Rink and snow sports face COVID-19 restrictions
Cold temperatures and hard work by a small group of volunteers has brought Nome’s skating rink into tip-top shape. The ice is smooth and small groups of skaters play hockey or practice their technique. But what about the programs for kids? “There’s nothing happening whatsoever,” said hockey player Jackie Hrabok-Leppäjärvi. “We’re shut down like everyone else at least until December 16.”
“We’re not opening the shack but if you have skates, we can’t keep people off the ice,” said Bob Hafner, who normally operates the skate program through the winter. “Just maintain social distance if you’re out there.” The shack is next to the rink and is full of skates that people can check out for a session on the ice in normal times.
Usually, during this time of year, it is bustling with young people who enjoy the rink and the fun and wholesome atmosphere of the scene. “It breaks my heart because I see the kids walking the streets and they all want to know when we can go back and there’s nothing I can do about it,” said Hafner.
Cross country skiing and biathlon are also winter sports popular with young people. Keith Conger directs the programs and is also the president of Western Interior Ski Association, or WISA,. It is the governing body of high school skiing for rural Alaska. “I’ve talked to the elementary school principal and there was some decision made by the school administration related to which sports would be allowed to proceed. So, we’re planning on offering skiing for sure,” said Conger. That was six weeks ago when the schools were still in session and COVID-19 cases in Nome were still small in numbers. The situation has changed now and Conger is not sure how it’s going to shake out. “Typically, we start the first Monday after Christmas break. That’s the first day that we start organized practices. I have a hard time seeing us starting that early. It will all be dependent on whether the schools are open and how bad the risks are.”
The team last year was dominated by older skiers, seniors mostly, who have graduated and moved on. Conger is looking to recruit a new crop of youngsters he can bring into the sport and raise to maturity. “We only have a couple of high school kids left, two that are very enthusiastic,” he said. “They’re working toward big meets.” Those two are Calvin Frye and Ryan Outwater, both seniors. Both boys have been outfitted with biathlon rifles and are dry firing for practice. Conger’s daughter Mallory, who has been a top skier and biathlete, is a part time student at APU and will be available for two months to help coach the younger skiers.
Unalakleet also has a very strong ski program. The city recently gave the program approval to put in a rifle range for biathlon.