Besh Cup Races 3 & 4 moved to Birch Hill

The Competition Committee of Cross Country Alaska decided last night to move Besh Cup Races 3 & 4 (scheduled for Soldotna on 17 and 18 January 2015) to Birch Hill. This change of venue was unavoidable because of lack of snow in the Kenai. Besh Cup Races 3 & 4 are both classical technique races (one sprint, one mass start) because the Besh Cup Race 1, held in Anchorage in December, needed to be changed from a classical to freestyle technique sprint format because of lack of snow.

Thus, the Distance Race #2, scheduled for 11 a.m. on 17 January 2015 at Birch Hill will be rescheduled to allow the Birch Hill Recreation Area trails to be used for the two Besh Cup Races.

We’ll post the new time and date when available. You’ll have a little more training time before the 20 km CL test that the Distance Race #2 will provide.

Grooming transforms tracks after winds for Alaska writer laureate

Winter weather finally arrived in Fairbanks, but thanks to the elevation of the Birch Hill Recreation Area, temperatures today were roughly 20 degrees warmer than the official airport temperature hovering around -20 deg F. Unfortunately, Friday night winds in excess of 25 mph toppled leaves, twigs, and birch seed onto the trails, and the classical tracks as the lowest depression in the trail surface collected the most debris. Several of the SCUM (Sonot Kkaazoot organizers) had attempted to ski at Birch Hill on Saturday and commented that it was more like hiking on skis.

Once the winds had passed, the Birch Hill groomers started at 5:30 a.m. Sunday to drag out the tracks and reset them on almost all the trails. Sunday morning when we started at 11:00 a.m., the tracks were virtually 96% free of vegetative debris–an awesome improvement over Saturday. Below Jerome skis in the clean classical tracks while Kent overtakes him on the skate portion of the trail.

Kent & Jerome on White Bear

So as a reminder, grooming doesn’t just take place when we get new snow or when races are planned. Groomers reset tracks when Mother Nature soils them. Groomers make snow that they haul to downhill corners where skiers have worn down the snow by snowplowing. While you were still sleeping (or leisurely drinking that first cup of coffee) this morning, the grooming crew had already begun their magic. Fuel, equipment maintenance, and some salary support comes from your trail donations. Please consider giving or adding to your gift so that we can continue to have the best ski conditions in the Interior (and thanks to the crazy winter weather, probably in the entire state right now). Weren’t the clean tracks today (and the 20 deg F temperature inversion) worth the cost of a latte or a beer? Think about it. How much was today’s ski worth to you?

Here’s the link to make your donation:

Happy New Year!

On 29 January 2015, Frank Soos, a primordial SCUM (and Sonot Kkaazoot volunteer in charge of registration and bib distribution) will accept the Alaska State Writer Laureate award for 2015 and 2016 at a banquet in Juneau.

Therefore, during our first ski in 2015, the SCUM honored our first SCUM Laureate (kneeling in front with red boot covers and the black SCUM hat) with the SCUM ski pole salute.???????????????????????????????

At a Fairbanks Arts Association reading and reception held Saturday, 3 January at the Bear Gallery in his honor, Frank read the following piece that expresses well the importance that ski trails play in our lives beyond sports.

Congratulations, Frank!



Enjoying 2014 Boxing Day snowfall

Interior Alaska nordic skiers had their Christmas wish granted as 4 or more inches of snow fell onto the hard and icy trails at Birch Hill and elsewhere in the Fairbanks area. Although groomers had a challenging time keeping up with the steady snowfall when skiers were out trying to ski their age in km on Friday; today all the trails had been groomed and tracked making for happy skiers.

With an abundant cushion of snow, even the downhills on the black loops were less challenging, and we helped pack down the uphills that were still somewhat soft from the most recent snowfall.

Black Cross downhill Happy Black loop hill Frank black uphill

The leader of the LOL (ladies of leisure) group was doing her sampler of the Birch Hill trails taking cutoffs where they met her fancy. Having chosen classical skis, Chris was striding straight up the hills in the tracks rather than helping with the grooming like the skate skiers were doing.

LOL leader

We were all having fun!


Sonot Kkaazoot training day after Distance Race #1

The day after the Buetow Dental Distance Race #1, a 7.5 and 15 km mass start test of Fairbanks Nordic skiers’ fitness, was 20 deg warmer so perfect for a slow recovery ski around the Birch Hill Recreation Area trails.

Recovery skis mean lots of rest breaks, and some skiers have resting down to a fine art as these skiers on the South Tower:



Enjoy the trails. Thanks to countless hours of volunteer efforts and donations from trail users, we have wonderful groomed trails to enjoy for 6 or more months. Please do your part.


Sad news

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 ( with any contributions. A donation to the Birch Hill trail fund in Russ’ memory would be greatly appreciated ( .

Not pretty, but Birch Hill is open for skiing

Unlike last year when the November chinook came with wind and rain, this unusually warm early winter in Fairbanks has been arid with no significant snow in over a month. Skiers are left wishing for even hoarfrost that might cover a month’s worth of birch seed and leaves that litter the Birch Hill trails or provide some structure on the ice-covered Smith Lake.

Trails in some areas of Birch Hill are approaching 100% organic, but, other trails are much better.

S Tower

In fact, trails look better at night or slightly out-of-focus, like this photo taken today on the South Tower loop.

But, we are skiing on snow. At Hatcher Pass, the ground is brown not dirty white:

So enjoy the ski trails that we have, and do some cross training. As Pete Leonard pointed out to his FXC Masters Group, most Masters skiers would make significant improvements in their skiing by adding regular strength training. Here are some links to Swedish and Russian Cross Country skiers doing strength training that might motivate you to do the same while snow conditions are less than ideal.

Summer trail work makes skiing possible on thin snowpack

Although there is still no snow in the near future (as shown by the 6- to 10-day outlook for precipitation from the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center)


6-10 ppt_forecast

as long as temperatures stay below freezing, skiing at Birch Hill will remain remarkably good thanks to the summer trail work. Today the warm temperatures brought recreational skiers out to Birch Hill

SCUM on White Bear ???????????????????????????????

where a first year skate skier was leading a veteran classical skier up heartbreak hill on the White Bear trail.

Enjoy the unseasonably warm temperatures

6-10 day temp outlook

as the sub-zero conditions will eventually arrive as will our long-awaited snowfall.

Don’t forget to make your trail grooming donation that makes the long ski season at Birch Hill possible:



Fall back Sunday ski

Although Birch Hill has not received any significant snowfall in over three weeks when about 7 inches of fairly wet snow fell, skiing remains remarkably good. Thus, as clocks fall back into standard time mode, recreational Nordic skiers need to fall back to skiing on snow.

With the minimal snowpack after a very wet summer, the trails are not as smooth as they usually are. In some areas, ice lens have melted out leaving large divots, excess water runoff has created valleys next to water bars across trails, and leaves litter the compact snow surface. Thus, the first challenge is relearning balance on skis with fast snow conditions and obstacles. Although uphills may be an aerobic effort, the downhills are a stability challenge for the non-elite skier, adding a mental component to the early ski workouts. Thus, there are lots of opportunities to regroup and socialize as we did today.

The 2015 Sonot Kkaazoot is just 5 months away. Make the commitment and sign up today. See for the registration form.