Jennifer Frey stood out on a Sunday afternoon like an orange in a bushel of snowballs.
The 29th annual Langlauf cross-country ski race had just finished at Mount Spokane State Park, the award ceremony was beginning and Frey – acting as though she was tethered to the wood heating stove – was the only person in the humid room in a full-on, teeth-chattering case of shivers.
“This is kind of a shock,” she said, smiling and glancing outside at the wintry weather. “I live in Terra Verde, Fla., and I’m here visiting my sister. A few days ago I was playing on a sunny beach in 80 degrees.”
But Frey can return home boasting that she was tougher than a lot of no-shows to be among the 193 finishers in one of the soggiest 10-kilometers in Langlauf history.
“We’ve had rain before, and we’ve had snow, but this is the first time we’ve had both rain and snow in the same race,” said Tim Ray, race director.
The rain that started an hour before the 11 a.m. start made the course mushy. The weather chilled slightly at race time and the rain transformed into something like snow, only wetter.
Meticulous wax jobs were rendered worthless and even some of the fastest skiers on the course, including former Langlauf champ Nick Bauer, were reaching at the last moment for their no-wax skis.
Brad Bauer, 33, of Seattle won the race in 36:18, a time that indicates the weather-inflicted hardship. Bauer, who has dominated the race in recent years, blitzed the field last year in 27:24 and he holds the Langlauf course record of 26:12.
“Brad had terrible skis,” said his father and top age-group competitor, Jim Bauer. “He won just because he’s really fast.
Molly Cole, 13, of Greenbluff was the overall female winner, finishing in 42:31. The Mead Middle School seventh-grader became one of only three teenage girls to win the title in 29 years.
“I never saw a girl after crossing the finish line; I was with a group of men,” said Cole, who weighs 85 pounds. “I think my skis were working better than a lot of people. They’d pass me and I’d pass them. When we’d come to junctions people would yell, ‘There’s the first lady!’ That made me feel good.”
She gave full credit to her father, Steve Cole, for waxing her skis. “I don’t really know what he put on them,” she said. “My job was to run back and forth from the lodge to the lot to reheat the waxing iron for him.”
Farther back in the pack was a colorful collection of skiers who had far-flung reasons for being there.
“I was pregnant last year when I heard about Langlauf, but I vowed to do it,” said Tanya Keeble, who won the women’s 20-34 age group. She was supported by her father-in-law, who babysat 11-month-old Lily during the race.
Holly Weiler, a University High School English teacher, has been planning for Langlauf since August, when she found an antique military food-frame backpack at an Oregon antique store.
“I knew it would be a perfect match for the (army-green) wool pants and jacket I’d already found at a 50-percent-off sale at the Thrift Store in Spokane,” she said. Weiler’s outfit was among the best in the Langlauf Woollies Division, for skiers wearing classic outfits.
But this Langlauf will be remembered for the weather that tripped up some of the area’s best skiers.
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.
A slower skier always has the chance of out-waxing and beating an otherwise faster skier.
“That’s the beauty of this sport,” Jim Bauer said.
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