Story last updated at 2:34 p.m. Thursday, December 5, 2002

Cross-country skiing season begins, snow doesn't
by Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

As the 2002-03 cross-country skiing season gets under way, Homer High School skiers are working hard on a formula for success. Unfortunately, they are missing one key ingredient -- snow.

Warm temperatures and plenty of rain the past two months have turned the Homer ski areas, usually pristine white slopes this time of year, into saturated mud pits.

Ski team head coach Daryl Farrens has had only one day of practice on real snow, forcing the Homer High athletes to trade in their skies for roller blades and running shoes.

"We got one good day on snow and were ready to go the next," Farrens said "But the groomer (on Ohlson Mountain) called and said it was raining like crazy."

The rain hasn't dampened the spirits of this year's young team, though, and the coach is getting creative with his training methods.

"The kids still have a good attitude," Farrens said. "We're doing conditioning, running, hill bounding, ski hops, and going to the Spit with roller skis and roller blades."

"It has actually been kind of nice. There were several kids that needed to get in condition before they got on skis," he said.

The warm temperatures have allowed the team to get into shape and work on technique without braving the normally cold November weather. Coach Farrens said the extra preliminary work will help once the snow comes and the athletes have an opportunity to fine-tune their style.

Of the returning skiers this season, Aleta Phelps is the standout. She is coming off her top 20 performances last year at state in both the 7.5-kilometer freestyle and 5-K classical events. She will lead a team that consists of two seniors, two juniors and 12 or 13 underclassmen.

This weekend's race will be held in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys at Hatcher Pass, the closest skiable location, and will be hosted by Colony High School of Palmer. Coach Farrens said the meet will start at 11 a.m. Friday and early morning on Saturday before the recreational crowds show up. Details were still being finalized at press time.

Homer residents' first chance to see the team in action at home will be Jan. 17 at the Relays at McNeil Canyon, snow permitting.

The team has not lost hope that true winter is just around the corner.

"We have a little cheer at the end of practice," he said. "Snow!"

The team is also soliciting help from the public in turning the warm weather around. Praying for snow and snowdances are appreciated.

"Anything you can do will help us in that department," Farrens said.

Ben Stuart can be reached at bstuart@homernews .com.