Minneapolis held a successful World Cup in February. Could Anchorage be next?

Gus Schumacher celebrates his World Cup win in Minneapolis on Sunday, Feb. 18,2024. (Nathaniel Herz for FasterSkier)

Kikkan Randall thinks a cross-country skiing World Cup event in Anchorage could be “transformative.” In 2018, Randall won a gold medal at the Olympics in South Korea in a team sprint event. She’s currently the executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage. And in February, she was in Minneapolis, working as an NBC commentator for the first World Cup event on U.S. soil in over 20 years. That’s where Anchorage skier Gus Schumacher skied to the top of the World Cup podium in the 10K skate event. 

She says that event was a huge success that “blew all expectations.” And Randall hopes the Minneapolis event helped stoke excitement for more World Cup cross-country skiing in the U.S., including in Anchorage.


This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Kikkan Randall: Imagining a World Cup in Anchorage has been a dream of mine for a long time, when I started to have success in the World Cup back in the mid-2000s. And watching so many of my competitors get a chance to perform on their home turf in front of their fans, their family made me think I want to bring this kind of experience back to my hometown that was so crucial for my development. And so I started having conversations. But at that point, you know, it had been so long that no one really had the concept of what a U.S. World Cup would look like. So I think over the last decade or so, we had more and more conversations and better and better results. I think the gold medal in 2018 really did up the ante and got people really thinking about cross-country skiing in the U.S. more than ever. And certainly with a success like Minneapolis last week, I think the possibilities are just opening up.

Lori Townsend: Have you talked with the executive director of the Loppet Cup foundation about what it took to bring the World Cup to the Theodore Wirth course in Minneapolis and what that may spell for Anchorage?

KR: Yeah, I’ve actually become really good friends with Claire Wilson, who is the executive director of the Loppet Foundation. Of all the places in the United States, the Loppet Foundation really mirrors what the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage does. They are an organization that does all things cross-country: they groom the trails, they run the programs, they put on big events, and they’re doing it all on public land. And that’s what we do here in Anchorage. And so I connected with her early in my role as executive director, and had actually been advising them kind of from an athlete perspective on how important the World Cup experience is, in serving the athletes. And so yeah, it’s really come together. And we’re both excited to actually form a coalition of venues across the U.S. who could have the potential to host World Cups. Because I think the beauty is seeing what worked well in Minneapolis, and being able to share that knowledge and look at other potential venues, I think is our best scenario for having World Cups not once every 23 years. But you know, having a World Cup on U.S. soil every other year.

Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won Olympic gold in a sprint relay in 2018. (Photo courtesy of APU)

LT: That’s a great and ambitious goal. What would it actually take to get Anchorage there? There’s a lot of pieces in place already it sounds like but what would it take to actually make this happen?

KR: Well, Anchorage hosted one of the early editions of the World Cup back in 1982. And so we’ve got a little bit of heritage there. Of course, the World Cup looks a little different today than it did back in the ’80s. But you know, I think we have a lot of infrastructure here in Anchorage that would make it possible from the technical sport side. But when you put on a production that big, you have to think about TV, you have to think about sponsorship, you’re bringing the European teams over to Anchorage, so certainly it’s a bigger scope. I think, though, the power of doing something like that can be so transformative. Even for a venue like Anchorage, it has 60 years of heritage, because when you have a big event, that’s your reason to invest in your infrastructure and the sport continues to accelerate. And technology is changing all the time. And so to be able to have an example like Minneapolis to draw from, I think certainly having a hometown hero, like Gus Schumacher, with the success he’s just had, gives us all the more reason to try and make it happen. And I think it could be an amazing thing for Anchorage. And I’m excited now to get to work. it’s definitely one of those visions that’s going to take a while to bring to fruition but just in some conversations with local city government officials I think there’s interest there.

LT: What do you think it would mean to Anchorage skiers who are currently on the World Cup circuit to be able to race in front of a hometown crowd? What would it have meant for you?

KR: Well, I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little jealous, because I spent most of my World Cup career toiling away and the closest I ever got was Quebec City, where we had a lot of American fans come up from the eastern United States. But it would be so meaningful for our Alaskan athletes and, you know, those who are veterans — by the time we would be able to get on the World Cup calendar, Gus Schumacher is going to be a little bit more developed in his career. You know, at that point, it’d be amazing to showcase where he’s at. 

But I love to think about the opportunity it presents for the development of future champions. You know, we have kids in our Junior Nordic program right now, that could be of age to race a World Cup in eight years. And so just the idea that a World Cup would be coming to Anchorage could be that difference of, “I want to be a good high school skier. No, I want to be a World Cup champion, like Gus someday.” And then not to mention that if we hosted a World Cup, you think about all the kids that are standing in the crowd cheering on and when they see the speed, the power of these athletes, you can’t help but get inspired. And I know that our American champion, Ted Ligety, native of Park City, credits him being on the side of the course at the 2002 (Salt Lake City) Olympics as a spectator, as a young kid for igniting his Olympic dream. And he became one of our most successful Alpine racers of all time. So I’d love to provide that kind of opportunity for our kids here in Alaska, to be able to see their heroes up close and just, you know, feel inspired to go after such a big dream. 

Lori Townsend is the news director and senior host for Alaska Public Media. You can send her news tips and program ideas for Talk of Alaska and Alaska Insight at ltownsend@alaskapublic.org or call 907-550-8452.

Previous articleWith unease, Anchorage Assembly calls for Israel-Hamas cease-fire
Next articleNTSB says Boeing is withholding key details about door plug on Alaska 737 Max 9 jet