Rip van Winkle could have opened his eyes Sunday and known by the mist of freezing rain that the Spokane Langlauf cross country citizens race was about to begin.
“Seems like something weird comes up every year to make waxing tricky,” said one skier during the pre-race frenzy on Mount Spokane.
A week of frigid weather came to an end with hot competition in the 10-kilometer course. After trading leads, Christian Hinderman, 23, finally broke away to beat former Spokane resident Jason Halloran, 19. Hinderman led the field of 260 finishers in 27:53.
Hinderman, coach of the Whitman College nordic ski team and former collegiate skier at the University of Vermont, said he decided to enter only one day before the race.
“The conditions looked so good when I came up on Saturday, I decided to jump in,” he said, noting that it was his first race in nearly a year. “I had second thoughts when I saw the mist on my windshield coming up the mountain, but the waxing wasn’t as hard as you’d think.”
Heidi Rhinehart, 16, of Winthrop, topped the women’s division in 32:55.
Seeded in the 10th row of the elite field, Rhinehart was tripped in a pile-up at the start. She skied 2 kilometers before catching seven-time Langlauf women’s champion Debbie Bauer of Spokane.
Bauer, 35, had started the race ahead of the commotion in row two. But Rhinehart steadily put away Bauer, who finished 1:39 behind the teenager for second place.
Jon Quinn-Hurst, a coach for the Inland Empire Nordic Club’s junior racing team, worked six hours in his garage prepping and waxing seven pairs of skis Saturday. He then tested and waxed skis for another 90 minutes before the race.
Invented by desperate Scandinavians who had to come up with some diversion to the dark winters, ski waxing is the art of science and hunches that seeks the ultimate in grip and glide.
However, the top two men and the top woman skier all used different grip wax combinations. All said their wax jobs worked well.
So maybe waxing wasn’t the secret Sunday.
Rhinehart, who’s only been skiing for seven years, recently returned from the World Junior Trials at Lake Placid, N.Y., where she placed third.
“I was there mostly for experience,” she said. “But I finished three seconds from second place, which would have qualified me to go to Italy.”
Halloran said he’s taking time out from going to college so he can live in Anchorage and ski for a shot at Junior Nationals in March.
Streaming in behind the hot-shot skiers was a colorful parade of lycra, wool and fur.
Rob Benedetti a national-class masters biathlete from Spokane, abandoned his racing skis this year to enter the Langlauf’s “Woodies” division for racers on wood skis.
“This goes to show you how far a 44-year-old guy will go to win something,” he said, looking at his vintage ski gear that had been trashed beyond salvage by the end of the 70s.
“Every year these teenagers get faster. I had to do something.”
When he tested his wood skis for the first time in nearly two decades Saturday, he realized they had been mounted with two right bindings.
Still, he finished in an amazing 40:49, considering he packed in several extra pounds of snow clinging to his frazzled wool knickers.
Cris Currie, wearing a bear-skin-lined coat, finished the race on broken wood skis, one of which had been affixed with a plastic spare tip.
Even the awards ceremony had its color.
Cathy Warzon, fifth place finisher in the women’s 30-34 age group, was the first person in the Langlauf’s 16 year history to go to the winners podium with a baby in her arms.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo