When the season-opening Skyview Invitational ski meet was canceled in the middle of the week due to lack of snow on Tsalteshi Trails, it meant that for the third time in six years the start of competitive high school skiing on the peninsula was being delayed.
"Everybody's saying, 'Winter's late. Winter's late,'" said Homer coach Mickey Todd. "In four of the five winters I've coached, we've never been on skis more than four or five days before the first meet.
"Last year, both the Colony and Skyview races were canceled because of no snow."
Several factors are most likely leading to the increased chorus of bellyaching about snow.
First of all, the meat and potatoes of early season skiing is usually gliding on frozen lakes, but that hasn't been possible due to unseasonably warm November temperatures and frequent rainfall.
"At least last year, we could get out and ski on the lakes," Soldotna coach Sarah Tureson said.
Then there's the big-tease factor. A nice dump of snow had teams on skis in early November, but then mid-November rain came and washed away the skiing.
"We were on snow about two weeks, then we had to go back to running," Skyview coach Kent Peterson said Tuesday. "The kids had been doing really well until this final one today.
"Everybody thought it was going to snow and then it rained again."
With the lack of snow, Stephanie Kind said the teams that do the best will be those who best cope with the gyms, jogging and aerobics.
"I think that the teams that will come out on top this year will be ones able to keep it together physically and mentally through the drought," Kind said. "Nobody knows what skiers really look like until they're on snow."
When skiers finally do get on snow, the Homer girls look like a good bet to win a third straight Region III crown, while defending region champ Soldotna and Colony are emerging as favorites in what should be a tight boys race.
"We would have to be the favorite, but Skyview and Kenai are going to be tough," said Todd of his girls team. "Colony also has stepped it up big time and they have some girls that are really going to contend."
On the boys side, the Stars are looking good because their skiing team has the same basic makeup of the cross country running team that just won the state title.
"They're all in good shape," Tureson said of her boys. "I definitely think we could take the region title.
"I'd say we're pretty even with Colony, so it will be interesting."
If Soldotna or Colony falter, a number of solid teams, including Kenai, Skyview and Homer, could take the title.
The following is a closer look at the six peninsula ski programs.
With two of the top skiers in the region and solid depth, the Homer girls are looking to lock up their third straight region title.
"The girls are so easy to coach," fifth-year coach Mickey Todd said. "They're a fun bunch, they have a great attitude, they're willing to practice hard and they accept winning graciously."
Senior Ida Martin, last year's region skimeister, returns for Homer, as does junior Syverine Abrahamson.
"Both of them have the potential to be the best skier in the region," Todd said.
Also returning from Homer's state team are seniors Emily Farrens and Nikki Fry.
Todd also will call on juniors Miriah Phelps, Heidi Benson, Sarah Boone and Dara Rehder and sophomore Heather Strutz for depth.
"We also have a good group of freshmen," Todd said. "They have good potential. We'll wait and see how they develop into skiers."
Todd's boys don't have as much depth as the girls, but they do have some experience. Seniors Kyle Lints, Clayton Smith and Willie Creamer and juniors Tom Crandall and Andrew Peters all return from last year's state team.
Todd also sees a ton of potential in freshman Derek Ball.
"The boys team, I think, will contend for the top three in the region," Todd said. "We are very shallow. We don't have much depth in the boys program.
"That will hurt us in the long run, but right now it won't hurt us that much."
Endurance sports continue to gain steam at Kenai, and the cross-country skiing program is no exception. Coach Stephanie Kind's four-year building project finds her with depth on the boys and girls sides this year.
"For the first time since I've been here, we've got what I would call veteran teams on both sides," Kind said. "There are skiers who've been to the state meet and know what it takes to be good in the sport."
The girls didn't lose any skiers off their state team. Returning are senior Nicole Spence, juniors Wendy Wiles, Mary Krusen and Caitlin Nelson and sophomore Katie Burck.
In addition, Kind has a number of skiers that could break into that mix. Senior Shiloh Reilly, junior Katherine Amen and sophomore Roxanna Wilcox were on Kenai's region champion cross country team, but are light on skiing experience.
Junior Natalie Semmens and senior Kjersta Larson also are talented skiers.
