APU Ski House

L to R: Ari Endestad, Forrest Mahlen, Kai Meyers and Hunter Wonders. Not pictured: Hailey Swirbul, Garret Butts and Hannah Halvorsen.

Have you seen a group of APU Nordic Ski Center jackets out on the trails together? Recently, the mandate over social distancing measures is a recommended 6 to 20 feet depending on the type of exercise.  But, for this group of APU Elite team members, training and skiing together is still the norm. In fact, cooking and living together is a part of everyday life for these athletes.

Alaska Pacific University (APU) offers lodging for elite members attending the University working towards a post-secondary or masters level education. The house has become known to most APU faculty and students as “The Ski House.” Many of the APU Nordic Elite Team members who have trained with APUNSC attend APU to receive a college level education. The ski house has been a place of residence and home for many elite team members throughout the years.

When the COVID-19 epidemic moved its way into North America in mid-March, the majority of APU Nordic Ski Center Elite Team Members were traveling the globe. Some were headed to race at Junior Nationals in Truckee, CA or traveling around Europe and Canada for World Cup and SuperTour Races.

Amid the scatter of APU Nordic Elite Team, COVID-19 hit the U.S. hard, and measures were taken to cancel all races effective immediately. Junior Nationals was cut short in the middle of the competition, where many of the athletes had just arrived in Quebec, Canada for a World Cup Race. The International Ski Federation along with U.S. Ski & Snowboard made the difficult, but smart decision to cancel all upcoming races, ending the ski season early, and sending the athletes and coaches on planes back home to Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University.

The APU Elite Ski House Residents, in particular, were amongst those having been absent from Alaska for a couple of weeks traveling the globe.

APU Ski House and Nordic Elite Team Member Forrest Mahlen commented on the reason why the athletes chose to quarantine together at the Ski House:

“Well, the virus ended the North American ski season pretty much overnight. All of us were out of state racing at the time; Ari and Kai at Junior nationals in Tahoe and Hunter and I in Quebec City at the World Cup. So with the cancellations we all ended up back on campus at APU with a two-week quarantine because of our traveling exposure.”

By the time the two-week mandated quarantine from travel had passed, local and state government issued a strict social distancing and quarantine in place mandates.

Many were battling the disappointment of not being able to race in their first World Cup races, while also having the reality of COVID-19 placing a halt on work, school and normal life activities.

“Luckily, we still had groomed ski trails right from our front door to make up for the loss of the racing season! It’s been great to isolate with teammates and friends. We share the good times and the bad, it makes the highs higher and the lows not quite so low!” commented Mahlen. “But, we are taking the isolation part seriously.”

The athletes have taken their responsibilities seriously indeed. They continue to take online classes through APU, some hold jobs they are working remotely, and they continue to train together as elite team athletes through online team meetings and plans created by coaches. When it’s time to train, they have trails with snow and sunshine right outside their front door on the APU trails. Mostly, they are able to help move each other forward with training, sanity, and motivation.

Fast forward a month later, APU Nordic Ski Center has adjusted the way they coach, train and support the programs and athletes. They have halted in-person group training sessions evolved coaching to an online platform to continue training for individual athletes or families and teammates who have chosen to quarantine together. Alaska has the unique position to still have snow on the trails and long days that can be taken advantage of. Many have appreciated the continuation to keep motivation forward, provide a sense of community while also keeping a level of normalcy in the lives of program members.

So, the next time you see APU blue jackets together, the odds are you’re seeing the Ski House Elite Team Members out training, skiing, or trying to get some much-needed sunshine and fresh air.