Ski the Beach for Erin on February 25th, 2024

By Barb Johnson

Ski the Beach is our ski club’s community race. It has been held annually for almost 30 years giving a first race opportunity to our Junior Nordic skiers and a fun race open to all. The race grew bigger in February of 2018 in reaction to the tragic loss of Chugiak High School skier Erin Johnson who was killed by a predatory black bear while working collecting environmental data in Alaska near Pogo Mine. The community rallied to support a newly established Erin K. Johnson Memorial Fund to help keep her spirit alive and changed the name of the race to ‘Ski the Beach for Erin’. The race has continued to grow even after a couple years of virtual races during Covid lockdowns.

Last year. the donated funds went towards the Korohusk Public Use Cabin being constructed on Eagle River in memory of Erin. The cabin is nearing completion and will be managed by the Eagle River Nature Center. Anyone will be able to rent it for overnight stays by this coming summer. Erin’s family and friends and members of the ski club are thrilled by this opportunity for increased public enjoyment of wildlands at this breathtaking upriver location. This year’s race will again be free. No race fee is charged. Any donations will go to the Erin K Johnson Memorial Fund. The fund, managed by the Anchorage Community Foundation, supports getting youth outdoors, science education, and protecting Alaska’s special places. Donations will first go to ensure that the Korohusk Cabin project is complete and any remaining funds will go to support things that Erin held dear to her heart.

This race is a memorial event to remember all loved ones we miss. It is a fun, no pressure, end of the season celebration of friends, life and skiing! Sunshine and great trail conditions are guaranteed. Participants are encouraged to dress up in tropical clothing and just enjoy the day outside! We will have a 1.5 km and a 3 km course for youth up to 13 years, and a 5 km course for competition or touring for all ages. There are always fantastic raffle prizes at the end of the races donated annually by many wonderful local businesses including Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking, Barney’s Sports Chalet, Carrs, Coldstone Creamery, the Eagle River Nature Center, Jitters Coffee, and Skinny Raven Sports. Great Harvest Bread has also supplied their delicious cookies for after the race. In the past, winners of the races have won beautiful medals handmade by our own ski club member, Alycia Beiergrohslein and first place winners always receive a pineapple, while second and third place winners have traditionally won mangos!

We hope you will consider coming to this fun family event to celebrate skiing in our community!

Nordic Skier

The Chugiak Eagle River Ski Club has local news in the Nordic Skier, published by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage or NSAA.  We encourage you to join this organization as well because they support the ski community in many ways in Anchorage.

To read past Nordic Skier articles including information about our local club, you can access past issues by clicking on the linked image:

Bill Brion Works His Magic Grooming Local Trails!

CERNSC is very lucky we have Bill Brion, a groomer for the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, to ensure that the ski trails are at their best.  Even though we have had a good snow year, there were many times where the weather threw a wrench in some of the high school and middle school ski races as well as the Junior Nordic program this year. Thankfully, when the windy, rainy weather hit and we thought skiing might be over, Bill came to the rescue!!  We certainly had our share of wind events that created excessive amounts of limbs and branches on the trails.  Then the warm weather and rain came to wreak havoc on what were beautiful trails.  Bill said,” Whenever there is a ski race or event coming up, there is often a weather event that makes it touch and go and we have to decide if it is a go or not.”  We are very glad we have Bill to help make the call.  This year, Ski the Beach, had marginal conditions, at best, but somehow, Bill’s expertise and effort enabled everyone to enjoy skiing throughout the week-long event.

When I asked how he manages to get all of the branches and sticks off the trails, Bill said, there are an amazing number of people who help out by “stick flicking” with their poles as they ski the trails.  If the twig is larger than a finger, he said he usually stops to throw them off the trail, but the smaller twigs get laid down with the snow. So if you are out on the trails and have the time to help Bill, flick a stick or two on the way!

Bill has been grooming for a long time.  He started working for NSAA back in the mid-nineties and worked for them for 3 years.  Back then, he groomed all over Anchorage from Kincaid to Hillside and at Beach Lake.  He left in 1995 to work at Bentalit Lodge in the Lake Creek area for a number of years and returned in 2007.  He has been grooming the trails ever since.  He has seen a lot of changes but said NSAA is very lucky to have the contract through the Eagle River Parks and Recreation for the Beach Lake Ski Trails and surrounding areas. Bill remarked, “Many people don’t realize how fortunate we are to have such a fantastic resource available to everyone, unlike most places in the lower 48 where you have to pay every time you want to Nordic ski on groomed trails.”

