On Sunday afternoon, there is no place Nancy Persons would rather be than outside on a pair of skis.

Thirteen years ago, Persons moved to Unalakleet with her husband Christian to teach at the school there. Both had been working overseas and really wanted to work in Alaska.

"We found out that the Bering Strait School District had a ski program," Nancy said. "I had coached before and I wanted to be back in skiing." 

The Personses were hooked, but they had a lot of work to do. 

"When we got here, the program at the school was really small," Nancy said. "My goal at the time was to fill a plane with eight skiers and I think I had four or six at the time."

Today, Nancy has over 50 in her program, ranging from first grade through high school seniors. They’re part of Skiku, an Anchorage-based organization that partners with school districts, corporations and communities to promote the sport of skiing in Alaska. This year, Skiku is making several stops along the Iditarod trail and many other rural Alaska communities during 2019 Ski Week.

Skiku’s mission is to foster the health, recreation and competitive benefits of cross-country skiing and biathlon through sustainable programs across the state.

The coaches include Olympic athletes Tyler Kornfield and Rosie Brennan. The program also deploys World Cup skiers, elite high school skiers and community coaches.

"My husband grew up as a downhill skier, so he teaches most of that," Nancy said. "I'm more of a cross-country skier and Skiku comes in and helps which is great."

"I think it’s really cool to have that community and sense of belonging, especially were there aren’t as many opportunities in some of the places," Skiku instructor and volunteer Mary Wood said. "Just to have the sense of community, have them do a cheer and have them support a healthy lifestyle and a little competitive spirit as well."

Skiku operates in 36 communities, 40 schools and teaches over 5,800 youth.

"Our main goal is to find ski instructors," Skiku executive director Robin Kornfield said. "We'll send out coaches and ski equipment. We'll donate the equipment to the school or community, but what we really need to find are locals willing to teach the sport."

Skiku also partners with NANANordic which covers the 11 villages in the Northwest Arctic Borough. 

"We're here [in Unalakleet] for a week which also coincides with their spring break," Skiku volunteer instructor Trina Pastarr said. "It's been an amazing positive experience for an already established ski community. It's fun to come in and see the excitement on some new faces. There is always so much going on with the Iditarod."

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