Skiing the fastest 10-kilometer course in the history of the Langlauf cross-country ski race had its ups and downs Sunday.
Nearly all of the 345 finishers seemed to have a horror story or a close brush with death on the icy-hard trails at Mount Spokane.
“I saw one guy who was going so fast he didn’t even try to make the curve on that last downhill,” one skier recalled to his friends after the race. “The guy launched off the trail and went 20 feet in the air.
“It was ugly.”
At the head of the pack, however, Torin Koos of Leavenworth and Debbie Bauer of Spokane stayed on their skinny skis to repeat their championship performances from last year.
Koos, 17, finished in 26 minutes, 55 seconds, just 12 seconds over the record time in the 10K Langlauf event. The win came after a double-poling sprint to the finish to edge out Beau Terhaar, 18, also of Leavenworth.
Bauer, the most dominant name in Langlauf’s 20-year-history, clocked 30 minutes, 31 seconds for a record-ninth Langlauf victory.
But even the champions had close calls.
“I heard lots of falls,” said Bauer, who never looked back.
“One guy fell right in front of me near the start,” Koos said. “I barely got by him. I don’t know how many skiers piled up back there.”
Kathy Denenny of Spokane, in her first Langlauf, was speeding down one of the steeper hills when she heard a scream behind her.
“This guy was going so fast he couldn’t stop with people on both sides of him,” she said. “So he just slammed into my back, grabbed me around the waist and we both went down together.
“He already had blood on his face, so I figure it wasn’t his first time.”
The Langlauf was preceded by the usual waxing frenzy. Skiers used irons, torches and huge boxes stuffed with glue-like waxes as they experimented to achieve the perfect recipe for kick and glide.
The only people who looked relaxed a half hour before the 11 a.m. start were those opting for no-wax skis, which grip the snow with fishscale patterns on the base.
No-wax skis are a rational but contemptible approach to traditional nordic ski racing.
“What has Team Winthrop decided on for the wax of the day?” the reporter asked as the group from the Methow Valley huddled around their waxing benches in the parking lot.
The coach and one other adult gave a quick glance. Then they turned a cold shoulder in disbelief that someone would pry so boldly.
Waxing is serious and secret.
As the elite racers lined up in front for the mass start, the field of casual skiers flocked in behind.
Bill McMillan of Spokane, wearing ancient wooden mountaineering skis and wool knickers, looked like a blemish in a fine piece of modern art as he stood among a pack of Lycraclad racers.
“I really don’t belong this far up front,” he said sheepishly, his breath steaming in the chill. “But this is where the sun was shining.”
Kari Moore, a former collegiate ski racer and coach of the Spokane junior nordic racing team, posted possibly her poorest 10K race time.
Carrying a backpack with her 6-month-old son, Jackson, didn’t slow her all that much.
But having to stop and nurse the squawking little bundle in a snowbank at Shadow Mountain ate up a good chunk of the clock.
“I started last and finished last,” said Karl Albrecht of Spokane, who raced in the over-60 age group.
He dabbed the sweat off his brow after crossing the finish line in 2 hours and 12 minutes.
“I’m an hour slower than I was five years ago. I had some health problems last year. Didn’t ski much this year.
“Five years makes a big difference. I never was much of an athlete.”
A lady half his age inserted, “You’re a heck of an athlete just to be over 60 and finish.”
The Langlauf is one of the largest cross-country races in the Northwest.
Although the winners in 22 age categories won medals, the Langlauf has a tradition of giving skiers of all abilities a shot at the most coveted stuff.
More than $2,500 in prizes were awarded in drawings to conclude the event.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 color photos