Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Exhibition Gala

Skaters are in Vegas already for the 2020 Skate America, competition begins Friday. The USFSA started sharing pictures and video yesterday. I'm in such a funk, but I'm also just thankful that a competition is happening. Skate Canada and the Internationaux de France have both been officially canceled. We won't be getting a Four Continents Championship next year. Right now Skate America seems to be the only thing we've got... so I'll take it.

The Gala last year was a great finale to a wonderful whirlwind weekend (yay alliteration). I think it was the bestie's favorite part just for the entertainment value. There were emotional moments as well as some great laughs. The extras were cheesy (they had a magician and a contortionist and the skating dog came back) but over all it was one of the better gala's I've attended. 

Keegan Messing had everyone on their feet with a moving tribute to his brother who passed in a motorcycle accident just weeks before. Some skaters used previous years competitive programs as their exhibitions. Some had Vegas themed programs. Others debuted their show program for the season. A great collection of skates. Something for everyone.

As I did with my practice photos blog post, this is just going to be a photo dump with no commentary or captions. You can see all of the Skate America 2019 photos in my gallery. Thanks for reading along. I'm hoping to live tweet a bit of the competition this weekend so if you want to chat all things figure skating find me on twitter!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Ladies Free Program

The final installment of today's blog posts (annoyed yet? probably). It's a good thing, too, because I'm running out of things to write.

The ladies were fireworks and sparkles and fun. I would have preferred the men or the dance to close out the competition, but it was still a decent competition to end with. Quads and costume "changes" were what won the day, but it was nice to see the US hold their own and the "elder" Russian make a stand. 

Overall the outcome wasn't all that surprising, though it was weird to see USA and not Japan on the podium. I want to be as flexible as these ladies, that's for sure. Some of the positions they are able to contort themselves into still make me hurt just thinking about it.

As with the other blog posts (Pairs Free, Mens Free, Free Dance) I'll keep to the two photos per skater and you can view all of my photos from Skate America 2019 in my gallery. There's just one more day of photos and I'll probably just do like I did with the practice post and do a huge photo dump. You've been warned. Then we'll get back to mushing.

Yi Christy LEUNG - Hong Kong

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Free Dance

Confession: I am a Short Dance fan... I'd rather we still have the three components of Compulsaries, Original Dance, and Free Dance... but I love the Short Dance (when it isn't a latin dance). Seeing the patterns get integrated into the program is just fun. I'm still waiting for the Yankee Polka! Haha! 

This event was pretty "normal", I have to say I wasn't impressed with the top two teams, but overall the judging wasn't terrible. The team from Spain was my favorite, and I also really liked what I saw from the French and Chinese. Overall just a well skated competition. 

As for the earlier blog posts (Pairs Free Program, Mens Free Program), I'm going to stick with two photos per team (try to) and you can view all of my photos from Skate America 2019 in my gallery

Hong CHEN / Zhuoming SUN - China

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Mens Free Program

Benny the skating dog stole the show.
I'll be honest, this competition didn't end the way I wanted. I had really hoped Keegan could make it onto the podium. He deserves to. He is an incredibly talented skater and often comes close. Still, that afternoon event was a lot of fun to watch (I mean, Nathan Chen tried to do hip hop. That in and of itself was worth the price of admission.) We sat next to a lady (who was not our fan in any way, especially once she found my best friend was NOT a fan of the sport so how dare she even exist) who was a huge Jason Brown fan so it was nice to see her guy skate well. I mean, it's hard not to want Jason to do well, he's just one of those guys you want to cheer for.

Not surprisingly Nathan Chen was leaps above the rest of the competition and he wasn't even completely on his game (he stood up though). His tech is incredible and I like that he keeps trying things to keep the sport interesting. It was a well skated event for being the first big competition of the season, and once again we had a blast cheering them all on. I did not get photos of the medal ceremony for the men or the pairs because it went longer than expected and so I had to hoof it to make our reservation for dinner. 

As with my blog post earlier (Pairs Free Program) I'll keep it to two photos per skater and you can view all of the photos from Skate America in my gallery.

Koshiro SHIMADA - Japan

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Pairs Free Program

A year ago today. We were all sitting close together sharing snacks and laughs. A year ago today we were planning to visit some resorts and the pop up FRIENDS anniversary event. A year ago today we visited the M&M store and the World of Hershey's. A year ago today the Free Programs for the competitors happened and we were there to watch. A year ago today Covid wasn't a concern. A year ago today was a lot more fun than it is today as I deal with a mountain of Monday issues.

Yes, another series of posts brought on by a whine is happening. I'd apologize for my privilege of having been able to travel at all in the good times much less the less than good, but I want to validate my feelings on my blog, so I will. I don't expect many -if any- to even read these, maybe if I did my attitude would be different. 

