National Meeting 2011: Alyeska, Alaska

Annual Meeting Wrap-up by John R. LaPlante, regional secretary

One of the benefits of NASJA membership is the opportunity to attend the national meeting for networking, professional development, and skiing/riding. This year’s event was at Alyeska Resort, in Alaska. Here’s a short review of what went on and what you missed.


While there was no “formal” pre-trip, some NASJA members and guests converged on Fairbanks. I wasn’t there, but I heard that some people observed the Alaskan Pipeline, and got to see the end of the Iron Dog Race. If you’re like most people, you may have never heard of this 2,000-mile long snowmobile race until Sarah Palin boasted on the 2008 campaign trail that her husband has been a frequent participant. Guess who showed up to greet the second place finisher of this year’s race?

The Alyeska Resort

The bulk of the week was at the Alyeska Resort, a 40-mile drive south of Anchorage, accessible via the Seward Highway, which follows the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. We stopped for photos along the way. The Alyeska Hotel has a spa, some shops, and an ice-skating pond, but it’s not the high-end, skiing-and-more facility that is, say, Sun Valley. The staff, at least in my own encounters with them, were top notch, friendly, and helpful.

Hotel Alyeska

The mountain experience

In the words of one attendee, “the snow was what I would expect from good eastern skiing”– hard and fast. Anyone who expected some powder time–I plead guilty–was disappointed. Chugach Powder Guides were not running their snowcat operations, since the area had not seen new snow in a while. Heliskiing was available, and some people who attended the conference did take advantage of that, but they reported conditions were less than epic. On the positive side, we had bluebird skies all week, which meant good visibility–at least if you were on a part of mountain that was in the sun and not obscured by the towering south ridge line. The mountain is not very good for never-evers or low-level beginners, and intermediates may find a week to be too long of a stay.

LaPlante at Chair 6

Off the mountain

In addition to skiing and riding, we had several off-the-mountain experiences. On Saturday, March 5, we took a ride into downtown Anchorage, where we got inside-the-fence access to the staging area for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Great Sled Race. That day is worthy of several stories of its own.

People pay big bucks to become Iditariders

The Iditarod comes at the end of Fur Rondy, a two week-long festival, so the ceremonial start is more of a parde than anything else. We saw some interesting characters, including the snow queen and Scotsmen in kilts.

The afternoon brought us several events, including a parade of vintage snowmobiles and the “Running of the Reindeer, which featured reindeer, shirtless men, and someone running in a “Gumby” costume. On Saturday evening we had our closing dinner at the Anchorage Museum, where we saw a dance presentation by high school students associated with the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

While some of us started the long trip home after that, others stayed behind for airplane tours, glacier-viewing cruises, and other activities. In short, the off-the-mountain experiences were great complements to the skiing and riding.

Midwest Represent

I enjoyed razzing a couple of our colleagues from California about the way that Midwesterners embrace winter–to the point of sitting on frozen lakes for hours at a time. Greg Snow served us well by putting together the awards video, and Frida Waara organized the dual slalom race.

Business matters


Several significant items came out of the board meeting. One was the selection of national officers. Bob Cox, who just completed four years as national president,  will become VP of meetings, replacing Dino Vournas. Vournas is stepping down from that position. Cox will be replaced by his predecessor, Phil Johnson. VP of communications Martin Griff will continue to bring NASJA into the new media world. Since I’m impressed by the energy he has brought to the job, I’m especially happy to see him continue. Our own Greg Snow, who was VP of meetings, will step down and be replaced by Dave Fonda.


The board decided to accelerate the schedule for preparing the membership directory. The goal is now to get it out in early August. To help with that effort, please renew your membership ASAP. (Send your check to Alice, and verify your directory listing at


The board talked about changing the by constitution and by-laws to reflect changes in the publishing world. There was no consensus on making the changes–some people thought the proposed changes were ambiguous–so we did not them. Several people expressed frustration with this result, and this echoed at the general meeting. It’s an ongoing issue, obviously.

During the general meeting, Sandy Chio, who is director of marketing for Alyeska Resort, affirmed that she pays attention to new-media journalists. Jen Boyd, representing South Tahoe, agreed, saying that while she may look at the affiliations journalists present to her, she looks at each person’s work and project.

On the subject of credentials, Dan Cassidy encouraged us to look at weekly, locally-focused newspapers as possible outlets for publication.


At the board meeting, Vicki Anderson reported that NASJA West has discussed whether it should accept Paypal or merchant debit cards for membership dues. Why? People are moving away from checks, and some young adults don’t have checking accounts. Opinions on the value of accepting electronic payments were divided among those at the board meeting. The issue is convenience for members and prospective members versus the fees that these services incur. I will be looking into the possibility of us using them here in the Midwest.


Greg Snow has written a press release about the various awards that were announced at the meeting. On the NASJA website you can also see the video that Greg created for us to watch during the banquet.

One person at the general meeting said, “We have to stop giving awards to dead people,” a sentiment I echo. We discussed but did not take any action on changing the constitution to prevent that from happening. During the board meeting, we moved up the deadlines for nominees by two months, in hopes that this will make it easier for people who earn the awards to show up to claim them. Let’s nominate some more (live) candidates next year!


We had three sessions devoted to professional development. Frida Waara discussed the five weeks she spent in Antarctica under a grant program administered by the National Science Foundation. Jen Butson, Martin Griff, and John LaPlante lead a discussion/workshop on using Facebook, which is definitely on the radar of most of our members.

Scott McMurren talked about how he uses multiple media, including, to tell stories about winter activities.

2012 Annual Meeting Announced

The next annual meeting will be March 5-9, 2012, in the South Lake Tahoe area. More details forthcoming.


4 Responses to National Meeting 2011: Alyeska, Alaska

  1. Frida Waara says:

    Super job John. Great re-cap and timely too.
    I haven’t even figured out what time zone I’m in yet.
    The hospitality of Alyeska was only matched by the beauty. I can’t believe all we experienced in our stay. Lots checked off my bucket list: Fairbanks, Alaska Railroad trip, skiing Alyeska, witnessing the start of the Iditarod AND the reindeer run, and of course the capper–a cruise out of Seward to see those majestic Chugach mountains from the waterline.
    What would I do without my NASJA membership?

  2. Bill Semon says:

    Good job with the commentary.

  3. Mike Terrell says:

    Nice job on the report John. I will say I don’t like the early dates for the national meeting. The dates this year were part of the problem I didn’t go. I go to Florida for the last three weeks of February, and I would have had to cut that short. I’m not sure about next year with the early date again. I like the end of March. Our Midwest season is still going strong in early March.

  4. Thanks for the recap John, and your attention to MRA and Manitoba ski area restoration project is appreciated.

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