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Low snow in Fairbanks hurts top skiers

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The best Nordic skiers in North America arrived in Fairbanks a few days ago to train for the upcoming race season.

There's only one problem. There's too little snow.

''It's not good skiing but you can slide around,'' is how U.S. Nordic ski coach Trond Nystad described conditions Wednesday at Birch Hill Recreation Area. ''If it gets much worse than this we're out of here.''

The U.S. and Canadian cross country ski teams travel to Fairbanks at the start of each winter to take advantage of what are usually the best early season training conditions on the continent.

They show up right after the snow does, usually in the third week of October. They stay for about two weeks, skiing twice a day to get in shape for the upcoming racing season.

''I don't think there's a better place to get early season training,'' said U.S. Olympian Carl Swenson, who has made the trip to Fairbanks almost every year for more than a decade.

This year, though, only 1.8 inches of snow has fallen at Fairbanks International Airport. That compares to a normal October snowfall of about a foot.

The six-member Canadian team arrived last Friday, before there was any snow on the ground. They spent two days running, lifting weights, rollerskiing and praying for snow, a half-inch of which finally fell overnight Saturday.

On Monday, the Canadians were skiing on snow at Smith Lake. Another inch of snow fell on Monday and the Canucks moved up to Birch Hill on Tuesday, even though conditions were marginal.

''We're making out,'' said Canada coach Dave Wood. ''For how little snow there is, they've done a good job getting the trails in shape.''

By Wednesday, though, both the U.S. and Canadian teams were searching for other places to ski. There was a rumor that the Salcha ski trails had more snow than Birch Hill and Nystad was hoping to contact someone at the Fairbanks Golf and Country Club about skiing on the golf course.

He said the Canadians were checking on Salcha.

The trails at Birch Hill have been rolled and while there is dirt showing in some places and rocks sticking up in others, it's the best skiing in the country, at least for now.

Both teams said the time they spend in Fairbanks is an important part of their training regime.

''This is the time of year when we need to get a lot of mileage on snow,'' said Nystad.

''Once the competitive season starts up you don't get a chance to train too much,'' Wood said.

With a forecast that was suggesting the possibility of rain in Fairbanks Thursday and Friday, Nystad was keeping his ear to the ground. There was a rumor that 10 inches of snow had fallen in West Yellowstone and a big storm was moving into Colorado with the promise of snow.

''If it gets really good somewhere else or this deteriorates, we're boogying out of here,'' he said.



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