Tom Besh (1948-1993): Athlete, Teacher, Coach

A life-long Alaskan, Tom Besh was one of the first skiers to come out of the successful Clark Junior High ski program coached by Joe Kalla in the early 1960s, just as the Nordic Ski Club was born. A graduate of East High, he was a member of the first Nordic ski team the USSA Alaska Division sent to Junior Nationals in 1965 (the Nordic Ski Club helped to fund travel costs). A fierce competitor, Tom earned All American honors while skiing for Western State College in Colorado. Among his achievements was winning the annual July 4 Mt. Marathon Race in Seward in 1969, 1973, and 1977.

Tom Besh taught in the Anchorage School District for 20 years, coaching at the high school level and introducing his P.E. classes to skiing before becoming the coach of the fledgling UAA ski team. He was a kind and caring coach. Tom was best described by his colleague Paul Crews as a quiet man but of strong convictions who fought hard for the minor sports at UAA. AMU’s Jim Mahaffey said, “he was highly ethical and very concerned about his students. He was a sort of quiet type of teacher-coach. He demanded a lot—he had a high ethical standard and a high technical standard.” He often held clinics over winter vacation, and many young aspiring Alaska skiers benefited from his expertise.

Tom coached the women’s Nordic ski team at UAA to an Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national title in 1979 and coached 19 of his university athletes to All American honors over his 13 years as head ski coach. He also coached U.S. teams at the World University Games and the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

After Tom’s tragic death at age 45 in a plane crash, NSAA honored his memory by naming the lighted trail at Hillside Park the Besh Loop. Each year the USSA tryout races for Junior Nationals are named the Besh Cup as a reflection of his lasting impact on Nordic ski racing in Alaska