Sunday’s Langlauf ski race became lonely sport just minutes after more than 260 cross-country skiers poled away in a mass start on Mount Spokane.
Erik Bjornsen never saw another racer ahead of him.
Karen Creveling-Hughes, the last place finisher, never saw anyone behind her.
And everybody else in the race was alone in the fog if they were more than 20 yards from another skier.
Last year was among the soggiest races in the event’s 30-year history. This year was among the foggiest.
“It was spooky,” said course marshall Tom Brattebo. “We could hear them breathing and their skis (scratching on the snow), but we couldn’t see the skiers until they were right by us.”
Inge Bohnet, the top female in the over-66-years age group said calling this year’s event a race was an understatement.
“It was more of an adventure,” she said.
Teenagers dominated the Langlauf classic-style race. Bjornsen, 16, of Winthrop was the overall winner, gliding over the 10-kilometer course in 27 minutes, 22 seconds. Annie Pokorny, 15, of Spokane was the top female in 33:01. She’s the fourth teenage girl to win the Langlauf female title.
“I was really nervous to be starting in the lead group,” Pokorny said, noting that she lined up behind Deb Bauer, who’s won 14 Langlauf female titles and dominates the women’s 40-44 year division.
Pokorny said her race strategy was simple: “Go as hard as I can and focus on the race ahead of me and not what’s behind me.”
Bjornsen said focusing on the course ahead often was impossible. “I thought I’d gone the wrong way one time,” he said.
Betty Moos, 74, had no trouble keeping on course.
“My two grandkids skied with me the entire way,” she said. “This is my first Langlauf. I mostly downhill ski. It’s easier.”
New wet snow and foggy conditions created a waxing nightmare that caused even some of the race’s best skiers to switch to slower no-wax skis.
Veteran Langlaufer and perennial age-group winner Jim Bauer said he just put glide wax from tip to tail and poled the entire course purely on upper body strength.
“I didn’t go that much faster, I guess, but it allowed me to avoid the waxing panic,” he said.
Gonzaga University students Kevin Brown and Benji Schwarz, both of Bend, Ore., said they were comfortable with the damp conditions. “We see this at home a lot,” Brown said. “This is great.”
Langlauf, the oldest cross-country ski event in the area, continues to be a pure citizens race. The winners get plaques, medals or ribbons, but everyone who enters is eligible for the thousands of dollars in merchandise prizes.
That’s a consolation for Creveling-Hughes, who said she’s undaunted by finishing last among skiers that ranged in age from pre-schoolers to septuagenarians.
“I’ve finished last three years in a row,” she said.
“It’s the price I pay for having a friend who’s a triathlete.”
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