The Pairs competition held some surprises with Team USA (who'd've thought Cain and Le Duc would have SO many issues that night, and that Jessica and Brian would have the start of a stellar season that would be cut short just a few months later when the world came to a screeching halt) and even a year later I'm surprised by the overall outcome of the event. It was a great way to start off the day of competition.

Just like with the last couple of days worth of posts on this subject, I will try to keep to 2 pics of each team. You can view all of my photos from Skate America 2019 in my gallery.

Camille RUEST / Andrew WOLFE - Canada

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Ladies Short Program

Cheat sheet for the camera man to identify the skater.
In the US it's all about the Ladies even though lately our ladies haven't really been the most competitive of our team. Doesn't mean the powers that be don't continue to make them the headlining event of a competition (though US Nationals now closes out with Ice Dance). Skate America was buzzing with talk of the Russian Jumping Queens that were sure to show off on the ice. We watched the girls in both practice and warm up attack quad jump after quad jump. A lot of falls. A lot of grumpy looks from Coach Eteri. A lot of hype. 

Okay, not too much hype, they delivered. But so did Team USA as best they could without the quads and the triple axel. Japan also delivered and the Russian ladies quickly learned that it's not just about the jumps, because if you don't hit your tech you need to at least have some presentation marks to help hold you up. Not that they wiped the ice - far from it - but there was a glaring difference between the Japanese and US ladies vs Team Russia (though they did have one "mature" lady who does her best to have some semblance of artistry in her programs). 

I was excited to see some of the ladies I only ever see on TV, and they all made for some great photos. Just as I have with the other blog posts in today's series (Pairs Short, Mens Short, Short Dance) I'll keep to two photos per lady and you can view the rest in my Skate America photo gallery

Yi Christy LEUNG - Hong Kong

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Short Dance

Who doesn't love a Zamboni?
Okay, while Men's will always be my "official" favorite discipline for figure skating... in all honesty Ice Dance probably is. I mean, it's Ice Dance. It's technical and entertaining all in one. That there aren't any jumps does not matter, there's as much if not more danger in this sport. The personalities are bold. The costumes are stellar. THE DRAMA OF IT ALL. How can you not love Ice Dance? 

Right now, North American teams are killing it on the World Stage - though Russia is starting to push its way into the mix again - and I feel sometimes the other countries are overlooked. Getting to see some of the other teams live was a real treat and I came away with some new favorites (I really adored Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz's Short Dance and their Free... and their gala... okay I just love them). 

As with the other two blog posts in today's series (Pairs Short, Mens Short), I'll try my darndest to keep to two photos per team (so hard!) and you can view all of my photos from Skate America in the gallery

Caroline GREEN / Michael PARSONS - USA

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Men's Short Program

Keegan Messing - Canada (by way of Alaska)
Men's Figure Skating has always been my favorite figure skating discipline to watch, mainly because the skater that first got me interested in the sport was 1984 Olympic Champion Scott Hamilton. I was 4 and totally in love with that dude. Still am, if I'm being honest. My first sports hero that I got to pick all on my own.

The 2019 Skate America competition had some of my favorite skaters of the current era. It was a great event, competitive, and many skaters debuted at least one of their programs (if they hadn't done so during the summer string of club competitions). I was most excited to see Canada's Keegan Messing. Keegan is from Alaska, but skates for our neighbors. Last time I'd seen him compete he was still part of Team USA and he was skating as a junior (so do the math, it was 2008 US Nationals lol). Keegan's brother had passed away in an accident not too long before Vegas and it was an emotional week for him, but he did far better than most expected. I was total fangirl and I think I got all of our crew super excited for the guy! 

As with my earlier blog post for the Pairs Short Program, I'm going to try and limit myself to two photos per skater, but we'll see. You can see all of my photos from Skate America in my gallery.

Koshiro SHIMADA - Japan

Remember When: Skate America 2019 Pairs Short

The Ice Sweeps were very Vegas in costume.
Continuing with this weekend of whining - today's blog post will be a series of four so that I don't completely go over kill in one giant blog post. Kudos to anyone who is reading, at this point I'm not doing much with content other than just photo dumping and I do apologize. I should have posted these photos a year ago and I never got around to it (to be fair I didn't finish editing these photos until mid 2020). 

The great thing about Skate America is it's a quick weekend event. Two days of competition bookended with an official practice and an exhibition gala. I had never been to an international event - the only other skating competitions I've been to are US Nationals in 2005, 06, 08, and 18 - so it was a new and very enjoyable experience. The arena was smaller than what I'm used to for events, but the staff were incredibly friendly. The seats were great for spectating. We met some awesome fans (and one not so awesome one, but it ended up being highly entertaining anyway). Made some new friends.