Since Covid, he feels that the number of users on the trails has doubled.  He grooms Eagle River HS and Yosemite Dr, Bartlett HS, Mirror Lake MS, Chugiak HS and the Beach Lake Trails, around Beach Lake. In addition to that, he trades off with Craig, one of the groomers in town, to keep Begich, Romig, and Clark Jr. High Schools in good shape once a week during the ski season.

The weather is the most challenging part of his job with moisture and thin snow layers earlier in the year.  He has to contend with ice crystals pushing up through the moist ground, wind, rain, an light, fluffy snow that gets pushed aside easily instead of laying down. The first race of the year, the Chugiak Stampede, a classic race, is often a tough one because the snow is thin. Usually, Bill and Bob Stehn are out trying to figure out a good route to put in classic tracks for the race. At the beginning of the season, Bill uses the snow machine to groom because the heavier equipment would just churn things up.  Once the base is established, then he brings in the larger groomer.

Bill says that it is fun to be out at night on the trails and you never know what you might see. “There is a lot going on out there,” Bill stated. He has had coyotes shadowing him and often sees moose, lynx, owls, and snowshoe hares, which dart across in front of him.  Grooming the trails requires driving down one side and then returning on the other side of the track. By the time he returns for his second run, he often sees new animal tracks on the freshly groomed side.

There is nothing like skiing on freshly groomed Nordic ski trails!  When you are out enjoying them, remember that Bill

(or one of the other groomers) was out working through the night or early morning so that you can have a wonderful skiing experience.  We appreciate the work all of the groomers do, and especially, Bill Brion, who has been taking good care of us in Chugiak and Eagle River area for the last 15 years!  If you happen to see him, be sure to say hello and thank him because he is the reason we have such great ski trails.  Thank you, Bill!

Written by Barb Johnson

Bill’s truck with the groomer at the Beach Lake Trails.   Photo by Barb Johnson

Bill Brion with a thank you sign for him posted by the CERNSC Junior Nordic kids, parents, and coaches.  Photo by Annette Brion

Close up of thank you sign for Bill Brion.     Photo by Ted Stille

Bill Brion next to the groomer.  Photo taken by Joe Yelverton

A Huge Thanks to Ted Stille, our Eagle River Junior Nordic Coordinator.

After being a Junior Nordic ski coach for 10 years, Coach Ted graciously stepped into an even bigger job this year as coordinator for our Junior Nordic program. It was a challenge with Rish Harty stepping down after several years, and our tech expert and coach Ryan Caldwell leaving as well. Thankfully, Ted was willing to take on the job.

I can't say enough about Ted Stille and his hard work as the Junior Nordic coordinator and coach. He has worked since last fall and throughout the ski season to ensure that children in the Chugiak Eagle

River area had the opportunity to develop Nordic skiing skills and, hopefully, become life-long skiers! We had more kids in the program than ever.  Thanks to Ted's dedication, time and effort, and an amazingly always positive attitude, it was a great season despite challenging times.

Our ski community is fortunate that Ted was willing to take on this monumental task.  His caring heart and enthusiasm were infectious. He recruited fantastic coaches, worked with Bob Stehn through many computer registration issues, consulted with our club’s president, Jason Dennis, about various concerns, communicated endlessly with parents about everything from kid’s ski gear to Covid, patiently learned about using the website, guided me through learning how to use Team Snap, and managed to find replacements when coaches could not attend sessions.

We are very appreciative and grateful for all of Ted's efforts to support the health and well-being of our local ski community. We are also grateful to his wife, Kacy, who supported him in so many ways. It has been a privilege for me to help Ted and a joy getting to know his family. I hope they get plenty of time to enjoy spring skiing and a non-stressful summer after such a busy winter.

Thank you, Ted!

Kacy and Ted Stille after a ski on the Beach Lake Trails.  Photo by Barb Johnson


Ted Stille reviewing “dead bug” with JN kids this past winter.   Photo by Barb Johnson