Ivar Skarland came to Alaska as an immigrant laborer with poor English but became an expert in northern anthropology and one of the University of Alaska's most popular professors. His passion for Nordic skiing made it a unique feature of campus life that thrives to this day.
Skarland was born in 1899 in Norway. His grandfather told him of sailing to California as a young man, so Skarland decided to see North America. In summer 1930, he began working at the coal mine in Healy, where he would often return to finance his education.
Skarland spoke Norwegian, French and German, but when he tried to enroll at the college that fall, President Charles Bunnell put him off to work on his English. Only a few years later, Skarland got a campus job grading papers for the freshmen composition class. Student Bill Cashen said he would search reference books to try to find errors in Skarland's red marks. "I never did; but as the year progressed I was pleased to note that he became less meticulous, and toward the end he didn't make many marks at all," Cashen said.
In 1934, Skarland and another student cut the first ski trail from the center of campus to Smith Lake and back. The Skarland trails gradually expanded and today form a fabulous woodland network used by the entire Fairbanks community.
Skarland served briefly as a faculty member, joined the Army in WWII and earned a doctorate at Harvard before returning to teach at UA permanently in 1949. He lived in the cabin built in 1936 by the college's first anthropology professor, Froelich Rainey. The cabin, which sits just east of the Cutler apartments, is still used today. Skarland died suddenly in 1965.
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