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AK SkiMeister Challenge

Yesterday I went down to Girdwood, Alaska to compete in the AK Skimeister challenge sponsored by challenge Alaska which is a non-profit 501-c3 whose mission is to, “Challenge Alaska improves the quality of life for people with disabilities and the whole community through adaptive sports, therapeutic recreation, and education.” The event was a fundraiser for the organization and was the 1st year that the event was sponsored. It was a great community event and had fantastic participation and support from various companies and organizations.

I had heard about a couple weeks ago through the event organizer who had contacted me to see if Alaska Pacific Universities Outdoor Program could bring some winter bikes down for teams to use. I was super psyched on the idea because it seemed like a great collaborative opportunity and would allow for me to participate in the event as well! Win! Win!

This week has been one of the most stressful weeks for me personal as I have been taking some classes during the day followed by working and following up on work related things afterword. Friday, prior to the event I had work, then had to meet with a school group from 6-8pm, then I grabbed some dinner with some friends, jammed back to school to load bikes for the event, waxed skis, went to bed at midnight and woke up at 6:30am to get ready for the event. Whew!

Saturday was a beautiful day for the event! There is a big high pressure system over south central Alaska. I woke up to SUNSHINE and lots of it! Not a cloud in the sky! WOW! “Today is going to be a great day!,” I was thinking on the drive down.

The event was comprised of three different events, a downhill slalom couse, 5k xc ski course and a 5k winter bike course. You could compete as a team, individually or both! I decided to do both, so I was personally going to do all the events and my xc ski event was going to count for the team portion.

Upon arrival, I unloaded bikes at the Challenge Alaska facility for teams to use for the event. Following I jammed over to the Alyeska tram as the first event taking place was the downhill slalom course on Jim’s branch, near the base of the north face.

The base of the tram was bustling with people. My first reaction was that there was alot of people that are participating in this event! Wow! After buying a lift ticket and signing liability waivers I was able to get get on the tram which takes you near the top of the Alyeska resort on Alyeska mountain. The tram is loaded to max capacity and as we get towed to the top, I am able to take in the amazing view that surrounds me. Today is a rare and special day in Alaska. The town of Girdwood looms below with towering snowy mountain peaks in every direction around me. We get to the top and the tram doors open. Everyone unloads and walks up a flight of stairs to be greeted by blinding sunshine and beautifully groomed corduroy beckoning for ski turns to be drawn down it’s slopes.

Alyeska Resort

Alyeska Resort

Alyeska Resort

Everyone has to ski down the north face to the top of Jims branch where the slalom race is taking place. The north face made for a difficult first run for the day as my legs had not warmed up.

The slalom course had gates with a starting gate at the top. The order was based on your bib number and had roughly 2min intervals depending on how fast you made it down. This was my first downhill slalom race which made it a little intimidating but alot of fun! There was a large crowd from the UAA downhill ski team and other downhill enthusiasts.

Following the race, lunch was available at the Challenge Alaska facility from noon-1pm with the 5km nordic ski race starting at 2pm. I enjoyed lunch in the sun and then headed over to the xc race start. The course was taking place on the new 5km ski trails that the Girdwood Nordic Ski club has developed. The race started at the intersection of the ski cat trail and the nordic ski trails. There was great participation from the Anchorage nordic ski community and some stiff competition.

Girdwood Nordic Trail Map

I had never skied on those trails and they are amazing! The trails are really wide comparatively to other ski trails in Anchorage. They were also well groomed and packed for the event with the temps hovering around 25F. The course climbed and then had some exciting downhill sections with technical turns. The wide trails made it relatively easy to pass other skiers (or get passed).

After the ski section ended, the bike race would be starting at 3pm. The bike course would be on the same trails. Fortunately, the course was really firm which made biking more pleasant and enjoyable. The downhill sections were a little sketchy especially on the turns.

The biking section was the last race for the day and the next event was the awards ceremony and dinner! It was a beautiful day and I had purchased a lift ticket so I thought that I would spend my afternoon getting some more turns in on the groomers lapping chair 6. My legs were definitely sore… but it was sooooo worth it; soaking up some vitamin D, blue skies, small lift lines and some wicked fast skis, life does not get much better!

Special thanks to Challenge Alaska, Girdwood Nordic Ski Club, Alyeska Resort, race participants and all the volunteers that made this event possible. YOU ROCK! For anyone looking for a good time and alot of fun, look no further!


Nathan currently lives abroad as an American expat and is based in Hanoi, Vietnam. He enjoys learning new languages, meeting new people and exploring new places. Nathan has been living abroad since 2014 and likes to stay busy plotting his next trip.

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