And the skating was amazing. I don't shoot photos for any reason other than for my own enjoyment. I like to challenge myself into getting the right shot. The lighting in the arena worked really well for cameras and of course once the TV lights come on it's perfect.

The first discipline was pairs. It was a small field and not many of the big names were there other than those from the US (which if you're a figure skating fan you know it's the weak link for Team USA). Didn't matter to me as it was still a great event and I found some new pairs to follow. I'll try to keep the photos to 1-2 per pair, but I make no promises. It's like choosing between your children... ya just shouldn't! (As always, click the "read more" to see all the photos under the cut, and check out my gallery for all of my photos from Skate America 2019.)


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Remember When: Skate America 2019 practice

A year ago today I was in Las Vegas for the first time to attend my first International Figure Skating competition (as a spectator). I, of course, brought along my camera. We had great seats (front row behind and to the right of the judges table!) and I managed to get a ridiculous amount of photos of all of the skaters. 

A year ago today my best friend Erin sat alongside me and watched a sport she only occasionally puts on the TV (and only really when we can chat together while watching) because we rarely see each other due to her finding a great guy to marry and that solidified her staying in Montana while I stay here in Alaska. It was a girls trip where we were also hanging out with my skating fan friends whom I've known for at least 15 years (in person, longer online and I'm not saying how long bc we're already too old). 

A year ago today there were barely even rumblings of an upcoming pandemic. A year ago today we were barely talking about the upcoming election. A year ago today we weren't preoccupied with masks and civil war and red and blue and purple and green. Sure those problems existed and some of us even did care an awful lot... but life was relatively - what we thought as - normal. 

Today, I'm not packing for Vegas and Skate America - which was supposed to take place in the same arena as last year because it was such a great venue those of us who attended made sure to let the USFS know how much we wanted to return. Today, I'm counting down to watching Skate America 2020 stream online. Today skaters are probably doing their final covid test in prep for the event, and hoping the event takes place. There won't be an audience. We don't know what to expect in this age of Covid.

Yes, I'm being whiny. I really wanted to be there. I really wanted to see my friends and watch amazing skaters. So instead I'm just going to relive that weekend in October last year. Today - some of my favorite photos from the official practice... a year ago today. Yeah, another photo dump. If you want to see all of my Skate America 2019 photos you can visit my gallery.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Mid-Distance sled dog races open for registration

Several mid-distance races opened registration last weekend for their 2021 races. With all of the uncertainty in 2020, fans wondered if races would see a slow start to the season - but the worry was all for naught. Every race has seen a very healthy return of applications, some are even full. Even with the uncertainty of travel, teams from Canada and the Lower-48 plan to come up to Alaska for the racing season. Alaska wasn't the only state to see races come alive for registrations.

The John Beargrease opened registration for it's different classes (with the 120 being full), with many familiar teams returning for another go at the Lower 48's premiere race. The Pedigree Stage-Stop race also opened registration with several familiar names on the roster. 

The Willow 300, which earlier this fall announced they were unsure they would be able to put on a race due to lack of volunteers, filled out within minutes. The race capped its number at 45. Willow 300 is one of the few races that does not do an interval start. Teams line up for a mass start on Willow Lake, though some choose to hold back and give their teams room to run. It makes for an exciting bit of race action for anyone watching.

The Kuskokwim 300 - which starts and ends in the Western-Alaska town of Bethel - also opened registration and is boasting the largest opening day of registration roster to date with many of the sport's top names. With Covid being a very real possibility for concern leading into 2021, Bethel has already been very pro-active in how they plan to make sure this race is safe for everyone. It's still early in the season, but this race is shaping up to be the one to watch. The Kusko always delivers an exciting race. 

Copper Basin 300 opened up registration, with 24 teams signing up on opening day. The CB300 is known as the coldest mid-distance race and offers many challenges for veteran and rookie teams alike. The 2020 race was nearly called off mid race due to cold, with many teams choosing to scratch at the first two checkpoints because of weather reports. This year there's a good balance of veterans and rookies hoping to take on the course.

The Yukon Quest has had to restructure for the 2021 race due to border and financial concerns. With Covid-19 a persistent issue, the race decided it would not be feasible to try to hold the traditional thousand mile race, and the lack of funds made running two 300 mile races difficult. However the Alaska side of the Quest has decided to hold the Yukon Quest 300 and have renamed it the Summit Quest, recognizing that the Alaska 300 trail goes over several of the famous summits of the Quest trail. 20 teams signed up on the first day. Several popular Quest teams are in the mix, including former Champion Hugh Neff. 