"They're all going to figure into things," Kind said. "I honestly don't know who's going to end up on varsity."
Meanwhile, the Kardinals boys lost just one skier from their state team. Returning are seniors Greg Landua and Brett Morris, junior Eric Nyce and sophomore Jordan Engel.
With senior Severin Hagen-Lillevik and freshman Andy Banas, Kind said she should be able to fill the one hole that opened on the state team.
"They've all established year-round types of training," Kind said. "They're setting their goals higher than they ever have before. They want to be region contenders."
With four boys and five girls out at Nikiski, the Bulldogs can expect a lot of attention and instruction from fifth-year coach Dale Bakk.
"In a sense, it's nice having a small team to work with because you can give lots of individual attention," Bakk said. "But it would sure be nice to have a few more numbers out to encourage the kids that are there."
Junior Zach Hall will again lead the boys team, while the Bulldogs also will get some experience from sophomore Brian Hack.
Junior Anthony Sykes also will ski for Nikiski. Sykes had success in Texas as a cross country runner, but he has no experience skiing. Filling out the lineup is a German foreign exchange student.
On the girls side, Bakk said the team will probably be paced again by junior Aurora Zinck. However, Zinck should get good competition in practice from juniors Jenny Miller and Stacy Doner, sophomore Clarissa Ribbens and freshman Shauna Hall.
"All in all, our girls are grouped together quite a bit closer in skill levels than our guys," Bakk said. "If things really go well, by the end of the season we should gel into a pretty good girls team."
The late winter in Seward does not come at a good time for veteran coach Rich Houghton, who has plenty of inexperienced skiers who would benefit immensely from time on snow.
"This is probably the second worst as far as snow goes since I've been here," said Houghton, the coach of the Seahawks for the past 13 years. "Other than 1995-96, it's the latest we've gotten snow."
Senior Joslyn Perry and juniors Kelly Houghton and Marion Glaser return from Seward's girls state team last year. The other four skiers on the team are relatively inexperienced.
On the boys side, junior Brian Osborne is the lone returner from a state team that lost a bunch of seniors. The experience level of the other seven skiers is mixed.
"For both the boys and the girls, we're looking for individual improvement over last season," Houghton said. "I want to give the beginners some achievable, short-term goals."
Coach Kent Peterson, who has been involved with the program for six years, is greeted by an experienced boys team and a girls team stacked with youthful potential.
Seniors Jacob Fellman, Micah Mohler and Adam Tressler all return from Skyview's state team last year, and senior Leon Galbraith was an alternate on the team.
With some fast skis from sophomore Damian Andersen, Peterson thinks his boys could be right in the thick of the region race. The last time the Panthers boys won regions was in 1995, when Jay Hakkinen was their top skier.
"It's been awhile now since we've won it," Peterson said. "It'd be nice to win it again."
The core of the girls team will be senior Amy Lambe, who should be one of the region's top skiers. Lambe won the region classical race as a sophomore and the region freestyle race as a junior.
Freshman Stephanie Lambe, a standout skier in middle school, joins her sister this year.
The Panthers also should get a boost from senior Erika Edwards, one of the top runners in the state but a relative newcomer to skiing.
"We've got a good group of freshmen and some sophomores coming back from last year," Peterson said. "We're a pretty young team on the girls side.
"How well we do will depend on how bad we want it."
With only one loss from their state team last year, the Soldotna boys are ready to chase another region crown.
Senior Andy Liebner, who won the state cross country championship this fall, was second in the region in skiing last year. Other returners from the state team are junior Brent Knight and sophomores Joe Blanchard, Daniel Harro, Mark Harro and David Hernandez. Hernandez and Mark Harro were alternates.
"With Andy, Brent and Daniel, you tell them to do a workout, and they not only do it, but they make sure everybody else does it," said second-year coach Sarah Tureson. "Andy's just great. We're really going to miss him when he's gone."
Junior Sasha Cvetkovski and sophomores Ellen Landess and Rachel Goldstein will lead the girls team. Cvetkovski is joining the team after a year off to heal a shoulder injury.
"After those three, we have a lot of new freshmen girls and they're all at the beginning level," Tureson said.
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