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Skiers from Sleetmute represent rural Alaska at high school cross country ski championships

Sleetmute skiiers Tamara Stern, Kylie Hayden and coach Angela Hayden.jpg
Emily Schwing
Tamara Stern-Morgan (left), Kiley Hayden (center), and Angela Hayden (right) at the state cross country skiing championships in Anchorage, Alaska. The three flew into town from Sleetmute and were the only team from off of Alaska’s road system to compete in the state championships this year.

From Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, teenagers from across Alaska competed in the state cross country skiing championships. Among more than 200 skiers were two athletes from Sleetmute, a tiny community of about 100 people on the Kuskokwim River. There were more people in the stadium in Anchorage to cheer on the skiers than live in the village.

“It feels very different,” said Kiley Hayden, a 13-year-old high school freshman from Sleetmute. “We’re not really used to strangers that much because everybody knows everybody at home, but then here you don’t really know anyone and they’re just cheering for you sometimes.”

Hayden said that she liked seeing all the people ring bells and cheer for her.

“It makes you feel like you’re known, even though you live in such a tiny place,” Hayden said.

Hayden participated in both a 5 km classic technique race and a 7.5 km freestyle skate race. She was joined by teammate and eighth grader Tamara Stern-Morgan, who came along to learn.

“So I could do it next year because I’m not in high school yet,” Stern-Morgan said.

Through giggles, Stern-Morgan said that she learned that there are a lot of fast skiers in Alaska.

Both girls are coached by Sleetmute teacher Angela Hayden, who is also Kylie’s mother. The elder Hayden said that most of the kids in Sleetmute have been skiing on village trails since they were in preschool, thanks to support from the Alaska-based nonprofit Skiku, a program that works with school districts to get kids outside and on skis every winter.

“I heard that you didn’t have to qualify for state, so I was like 'wait, we could just jump in and do it,'” Angela said. “There’s no competition out in our area, no races, so the only place we could come would be here on the road system to race.”

Sleetmute tried to host its own race this year, but it was weathered out.

“So we had to cancel all the other schools that were gonna come,” Angela said. That race might be rescheduled for next month or next season.

Sleetmute’s was the only team from off of Alaska’s road system to compete in the state championships this year. Other teams came from as far south as Homer and as far north as Fairbanks to take part.

Editor’s note: the author is a volunteer ski coach for Skiku, the nonprofit that works with school districts to get kids on skis. 

Emily Schwing is a long-time Alaska-based reporter.