Nordic skiers in Fairbanks lost a dear friend and a Birch Hill Recreation Area trail grooming pioneer with the passing of Russell Lizotte last night. In the days before the piston bully or even the Sherpa was part of the trail grooming arsenal available to the trail grooming crew at Birch Hill, Russell took on the task of grooming Birch Hill and the entire Sonot Kkaazoot course with an Alpine pulling various grooming sleds, rollers, and drags behind him.
Donna Hawkins wrote in the April 1992 issue of “The Northern Nordic News”, the newsletter of the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, “The can’t take the track setter of the saddle award goes to Russell Lizotte, who so accustomed to running over a race course with the Alpine on the day before a race, went down to Anchorage and skied all the trails at Hilltop and Kincaid the day before the Tour of Anchorage and wondered why his legs felt so bad during the race.”
Russ had the ultimate “can do” attitude and nothing that Mother Nature could throw our way was going to prevent him from creating beautifully groomed trails for ski events and trail users. For example, in the winter of 1992–93, we had our first snowfall in September before the deciduous tree leaves had changed color and fallen, thus, leaves would fall whenever the wind blew creating a lasagna of snow and leaves on the ski trails. Russ constructed a sled with a powerful leaf blower that he could use to clear the snow surface before he set his beautiful classical tracks.
As recently as 2013, Russ was an instrumental member of the grooming team responsible for “taming” the river ice surface so that all the Sonot Kkaazoot skiers would have an enjoyable experience.
Current Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks trail operations head, Tom Helmers felt Russ was like a brother to him, so Birch Hill skiers will continue to benefit from the Fairbanks guy whose pickup had “Nordic”vanity plates and just wanted to set and ski perfect classical tracks.
Thank you, Russell for all you did for us. Even the cold, scary ride down the black loops in the chair on the track sled seemed worthwhile if the Alpine driver was happy.
We are looking for photos of Russ Lizotte grooming or skiing at Birch Hill to honor him in the Ski Center trophy case. Please contact Tom Helmers (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any contributions. A donation to the Birch Hill trail fund in Russ’ memory would be greatly appreciated (https://nordicskicluboffairbanks.wildapricot.org/Donate/) .