I have been lucky to spend a large portion of my life in three ski communities surrounded by beautiful mountains: Bend, Oregon, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Anchorage, Alaska. One of the key parts of my lifetime on skis and always looking forward to a ski day has been the balance of Nordic and alpine days. For any type of skiers today: beginner, intermediate, or advanced learning and participating in other snow disciplines can maximize the overall ski experience.
(Skiing Kickstep just south of Anchorage on perfect powder day. Jan 2021)
I was ten years old, starring at the diamonds of Central Oregon and most importantly what was right below me, the famous Bachelorcornice. My brothers and friends were below and everyone had launched it and made it safely down. I was the youngest of the hard charging bunch, and my legs were shaking keeping up all week with my brothers on Nordic and alpine. Was it the endless kilometers we had skied down at the Nordic center or the fear of the cornice that made my legs shake? As I stepped off the edge, free falling until I rag dolled down to my brothers, goggles sideways, jacket full of snow, and a big smile I was alive. As youngsters we explored everywhere on Bachelor, the endless powder runs at the resort and the trails and off trails around the resort on Nordic. At some point we started climbing Tumalo, South Sister, and Broken Top on backcountry skis.
(Coaching at Summer Camp Mt. Bachelor June 2013)
In High School I attended Wood River High School in Hailey Idaho. Back in the day, $93 my junior year for a student season pass at the famous Sun Valley ski resort. My weekends would consist of chasing the Casey Brothers, the Lloyd Brothers, and Skinner around Lake Creek and finishing up at Baldy skiing bumps on my teleskis. The famous Sun Valley moguls on tele are such a great memory. It was a great group to train and race with around the West coast, a few national trips, and across the pond to Europe in High School. Of course as a group we were all getting more serious and alpine days were definitely less as we chased dreams but we always made sure to hit Galena Pass for some good backcountry days.
(World Junior Team 98. Rob Whitney, Andrew Johnson, Kris Freeman, Lars Flora, Jessica Smith, Heidi Rhinehardt, Kristina Casey, and Rebecca Dussault)At some point my family moved to Alaska. I don’t know if I fully realized how special Alaska was for alpine and Nordic until I retired from my racing career. At the time Alaska was producing many top Olympic Nordic skiers and I was an up and coming top national skier. Throughout my early college years, we always tried to get a Valdez trip in. You could pay $25 for a Cat ride up to the top of Berlin Wall, how could we pass up? Alyeska was also our backyard resort and tele skis were always in the garage for a day at the resort.
(Looking at the North Face of South Suicide. Good college friend Gallagher and I ripping one of the best front-range lines on Tele in college)
Throughout my Nordic career there were years I was too busy for backcountry or my days at the resort were limited. During the really busy years I don’t even think I noticed I was missing out on Alaska skiing. I was focused on a dream and that focus brought me around the world on Nordic skis.
After my career I had the opportunity to explore Alaska on skis. All those years packing up and flying to Seattle to jump a plane over to Europe or the east coast. Instead I packed two blue totes with food and jumped on a bush plane to tundra ski. What I found was this very enthusiastic group of young people wanting to learn to ski and world class Nordic terrain. All along the Brooks range there are these picture perfect communities like Shungnak, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Arctic Village that are some of the most beautiful places in the world I have Nordic skied.
Even looking back the past ten years what were some of the best memories of Tundra skiing? It always came down to the balance of Nordic and alpine days. A Nordic ski with the students, followed by a tele ski while actually looking at Russia from St. Lawrence Island, or Nordic coaching all week in Anaktuvuk Pass and then hiking up the Brooks Range Mountains for a sunset ski with the coaches.
(University of Utah Nordic Alumni Josephine Nilsson teaches alpine in the Arctic)
The 20-21 winter has been a good one for Alaska. Monday temperature at the parking lot before I took Roste for his skijor was -3 F before his vet appointment. Roste and Sivu are slowly making it back with Chiro/Acupuncture treatments after the car wreck. Sivu is pulling at walking speed and Roste is back to running at %50 speed.
(Roste pulling logs as he builds strength post car wreck. Jan. 2021)
For myself, my winter has consisted of skijoring, Nordic days, kiting, long backcountry days, and short study breaks at Alyeska resort. It’s the perfect winter. As I write this article, I am recovering from the worst fall in a decade. It happened fast, a small powder bump that looked like the perfect jump. It was our second run down a dreamy couloir behind Anchorage. The snow was perfect that day and I was having a little fun. Next thing I knew, I double ejected, tucked and rolled, and landed on a rock while tumbling down the deep powder.
(Snowkiting on the outskirts of Anchorage on Turnagain Arm Feb. 2021)
I called both my brothers as I sat on the couch on a sunny perfect blue bird day. One was taking his daughter on her first chair lift and the other was exploring South Central with a van full of skis with his son. To live this Nordic and alpine life is special. During the heart of my career, it had to be about Nordic. But before it gets too serious, as kids or well into your retirement age, remember the soul of skiing is still there. For alpine skiers, Nordic skiing can provide the extra “Cardio” and for timid Nordic skiers the best way to work on downhills are lock your heal and head to the resort. (The Tele skis are still around, and Alpine Touring skis/Resort skis have been added to the garage)
(Oskar, my nephew, tours around Denali on his spring break with his Dad, Erik Flora. APU Director. March 2021)
If you find yourself in South Central Alaska, head down to Alyeska for world-class alpine and Nordic days and book a lesson. https://alyeskaresort.com/product/nordic/
Lars Flora is a two-time Olympian, grew up chasing his brothers on skis, and today can either be found exploring the Nordic trails in Anchorage or skiing the Chugach mountains with other local South Central powder chasers. He is currently working on a One Health Masters at UAF to better understand the Arctic after spending the past ten years teaching skiing in rural Alaska communities.