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Eagle Glacier

Interview with Erik Flora

What is APU Nordic and what kind of athletes are on your team?
APU Nordic is an Nordic ski program based on the campus of Alaska Pacific University. Our focus is developing athletes for international level competitions and promoting skiing as a healthy lifestyle in the Anchorage community. This year we had 4 athletes compete in the Olympics, plus I was a coach on the US Olympic team staff. One of our top athletes won the overall World Cup Sprint title, bringing home the crystal globe for the third year in a row.

Where is Eagle Glacier?
Eagle Glacier is in the Chugach Mountains. It is located 45 minutes south of Anchorage Alaska just a short helicopter ride from Girdwood, Alaska.

What kind of accommodations are on the glacier and how long do training camps usually last per session?
The facilities include a full service building, including commercial kitchen, indoor plumbing, and can host 20 athletes. On the main floor we have a common dining area and a place for video review of training. For ski service, we have a conex that houses all the skis, typically 60-80 pair and 2 work benches. Camps are typically 4-7 days.

How many camps do you run at Eagle Glacier every year?
We operate in summer months, typically 7 camps.

What are the benefits of Nordic ski training a snow during the summer?
Eagle is a special glacier facility. Special to Eagle is the terrain. We are able to prepare a competition style track with approximately 10 km of skiing. Courses include terrain similar to Olympic ski trails. Plus we have a few features to help athlete hone skills. This year we have a series of ’S’ turns and a jump. Definitely keep the athletes furthering technical skills. Summer training is a critical part of international level preparation. We have a saying that “skiers are made in the summer.” It is true, summer is a time we can work on technique and build a solid training base.

How many hours of training will some of your more experienced athletes train in a given week on the glacier?
Typical athlete will train between 20-30 hours in a week. Approximately 275-450 km’s.

Can you and does your team train at Eagle Glacier all summer?
Our Elite team trains at Eagle one week a month during the dry land season.

How do you and the athletes get up to the glacier?
We typically helicopter in and hike out. Reliable glacier access is a key to making Eagle a great training environment. Fortunately we have a great helicopter service, Alpine Air that keeps us running smooth. The hike out is approximately 5000 ft of descent over 3 miles. A great Alaskan adventure.

How do you get a PistenBully groomer up to Eagle Glacier?
This is a great story. We operated a 1985 PB 130 for the better part of 10 years. In 2010, we upgraded our operation to a PB100. It is an incredible groomer. The trick was getting the PB100 to the glacier. Everything is helicopter access. The largest helicopter in the area could lift 4,000 lbs. With the PB100 being in the ball park of 12,000 lbs, we had a lot of dismantling to do. (I will send a few pictures in a second email). We worked at Carlisle trucking in Anchorage to make the brand new PB100 into manageable bundles. Fortunately they had a great work space and supported us in the project. We parted the machine, then Carlisle loaded piece by piece on a flat bed trailer and transported to Girdwood. In Girdwood we had Alpine Air’s A-Star support and a Super Huey from Palmer, Alaska. In the end, we took off the cab, the deck, tiller, blade, tracks, tires, all 3 hydraulic pumps, emptied all fluids and finally we had the frame under 4000 lbs. It was an awesome project. It took a week to figure out and 2 days to put it back together on Eagle.

Who does your groomer maintenance work? Grooming?
We have 2-3 glacier staff. I lead the maintenance with the help of Michael Matteson and Don Haering. Between being an athlete and a coach, I became an A/P Aircraft mechanic. I haven’t touched an airplane in nearly 10 years, but is has been really rewarding to learn about Pisten Bully’s. They are amazing machines. Our new PB100 has operated 750 hours with very little work. For grooming, I love to groom. It is one of my passions in life. Our current grooming staff is Mike, Don, and myself. Though anytime I can be in the cab, I am. It is cool to see my kids also having appreciation for PB’s. Often they will join me in the cab. My favorite time to groom on the glacier is between Midnight and 2 PM. During the summer, Alaska is nearly light all day/night. After midnight the still air and beautiful colors are incredible.

Do you have any good stories about the PistenBully you use on the glacier?
Stories…yes, endless good stories about Pisten Bully’s and work on the glacier. One of my favorites is our winter storage. One day we hope to have a garage. In the meantime, we have found that if we take off the tracks, tiller, blade, and deflate the tires we can squeeze the PB100 into a conex. It is tight fit, we have roughly 2 inches on the sides and 1 inch on the top. For the first 4-5 years I was on the glacier, we let the PB get buried, then we would dig out in the spring. One spring after 12 hours of digging, we came up with the conex idea. It took the better part of 25 hours of work to figure out how to get the PB100 in the conex, from “will it fit” to how do we get it in without any way to drive (no tracks). We have refined our process to under 1 hr. The trick is setting a snow anchor pulling with a pick point where we can navigate the machine to get the right alignment. Once set, all it takes is a come-along and bit of muscle. (picture included). Ok…one more story…We operated a PB130 for the better part of 10 years. On a snowy day, we lost a high time motor, it was 8 km from the facility in a place with no engine hoist to pull the motor. We used a snow mobile to haul tools, supplies, etc to the site of the project. We built a wooden frame from 2x4’s for a pick point, then hoisted the motor with a handful of pulleys. It was a full day for sure. Easily 15 hours of hauling equipment, building, pulling, etc. The story gets better. Glacier work makes any project 10 times as long with setting up an adequate remote work station on the glacier. Luckily PB’s are so maintenance friendly, the old motor came out in a cinch. Getting the new motor in place was looking a little more complicated with lining up the spline and motor mount points. We called on our friends at Alpine Air. With an R44, a 100 foot haul line, and an incredibly competent pilot, we were able to have the motor flown in from Girdwood. The pilot guided the motor on the 100 ft line and gently put the motor in place. Placing the motor took less than 5 minutes. Motor was placed within 1/2 inch by helicopter on a 100 ft rope. Engine compartment on PB is super. (picture included)

Anything else you would like to add about your program? About your PistenBully?
Eagle glacier and the Thomas Training Center is the US training ground for many of our nordic Olympians. It is the only facility in the US and one of only a handful in the world. Being a challenging remote facility with the expectation of World Class grooming, we live by the reputation of our grooming. We choose Pisten Bully. It is what we trust.