Photo courtesy of Taya Delong and Ella Hall Ella Hall with some of her Yup’ik friends in Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Taya Delong and Ella Hall

Ella Hall with some of her Yup’ik friends in Alaska.

By Ashley Lodato

It has been somewhat of a fitful march toward spring, with the reward for thinking “it’s getting to be spring” being 5-8 inches of wet, sloppy snow. But definitive signs of spring are here even in Mazama, where, Eric Burr informs me, spring beauty is out up the Spokane Gulch footpath and buttercups dot the top of the climbing rocks.

If you want yellow bells, you can find them under the cliffs above the start of Lost River’s Monument Creek Trail. All three areas still have lots of snow at the bottom — more than in recent years, Eric says — so flower seekers will need to be intrepid and prepared to face a little more winter on their quest for spring.

Liberty Bell High School students Ella Hall and Taya Delong have recently returned from Alaska, where they spent the week teaching Nordic skiing to children in remote villages. Volunteering with a program called Skiku (www.Skiku.com), the two Methow Valley Nordic Team members flew to Anchorage, then parted ways and jumped on bush planes headed for the villages: Mountain Village (southwestern Alaska on the Yukon River) for Ella, and Gambell (St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea) for Taya. Both villages are inhabited primarily by Yup’ik people and have tiny populations (under 800) in vast open spaces.

Skiku, the sponsoring organization whose mission it is to create a sustainable Nordic ski program in communities throughout Alaska, shipped boxes of food and about 50 pairs of skis, poles and boots in all sizes to the villages ahead of time. When the volunteers showed up, they organized the gear and spent every day all week teaching the students how to ski.

Forget Pisten Bullies and ginzu groomers — heck, forget groomed trails! Taya and Ella just took the kids out wherever they could find snow: on the landing strips, on the windswept tundra, and even on the roads. Snow was minimal in Alaska this year, and conditions were icy, but that didn’t stop the kids from clamoring for more and more skiing.

“The kids were so wonderful,” says Taya. “They were respectful and polite and so enthusiastic about skiing.” Ella says that the teachers were particularly appreciative of the ski program, telling them that it was great to see the kids getting off their electronic devices and getting active.

It was an active week for Ella and Taya as well, who taught skiing from sunup ’til sundown. “We pretty much dragged ourselves back at the end of each day,” says Ella, who was housed in the school library and cooked her meals in the school’s home economics room.

Taya’s village, Gambell, is on the northernmost tip of St. Lawrence Island (unlike Sarah Palin, Taya actually could see Russia from where she was working!) and is thus very isolated from mainland influences. “The native culture is really being preserved there,” Taya says, “The students all speak the Yup’ik language, they take Yup’ik classes at school. The men all hunt walrus and bowhead whales, and all the little boys want to be hunters when they grow up.”

Both skiers say that the week was incredibly rewarding. The students seemed to feel that way as well, because as Ella and Taya were departing it was to the sound of kids pleading with them to come back and visit them again.

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