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TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School: Ski team begins season in West Yellowstone

From left, TrekNorth students Kaitlin Bakker and CJ Merhar ski on trails near West Yellowstone, Mont., during a class trip during Thanksgiving week. Submitted photo

TrekNorth junior Andy Gustafson has only been cross-country skiing for two years. So he was pretty impressed when he got to ski alongside Olympic biathlon skier Wynn Roberts while on a class trip to West Yellowstone, Mont.

A group of 17 students on the TrekNorth cross-country team spent Nov. 21-26 skiing on the prestigious Rendezvous Ski Trail system based in West Yellowstone.

Every year a massive gathering of Nordic ski competitors from across the country convene in the Western tourist town, a place where an early snowfall is predictable.

"Students get a full immersion into the world of cross-country ski racing there," TrekNorth Director Dan McKeon said.

Nordic skiing has been offered at TrekNorth for two years and is the school's only winter sport. Of the students who went on the trip, about half had never skied before.

"It can be a pretty intense experience for students who have never skied before to go out there and have Olympians ski by you," McKeon said. "It can be intimidating, but it can also be really good to gain that exposure of the highest level of the sport."

The trip was mostly funded through TrekNorth's outdoor adventure program. Students each paid $200, which helped to pay for the cost of travel, lodging and food for the week. Students also earned school credit for participating in the trip.

"It's more expensive than our other trips," McKeon said. "It's way different from our other outdoor trips, which has students sleeping in tents and living outside. The challenge with this trip comes from the physical challenges of skiing every day."

The students abided by a fairly straightforward schedule each day - eat, ski and rest.

"They got to spend a whole week living like a professional athlete," McKeon said.

Each morning a team meeting was held. Before hitting the trails, TrekNorth ski team coaches McKeon, Katie Houg and Ryan Rogers, and Bemidji State University student coach Mike Meehlhouse spent the morning running ski drills. In the afternoon, students went back out for another two to three hours of skiing.

"For some of the kids, just being able to skate ski down a trail was a huge success for them at the end of the trip," McKeon said. "For others it was capitalizing on some of the training they've been doing over the summer."

Two days into their ski trip, two feet of snow had fallen on the ground.

"We were dealing with pretty challenging ski conditions," McKeon said. "The third day, it was -40 degree wind-chill. But by the fourth day, it warmed up."

On their last day of the trip, students were given the option to ski or help volunteer at the USSA SuperTour Series races held in West Yellowstone.

When asked how the trip fit into the mission of TrekNorth, McKeon said, "Giving the kids the skills they need to live a healthy lifestyle will allow them to make more significant contributions to the world in the long run."

TrekNorth students Kaitlin Bakker, a senior, and Gustafson both agreed the weather in West Yellowstone was worse this year than last year, but the trip was just as fun.

"The first couple of days we had to push snow around, but it was still fun," Bakker said.

Gustafson said he and other students got to "hang out" with Olympic biathlete Wynn Roberts of Battle Lake, Minn.

"We got to know him. It was really cool," Gustafson said. "(On the ski trails) he would ski in front of us and we'd watch him, and then he'd watch us on our techniques."

Gustafson said some of the advice Roberts shared with him was to not ski so hard up hills.

"It's just a really great atmosphere," Bakker said of the West Yellowstone experience. "Skiers are everywhere, and they are a lot of fun to hang out with. It gets you ready for the season."

TrekNorth's cross-country ski team started practice Nov. 15.

According to McKeon, 15 percent of the student body at TrekNorth is involved in the 23-member Nordic ski team.