Australian ski coach adjusting to Alaska life

By Tim Mowry

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Imagine someone from Fairbanks moving to Australia to coach surfing. Hard to comprehend, isn't it?

Now, imagine someone from Australia moving to Fairbanks to coach cross-country skiing. Sounds even more preposterous, doesn't it?

After all, who in their right mind would move to Fairbanks from Australia?

Meet 28-year-old Nick Grimmer.

Grimmer moved to Fairbanks from Australia six months ago after being hired as an assistant coach for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks' junior training and racing program, FXC. He also is the head coach of the Lathrop High cross-country ski team.

Never mind the fact most people don't even know there is snow, much less skiing, in Australia. Grimmer is here to tell you different.

"It's much better than here," Grimmer said of skiing in Australia compared to Fairbanks. "It's rarely below 32 degrees when we ski."

As evidence, Grimmer pulled up a picture on his computer that showed him racing in Australia last June. While he is wearing a spandex racing suit, the racer behind him is wearing a T-shirt.

Grimmer grew up in Mount Beauty, a town nestled in the high country of Victoria, about a four-hour drive north of Melbourne. Billed as Australia's premier alpine village for skiers and snowboarders, Mount Beauty is located at the base of 5,200-foot Mount Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria.

"I downhill skied until I was about 12 and then I got bored with it," Grimmer said. "The lines were long and the runs were short. By the time I was 13 I had exhausted all the downhill possibilities."

So Grimmer took up cross-country skiing. With about 65 kilometers of immaculately groomed trails in the area, the cross-country skiing is world class, he said.

Grimmer has an impressive Nordic resume. He was — and technically still is — a member of the Australian national cross-country ski team for all but one year between 2002 to 2011. He raced in the last two world championships and on the World Cup circuit from 2008 to 2011. Grimmer qualified for the Australian national team again in 2011 but turned down a chance to be on the team to come to Alaska.

"I would say I'm retired, but you have to be a lot better than I am to retire," he said with a laugh. "We had a saying in Australia that if you're not in the top 30 you quit, you don't retire."

His top place in a World Cup race was 69th, which he said "was good for an Australian."

Why Alaska?

The story of how Grimmer ended up in Fairbanks goes like this. While racing for the Australian national team in Europe, one of Grimmer's coaches was Jeff Ellis from Canada, who happens to be married to Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall, the top Nordic skier in the U.S.

Several Australian skiers had come to Alaska to train with Ellis and Randall at Alaska Pacific University and Grimmer heard good things about skiing in Alaska.

"They always said Alaska was fantastic," he said.

When Grimmer, who aspired to be a coach, spotted the FXC job advertised on the website FasterSkier.com, it piqued his interest. The fact that his wife, Lescinska, a.k.a. Linky, still is on the Australian national team and is training for the 2013 World Championships in Italy, also was a factor in his decision to move to Alaska.

"Linky wanted to keep skiing and I always wanted to coach, so we needed somewhere where we could make her a better skier and I could coach," Nick said.

Besides the cold, the biggest difference between skiing in Fairbanks and skiing in Australia is the length of the season.

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