January 18, 1998

Nordic Tradition For Two Decades, Cross Country Skiers Of All Ages And Skill Levels Have Found Competition, Comraderie At Langlauf

Rich Landers Outdoors Editor
 

It appears there no longer will be a winter off-season for fitness buffs who think the May Bloomsday fun run is their only big incentive to get in shape.

Western Outdoor Sports, Selkirk-Bergsport and Eddie Bauer stores are joining with the Coors beer company and several ski manufacturers to promote what they’re calling ‘Langlauf,” (pronounced Long loff, Norwegian for cross-country ski racing), a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) citizens race scheduled for Jan. 27, 1980.

“We hope to make it the Bloomsday of cross country skiing,” said Tim Ray of Western Outdoor sports.

The Spokesman-Review

Oct. 21, 1979

Buoyed by the fitness craze that had made the Bloomsday run an overnight success, organizers pulled off the first Langlauf on faith, determination and graffiti.

Only a few small events of its kind had been attempted before in the Spokane area.

The event had been scheduled nine miles north of Spokane at Bear Lake County Park. But a dearth of snow forced a venue change at the last minute.

Tim Ray drove to Bear Lake early on race day and sprayed instructions in fluorescent orange paint on snow banks directing skiers to a little-known mom-and-pop ski training area in Pend Oreille County.

Achilles Ranch consisted of a home, a work shed, a barn, corrals and a glorious collection of dirt roads and cow paths that translated into winter ski trails. The ranch near Sacheen Lake was owned by a Japanese corporation, but tended by a closet trail-grooming fanatic named Jim Fegel.

By linking the ranch and logging roads on the property since 1978, Fegel had prepared a superb nordic skiing area that held snow when most other lowland areas were barren. He groomed, mostly for friends, with a homemade sled dragged behind a temperamental Ski-Doo double-track snowmobile.

About 200 skiers showed up for that first Langlauf, instantly making it the biggest nordic skiing citizens race on the West Coast.

Fegel started the race by firing a real shotgun into the air.

Achilles Ranch provided the fertile soil for the seed of nordic ski racing to flourish in the Inland Northwest.

Langlauf provided the inspiration.

But even Achilles suffered from the mid-January thaw that became notorious in early Langlauf history. Several races in the early ‘80s had to be postponed for weeks. These Langlaufs were two-day events with various race distances from 5K to 20K for men and women.

In 1983, the race was supposed to be a single day, 10K event for all racers plus a shorter race for kids. But chinook winds stripped the landscape of snow. Fegel was able to muster only 7Ks for the race, the shortest course ever for the main Langlauf event.

Doric Creager of Spokane was one of the pioneers in Inland Northwest cross-country racing, and a co-founder of the Inland Empire Nordic Club. His wife at the time, now Janet Vaughn, dominated the Langlauf women’s division for three years.

In 1983, however, Doric stood back from the flurry of interest in nordic ski racing to put the sport in perspective.

Even though he felt a little dumpy when he finally got on the snow for his first skiing of the season, Creager said he had discovered a new dimension to track skiing.

“I’ve done virtually no dry-land training; I’m probably as unfit as I’ve been in years,” he said. “But I still could go out on the tracks and really enjoy the movement of skiing even though I was in sub form.

“You can’t do that with a lot of other fitness sports. If I go out for a run after a long layoff, it virtually kills me.”

The blending of fast and average had happened in Langlauf as sure as it had in Bloomsday.

Outside forces, however, were about to threaten that mix.

In 1982, U.S. Olympian Bill Koch had become the first American to win the Nordic World Cup. Koch used a controversial ski technique called the marathon skate, which revolutionized nordic ski racing.

Scandinavian skiers had been skating for years, but tradition kept them from applying the techniques to uphills as well as the flats.

The marathon skate showed up for the first time in Langlauf ‘83. The technique involved leaving one ski in the tracks and skating with the other ski, demolishing the tracks for traditional-style skiers who followed.

The marathon skate evolved into a pure skating technique. By the 1984 Olympics, nordic skiers excelled at a style more like skater Eric Heiden than the 1980 nordic gold medal form of Nikolai Zimyatov.

Because skating and traditional track skiing weren’t compatible in the same event, race organizers from Spokane to the Olympic Games had to decide which races would be “classic” style and which would be open to skating.

