In its 39th year, the 10-kilometer Spokane Langlauf cross-country ski race was nearly derailed by a lack of snow and 11th-hour mechanical problems.
“We’ve had some really challenging grooming,” race director Tim Ray said of this year’s snowfall.
Luckily, Mother Nature stepped in with more than a foot of new snow over two days.
“Oh, it was beautiful,” Ray said. “It was really nice grooming up until it broke.”
“It” being the grooming machine, which ordinarily packs the snow down along cross-country trails. A track on the tractorlike machine fell off early Sunday, so Ray headed out at 5 a.m. on a snowmobile to do the final grooming run. Grooming on a snowmobile is “much slower and a lot colder,” Ray said.
Ray slept only two hours. Normally, he said, he gets four hours of sleep the night before Langlauf.
The last-minute rush of work and stress was worth it, though. Nearly 200 people participated in the annual event, which Ray helped found in 1979.
This year, former Olympian Rebecca Dussault won with an overall time of 36 minutes, 34 seconds. She averaged 10.2 miles per hour.
Close behind her was Aaron Scott, with a time of 37 minutes and 11 seconds, and 14-year-old John Deforest with a time of 37 minutes and 15 seconds.
Deforest was excited to compete head-to-head with a former Olympian and Scott, an accomplished triathlete.
“Aaron and I were battling the whole time,” Deforest said.
For her part, after accepting her award, Dussault made her way to a table in the Selkirk Lodge and made fast work of changing her youngest child’s diaper.
Alice Groza, 13, said younger children, many of whom are on the Spokane Nordic race team, had a “unique opportunity” to compete and get on the podium because most of the older teenagers were at another race.
“That was a cool opportunity,” said Groza, who got third in her age group.
In fact, her whole family ended up winning medals. Her father, Peter Groza, got first place in his age group, while her brother Tommy Groza finished third.
“I haven’t gotten first place since I was 6 years old,” Peter Groza said.
Many of the participants took their time completing the hilly course. Conditions weren’t ideal: Thick snow, cold temperatures and a fierce wind plastered eyeballs and down jackets. The temperature hovered around 17 degrees, with a windchill of zero degrees.
Todd Dunfield skied the course with his 7-year-old son. And while they didn’t finish in the requisite two hours, the duo still had a good time.
“There were no tears. I kept feeding him truffles,” Dunfield said, while holding up a handful of candy wrappers.
The combination of thick snow and cold temperatures slowed racers significantly. The winning time in 2017 was nearly 10 minutes faster than this year. Old-timers said the conditions were reminiscent of early cross-country ski races.
For the speed hounds, the less-than-ideal conditions may have been a drag. But for Jimmy Nania, it was no problem.
“Probably for the advanced skiers it was slower,” he said. “But for me it was wonderful snow.”
The majority of participants stuck around after the race, cramming into the Selkirk Lodge for soup, coffee and cider. Medals were presented and thousands of dollars in prizes were distributed.
“It’s all about having everyone together and the soup at the end,” Peter Groza said.
Rich Landers contributed to this report.
Correction: Due to a reporter’s error Rebecca Dussault‘s average winning time was incorrect. The story has been corrected.
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