New race "Sweeps" also opened up registration this past week and announced two sign ups. First to register is DeeDee Jonrowe who retired from competitive dog mushing several years ago (do mushers ever really retire?) as well as Iditarod Champion Jeff King. Sweeps has a very expensive entry fee of $4000 to help build a giant purse payout. However, this is a steep price and it is unclear if there will be enough teams to make the race viable (the race states it needs 25 teams to sign up and race at minimum). 

Of course, all (except the Beargrease 120 and Willow 300) are still open for registration - as is registration for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Most races will keep registration open through December, the season is shaping up to be an exciting one. 

Which races are you excited to follow? Who are you rooting for? Who are you hoping to see sign up for some races? Comment below!

Mushing fans come together to help Yukon Dogs

Don't say the Mushing Fandom isn't devoted to their sport. Several weeks ago news broke that due to a record low Chum salmon run, dog teams in the Yukon River villages were looking at a bleak winter. Unlike dogs in other parts of the country or even the state, there isn't a local pet food store these mushers can run to. The dogs of the Yukon feed off of fish and other subsistence foods - just as they always have. Shipping in extra dog food is a financial hardship in a good year, in one where "real food" can't be supplemented into the dogs' diets has many dog owners looking at not so great alternatives. Many dogs are facing being sent outside to other kennels or homes, or possibly even being humanely put down to save them from starvation.

A plea for help went out quickly, started in large part on social media by Steph Quinn-Davidson the Director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Steph's original plea was directed more towards dog food companies seeing if any would be willing to donate some kibble to the doggos in need. Fans quickly helped spread the word and tagged their favorite brands. Only one, Purina, stepped up - donating 35,000 pounds of dog food as well as the shipping costs to get the dry dog food to Fairbanks. And then things were quiet again.

This past week, Steph once again took to social media for help. With the announcement of Purina's sponsorship, now all she needed was to fund the shipping of the relief food to the different villages that were in need. Alaska's News Source gave a signal boost to the plight of the Yukon Sled Dogs running a story on their website and Steph created a GoFundMe fundraiser. Word spread. By Thursday people were posting what they could to the fundraiser and sharing through many platforms. By Friday - the fundraiser had met the original goal and changed their goal to twice the original number. With shipping costs taken care of, all other funding will go to purchase more dog food. More mushers along the river are asking for help, and the cost will no doubt increase.

At present, $22,160 has been raised in just over 24 hours. A huge part of that is due to the UglyDogs (a fan group that supports Blair Braverman and Quince Mountain - dog mushers in Wisconsin who've brought the sport to a whole new generation of fans) who love their spreadsheets and LOVE to help in however way they can. The fans not only boosted the fundraiser, they are actively looking for other dog food companies who would be willing to help offset some of the dog food costs. The UglyDogs have done this before, with their IGiveARod donations over the last two races as they followed their favorite teams along the trail they would donate to different causes in the villages and towns along the race map. 

The donations of food, shipping, etc will greatly help not only the dogs survive - but it also keeps tradition alive. For generations dogs have been a crucial part of life for Alaskans, especially those "off grid" and "off the road system". While the Iditarod was a way to celebrate and keep that tradition alive, the sled dogs of the races look a little different than the dogs used for every day recreation and lifestyle. Dogs that help haul wood, wild game, and other supplies don't need to be fast - but they do need to be strong and hearty - and that requires food. And they'll get it. Thanks in large part to the dedication of fans all over the globe who understand just home important these canines are.

The fundraiser is ongoing for shipping and food costs. You can contact Steph via her twitter account if you would like to help or would like more information. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Walking Along Potter Marsh

Are you annoyed yet? I know this is a lot of photo dumps lately. I should have done this throughout the summer, but I was too busy adventuring to blog, so I apologize. Today's featured adventure was the visit to Potter Marsh just outside of Anchorage Alaska along the Seward Highway. This is a "free" spot for tourists and locals alike to view the local wildlife and landscape. I say "free" because they do ask for a donation, you can place check or cash in a box at the head of the boardwalk. 

There is a boardwalk that takes out out over the Marsh. There are several different "paths" that bring you over waterways where spawning salmon make their way to the spawn beds. Water fowl of every type can be seen all throughout the marsh. Big game like moose and bear frequent the area (moose more than bruin, and normally early morning or late night visits). Several "step outs" have a type of public binocular you can use to see some of the further away wildlife (or look into the homes on the hillside... I joke... kinda.) This is a popular attraction for everyone so be prepared to see a lot of bird watchers, tourists, etc.

On our visit we spotted spawning pink salmon, ducks and other water fowl, and a curious little ermine (also known as a stoat). You can view photos of our visit below.