Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Johnston Gives Back Volunteering with Alaskan Organization Skiku

Johnston Gives Back Volunteering with Alaskan Organization Skiku

HOUGHTON, Mich. – Michigan Tech Junior Nordic Skier Jasper Johnston spent time in Alaska at the beginning of March volunteering as a skiing coach with Skiku, an organization with a core purpose of encouraging and supporting sustainable community-driven ski programs primarily focused on rural Alaska and Alaska Native youth.

"Skiku is an Alaskan organization that works to spread the sport of skiing around Alaska," Johnston explained. "In the spring, they organize 'Ski Weeks' in over 30 remote villages. During these weeks, volunteer coaches work with students teaching them the basics of skiing and hope that they continue the lifelong sport of skiing. Skiku covers the cost of food for the week and flights within Alaska, which makes this trip possible. Our group, with four total coaches, slept in the library of the school and cooked most meals in the school kitchen."

Skiku welcomes volunteers of all levels, whether they are Olympians, World Cup skiers, university coaches, college athletes, dedicated high school skiers and community coaches who are enthusiastic about sharing their love of cross-country skiing with the youth of rural Alaska.

"My trip was during the first week of March to Brevig Mission, Alaska," Johnston mentioned. "The village of Brevig Mission only has 288 people with no road access. I flew to Anchorage and met the rest of the team at the airport before our flight to Nome, Alaska, where we switched to a smaller aircraft for the flight to Brevig. Weather delays in Nome got us to the village 28 hours later than planned, but we were rewarded with sunny weather for the rest of the week."

After quite some time traveling to Brevig, Johnston had jam-packed days of volunteering ahead of him.

"Each day we taught 5 hours of PE class and 2 hours of after-school skiing, although most kids would have skied for way longer if we let them," he continued. "We worked with students K-12 the entire week. Each PE class had a mix of grades, but we were able to split up the group with the number of coaches we had. We focused on getting the basics down, like how to get back up and having fun playing games like 'Freeze tag' and 'Caribou and Wolf' which is the Alaska version of sharks and minnows. Just outside of the village is a snow fence where huge piles of snow form from the wind. This was the best spot to take the older skiers and we spent many hours skiing, sliding, falling, and laughing here."

It wasn't the first time that the Ely, Minnesota, native had given back to the youth and he used his previous experience volunteering and his skillset of being a member of the Huskies Nordic Ski team to make this experience a recipe for success.

"It has been since high school that I worked with kids in kindergarten and first grade," Johnston added. "I forgot how hard it is to keep everyone organized, although it's not too different from trying to get the trailer packed up after a race weekend. Getting everyone's boots tied, and skis on, and staying in line was a bigger challenge than I was expecting. All the kids were so excited to be skiing that it made it worthwhile.

"The kids had the chance to teach me too. It seems everybody in Brevig Mission plays basketball and each night there is an open gym for students and community members. I figured it was my turn to learn something new since I don't play much basketball, so I played most nights after dinner. I think it was a great way to connect with the students because I could teach them how to ski and they could teach me how to play basketball."

Although in recent years Johnston's relationship with skiing is set more toward performance outcomes and competing collegiately, he was able to find enjoyment in teaching skiing to the youth of Alaska with Skiku. 

"As someone who has focused on the competitive aspect of racing for a while," Johnston mentioned. "It was a great experience to refocus on skiing by teaching students how to ski and to see the amount of joy that skiing can bring. Skiing has always been a huge part of my life and it feels extra special to be sharing that with people in the farthest corners of the country. I think that this is a great opportunity for any skier regardless of skill and experience and I hope to head north again next year, to Brevig Mission or another village."