The Langlauf was officially designated a classic-style race in 1985 by Inland Empire Nordic Club race directors Gary Silver and Sam Schlieder.

Silver, the club president in 1984, became immersed in the sport and the race. He even bought a 1948 R-4 Caterpillar to help Fegel improve the Achilles trail system. The first good cold skiing conditions in years attracted 184 skiers to the 1985 Langlauf, making the event once again the largest citizens race in Washington.

Even though the Achilles trails were at their best, nordic skiers had not forgotten the January thaws. Members of the Inland Empire Nordic Club had begun cutting through the red tape and trees to carve ski trails in the higher, more dependable snow conditions of Mount Spokane State Park.

In 1988, Debbie Bauer of Spokane made her debut in Langlauf. To date, she is the dominant figure on the Langlauf winners stand, having won eight women’s titles in 10 years.

Also in 1988, the Langlauf Association was founded to run the race with the financial help of corporate sponsors. The prizes given at the end of the race boomed to a value of $1,500.

Still, one of the race’s great traditions was maintained. Pins had been given to every finisher since 1982. Lottery drawings continued to be held after the race so the slowest skier had the same chance as the fastest to win the valuable prizes.

In 1989, an effort spearheaded by the nordic club and Carl and Roxie Miller in particular, brought together most of the necessary pieces for Mount Spokane to become a nordic skiing center:

17 kilometers of ski trails had been cleared.

A plowed Sno-Park area had been built for vehicle access.

A $55,000 grooming machine was secured through Washington Parks and Recreation Commission.

The effort was in the nick of time for Langlauf. Lowland snow conditions were dismal in 1990 and Achilles Ranch had been sold to a timber company. Eventually it was closed to public use.

In 1990, Langlauf moved to Mount Spokane, the same year Selkirk Lodge was built at the Sno-Park area to shelter skiers and snowmobilers.

The race finally had a facility with indoor plumbing. With all the creature comforts coming to the race, the Langlauf Association decided to capture another classic element in the race.

“We’ve always had some traditionalists who resented the way ski fashion has taken over the sport,” said Langlauf president Paul Smith in 1992. “So we decided to show respect for the origins of the sport.”

That year, a special prize was designated for the first male and female skiers to cross the finish line on wood skis.

While the majority of the field was clad in colorful skin-tight Lycra ski suits, the 10 best-dressed skiers in traditional natural fabrics such as wool, got special recognition.

The first few years of the Woodies Division were dominated by Jim LaFortune of Moscow, Idaho, and Lisa Brooks of Spokane.

Going back to traditional clothes posed a new learning curve for modern skiers. Robin Redman of Spokane said the ankle-length skirt she wore in that first woodies and woollies race was comfortable, but it produced enough wind resistance to nearly stop her. She found she could increase her speed with the classic but nontraditional technique of pulling up her skirt on the downhills.

In 1993, top skiers started winning Langlauf using new fluorocarbon waxes that cost more than 10 times the price of a traditional tube of kick-wax.

Nevertheless, the familiar sound of no-wax skis could still be heard farther back, whining like a cloud of mosquitoes on every downhill.

The race had seen the full circle on many traditions by 1994, when teenager Brian Erickson of Spokane, won the race in 26:43, the fastest recorded time in Langlauf.

Erickson had skied the event since he was 6. “It feels good to finally win it,” he said.

This year, as always, a group of fast and serious skiers will break away and finish the course with blazing speed. Bringing up the rear will be a variety of skiers of all ages and shapes, some carrying daypacks, babies and snacks.

Langlauf has always been led by well-conditioned athletes followed by a throng of “has-beens” and a wave of “will-bes.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (1 color)

MEMO: See related story under the headline: The evolution of Langlauf

Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. LANGLAUF ‘98

Date: Jan. 31

* 9 a.m. - Junior Langlauf for kids 10 and under

* 11 a.m. - Intergalactic Hyperski freestyle race, 7K and 15K

Date: Feb. 1

11. a.m. - Langlauf classic race, 10K

Registration: $15 for each race by Jan. 23, $25 thereafter. Junior Langlauf free. Entry forms at cross-country ski shops.

2. LANGLAUF WINNERS

Men’s and women’s divisions

1980 - Men 15K, Tuck Miller, McCall, Idaho. Women 10K, Janet Creager, Spokane (times n/a).

1981 - Men 15K, Doric Creager, Spokane. Women 10K, Janet Creager (times n/a).

