APU Ski Program Provides Rigorous Training

For the most committed and athletic of Dimond’s skiers, the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center’s year-round training program is an obvious possibility. 

APU Nordic Ski Center is a training program that aims to bring athletes to peak condition with rigorous and tailored programs for all ages. 

Anchorage’s youth skiing programs are numerous, but APU is one that takes athletes to national or even international levels. 

The program’s website has an impressive, almost excessive list of Olympians and international level skiers that the program has trained and produced, including such names as Kikkan Randall, Aelin Peterson and Logan Hanneman.

Though the program spans many ages, the Junior section is most suited to high school age, according to the website. 

Erik Strabel, Junior Program Coach and Program Manager, said, “We pick up athletes as they start high school. We operate year-round, with only a few break periods where we are not operating.

“We keep it moving with multiple sports, and we let the students lead their athletic careers. We really try to develop their whole relationship with the sport as a whole.”

The Junior program meets three to six times a week, and focuses on building skills, strength and training to race. 

Training is difficult and rigorous, including cardio, strength and targeted training. The athletes have access to glacier trails, Hatcher Pass and a weight room specifically for their training needs. 

Dimond Freshman and APU participant Owen Saltzman said, “A 30 minute warmup is followed by 45-60 minutes of intense workout, then we finish our practice with half an hour of cool-down.”

Strabel said, “It’s a challenging program, we aim to make it challenging because we want to see high levels of potential achieved and applied. 

         “The kids are capable of it no matter their experience level with skiing. They’re able to work much harder than they think they can. It just takes the right environment.”

Training places a special focus on overall health as well as physical performance, ensuring athletes gain and employ habits and ethics that will help them now and later on in life.

Strabel said, “Our program drives to produce elite skiers, they’re very hardworking and will be healthy for life.

“They’ll take their mindset forward, and continue their ability to learn and willingness to work.” 

Dimond Cross-Country Ski Coach Shelly Laws said, “There is no question that the summer programs are very helpful for both the skier and the team. However, club is mostly a winter activity with club practice and races independent from high school. This can lead to overtraining.

“An athlete must coordinate between two teams and sets of coaches and workouts to prevent this. Skiers can often become distant from the team, and skip team practices to ski at club workouts.

“Because the club skier is usually one of the fastest skiers on the team, they tend to be seen as the leaders. When they choose not to work out or race with the team it can have a negative effect on the moral of the rest of the team,” Shelly said.

Dimond Cross-Country Ski Coach Sarah Freistone said, “The more involved an athlete is, even if they play club soccer and ski for Dimond, the better off they are because the athlete’s base fitness is going to be higher than someone who only participates in one or two school sports.

“Dimond is fortunate to have some great coaches, but the short high school season limits what we can fit into each practice. 

“APU athletes tend to have a very high fitness level and work on technique a lot as well. Dimond and APU coaches often work together to give our athletes the best training plans possible to make sure they are racing well when it counts,” Freistone said. 

Pricing for the program runs at about $2,000 year-round, and sections like summer and fall are also available, for a reduced price. 

Strabel said,“I would say we make it very easy to join, we have a free week, there’s no cost involved once a waiver is signed. You jump right in with us, we make it very positive.

“It can be uncomfortable when you’re starting, but that’s true in all walks of life.”

The year-round program is mostly made up of young athletes that are interested in competing in the Besh Cups, Junior Nationals and Junior World Championships. 

Saltzman said, “The program has improved my times and endurance by at least twice. It’s an amazing program with really nice and motivated people.”

Laws said, “Another aspect to being in a club is mental. Club skiers work with multiple coaches. The more ways you are told how to do a complex technique, the more likely you are to hear one that works for you.”

Athletes involved in the Junior program seem to be incredibly focused on athletic success, but there’s an element of fun as well. 

Freistone said, “APU has an outstanding program with some of the best staff in the world. They cater to all age groups from middle school to working adults, and even though they train hard, they always find a way to incorporate fun into every practice. 

“It is a truly special community to be involved with. Anyone who’s looking to improve their skiing or just their general fitness will find a great match in any one of the APU programs,” Freistone said.

Saltzman said, “All the Juniors are trying to do their physical best, but on distance days there is a more relaxed feeling, especially during the summer” 

APU can be stand-alone training, or preparation for high school seasons. Many athletes ski for both, and enjoy the skills year-round intensive training has given them. 

Saltzman said, “All of the APU kids do ski for the high school they go to.” 

Laws said, “There are positive and negative effects related to participation in a club along with a high school team. There is no question that working year-round will improve an athlete physically.

“You build a stronger fitness base. Specific exercises for one sport will improve skill and performance, however, I worry about repetitive stress injuries with young athletes that are still growing.”