 p.m.;
Dec. 6: Homer Invite at Lookout Trails, 10 a.m.;
Dec. 12-13: TBA, away;
Dec. 18: At Soldotna;
Jan. 16-17: At Kenai;
Jan. 23-24: Mat-Su Invite.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.