1982 - 9K for men and women: Tim Hill, McCall. Janet Creager (times n/a).

1983 - 7K for men and women: Gary Silver, Spokane, 31:31. Janet Creager 35:23.

1984 - Race standardized at 10K for men and women: Mauri Pelto, Moscow, Idaho, 34:03. Eva Silver, Spokane, 41:43.

1985 - Allan Randall, 17, Libby, Mt., 34:26. Sara Fitzgerald, 14, Whitefish, Mt., 43:15.

1986 - Steve Chase, Whitefish, 35:19. Laura Nugent, Whitefish, 46:25.

1987 - Justin Wadsworth, 18, Bellevue, Wash., 31:10. Tracy Valentine, Cashmere, Wash., 39:29.

1988 - Nick Bauer, 27, Spokane, 33:22. Deb Bauer, 22, Spokane, 40:39.

1989 - Scott Johnson, 34:03. Deb Bauer, 23, 40:05.

1990 - Nick Bauer, 28, 29:24. Deb Bauer, 24, 33.53.

1991 - Steve Bull, Seattle, 31:17. Kim Csizmazia, Spokane, 35:50.

1992 - David Lawrence, Redmond, Wash., 31:26. Deb Bauer, 26, 34:29.

1993 - Nick Bauer, 28.05. Deb Bauer, 27, 31.16.

1994 - Brian Erickson, 17, Spokane, 26:43. Deb Bauer, 28, 29:55.

1995 - Bret Miller, Bend, Ore., 27:44. Deb Bauer, 29, 32:10.

1996 - Christian Hinderman, 23, Walla Walla, 27:53. Heidi Rhinehart, 16, Winthrop, Wash., 32:55.

1997 - Torin Koos, 16, Leavenworth, Wash., 31:40. Deb Bauer, 31, 32:43.

See related story under the headline: The evolution of Langlauf

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. LANGLAUF ‘98 Date: Jan. 31 * 9 a.m. - Junior Langlauf for kids 10 and under * 11 a.m. - Intergalactic Hyperski freestyle race, 7K and 15K Date: Feb. 1 11. a.m. - Langlauf classic race, 10K Registration: $15 for each race by Jan. 23, $25 thereafter. Junior Langlauf free. Entry forms at cross-country ski shops.

2. LANGLAUF WINNERS Men’s and women’s divisions 1980 - Men 15K, Tuck Miller, McCall, Idaho. Women 10K, Janet Creager, Spokane (times n/a). 1981 - Men 15K, Doric Creager, Spokane. Women 10K, Janet Creager (times n/a). 1982 - 9K for men and women: Tim Hill, McCall. Janet Creager (times n/a). 1983 - 7K for men and women: Gary Silver, Spokane, 31:31. Janet Creager 35:23. 1984 - Race standardized at 10K for men and women: Mauri Pelto, Moscow, Idaho, 34:03. Eva Silver, Spokane, 41:43. 1985 - Allan Randall, 17, Libby, Mt., 34:26. Sara Fitzgerald, 14, Whitefish, Mt., 43:15. 1986 - Steve Chase, Whitefish, 35:19. Laura Nugent, Whitefish, 46:25. 1987 - Justin Wadsworth, 18, Bellevue, Wash., 31:10. Tracy Valentine, Cashmere, Wash., 39:29. 1988 - Nick Bauer, 27, Spokane, 33:22. Deb Bauer, 22, Spokane, 40:39. 1989 - Scott Johnson, 34:03. Deb Bauer, 23, 40:05. 1990 - Nick Bauer, 28, 29:24. Deb Bauer, 24, 33.53. 1991 - Steve Bull, Seattle, 31:17. Kim Csizmazia, Spokane, 35:50. 1992 - David Lawrence, Redmond, Wash., 31:26. Deb Bauer, 26, 34:29. 1993 - Nick Bauer, 28.05. Deb Bauer, 27, 31.16. 1994 - Brian Erickson, 17, Spokane, 26:43. Deb Bauer, 28, 29:55. 1995 - Bret Miller, Bend, Ore., 27:44. Deb Bauer, 29, 32:10. 1996 - Christian Hinderman, 23, Walla Walla, 27:53. Heidi Rhinehart, 16, Winthrop, Wash., 32:55. 1997 - Torin Koos, 16, Leavenworth, Wash., 31:40. Deb Bauer, 31, 32:43.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email