The Mount Spokane State Park cross-country ski trails were graced Sunday by an event that falls somewhere between hot nordic competition and a yard sale.
Buff racers in skin-tight suits and high-tech ski gear vied for medals during the Langlauf cross-country race, an annual event since 1979.
At the same time, others zeroed in on the top prizes for traditional wool clothing or the fastest times on wood skis.
Meticulous grooming and sunny skies made slick tracks for the 251 skiers who finished the 10-kilometer course. Brad Bauer, 32, of Seattle, was the overall winner in 27:24, more than two minutes faster than his closest challenger.
He said he didn’t get lonesome up front by himself. “Skiing alone is nice, when you’re the leader.”
Deb Bauer, 40, was the top female for the 14th time, finishing in 33:25, but not before she faced a flashback nightmare from 2004.
“Sure enough, it happened again,” she said. The course start had been changed Sunday to avoid the downhill bottleneck and spectacular pileup in 2004 that took Bauer down in the heap.
Still, at least two skiers from the “elite” or “fast” starting zones fell during the start, but the new route was wide enough to give Bauer and other skiers a chance at skiing around the flailing obstacles.
Bruce Utsey fell, but he recovered to win his age division in 32:44.
“My first concern was that I might trip up Ryan, who started right behind me,” he said, referring to his son. But Ryan Utsey was unfazed and went on to win his age division, too.
“I just went right over his skis,” he said. “It’s survival of the fittest out there.”
Ramsey Larson, 16, said she was so far back in the crowd that she was caught off guard when the gun sounded and the race started. “I was fixing my hair and wasn’t even in my skis,” she said. Asked how she did in the race, she said, “My hair was a mess.”
In the traditional pre-race anxiety for getting the perfect wax recipe, George Momany of Spokane prepared his family’s skis and meticulously put the finishing touches on his own. He was heading to the start when he was told that he had been waxing someone else’s skis.
“I had to scramble to get mine waxed,” he said, adding that the hasty wax job worked fine. “I’m told the skis I took so much time to wax didn’t work worth a darn.”
The 2005 race was canceled for lack of snow for the first time since 1981. This year’s participants found plenty of snow and a new hi-tech timing system. An electronic timing chip was strapped to the ankle of each racer, giving almost instant results and standings as the racers crossed the finish. But there was nothing hi-tech about Holly Weiler, who won the woman’s Woollies competition.
“I found the wood skis in a thrift store, and I couldn’t leave them there,” the University High School English teacher said.
Ditto for the old wood and canvas frame pack she found at a Hillyard antique store. Combined with wool shirt and Army surplus pants, she was a hard act to follow.
But others tried. Travis Prewitt was dubbed the Miracle of the Ages, not only for skiing quite well, but also for being able to fit in his original wool knickers and sweater he bought when he started skiing several decades ago.
Other Woollies contestants stood out for speed as well as fashion.
Lori Messenger of Missoula and her brother, Eric, from McCall, Idaho, were talked into coming to the race by her mother, Donna, of Coeur d’Alene. All of them won their age divisions. “We left Dad home to baby-sit the grandkids,” Lori Messenger said.
Barb Brock made a last-minute plunge into the Woollies as well as the Woodies division, for racers on wood skis. “I had to borrow the boots, and they were two sizes too big, so I stuffed newspaper in the toes and wore three pairs of socks,” she said.
It wasn’t until after the race that she realized why her skis seemed so slow.
“The bindings are too wide for the groomed tracks,” she said. “They grind in the sides of the tracks. I wondered why all that snow was flying up on my legs on the downhills.”
Alex Nilsson, 71, of Creston, British Columbia, started training to win his age division long before winter.
“I roller skied 6,100 kilometers across Canada this summer,” he said, noting that he kicked and glided on his three-wheeled skis from Victoria to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 95 days.
“My wife was the brains of the trip,” he said, introducing Nicole. “She drove our motorhome ahead and rode her bike. I just skied.”
“I did everything else,” Nicole said.
Two hours and 35 minutes after the Langlauf start, Evan Sunderman and his mother, Lisa, came down the track and across the finish. Even though they were past the two-hour time limit for an official time, they received an ovation from 300-some people assembled for the race awards.
“I skied it all by myself,” said Evan, 5, although that might be an exaggeration.
The head of his stuffed critter “Chickee” could be seen sticking out the front of the youngest Langlauf finisher’s jacket.
The oldest finisher was 80-year-old Stan Whittaker of Spokane.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.