by Phillip Manning ~ March 17th, 2014
The Oosik is one of the largest classic ski races in the country. This year, just under 700 skiers came from all over Alaska to Talkeetna to participate. Just two weeks ago, however, there were serious concerns on the part of the race organizers. Temperatures were high, and the snow on the ski trails was quickly taking on the consistency of concrete. With time ticking away before the event, Denali Nordic Ski Club member Chris Mannix had some friends over to make a sacrifice to the patron god of skiers.
“We’ve done it once before, and it worked then, so we did it again. We burned skis and it snowed. Ullr smiled on us.”
With fresh snow, the Oosik was looking to proceed smoothly, that is until temperatures reached the high forties once again just a day before the race. Willi Prittie is part of the trail grooming crew, and says it took extra work in the pre-dawn hours before the race to make sure everything was ready for the noon start.
“We got up around 3:00 am this morning and gathered at about 4:00 am, and we set track between 4:30 and 9:30.”
The somewhat backcountry nature of the trail is part of its draw. U.S. Olympic skier Holly Brooks came to ski in the Oosik, and explains why the race is a favorite around the state.
“…Right now, everyone’s smiling, there’s music, there’s Christmas lights, there’s good food, people are friendly. It’s always a good time to come to Talkeetna. The course is a blast. I’m hoping there’s some narrow tree skiing, which is always fun. People dress up. It’s a good party after. I’ve had a good time swing dancing late into the night here at the [Don Sheldon] hangar, before.”
Holly Brooks is fresh off tour of skiing that included the Olympics in Sochi last month. Before the race, she said she wasn’t sure whether she would take a more relaxed pace or let her competitive spirit take over.
“I’m going to just go out there and see what I feel like. I’ve been home for a day and a half. I’ve been gone on the road for four-and-a-half months. [I’m] pretty tired from all the racing and jet-setting I’ve been doing.”
Holly Brooks must have still had some fuel in the tank, however, as she went on to win the women’s 50 kilometer race.
In addition to the super-competitive skiers, many participants in the Oosik don’t bother with the race itself, but rather treat it as an opportunity to have fun on skis. For many, like Kelly Donnelly, that means donning a homemade costume and hitting the trail.
“I am the universe, today. You’ll notice my space pants and my sun cape–hand made. I thought I’d go with the blue theme and be the entire universe.”
Local skiers get involved as well. Galen Johnston, who grew up skiing the trails around Talkeetna, now coaches skiing at Dimond High School. He says this year’s trail offered some variety.
“…Much more technical from a skiing perspective. [It’s] still mostly double pole. That’s kind of the status quo for this race. [There] was a lot more hills than the last couple years. It was fun to mix things up. There’s more gliding. It’s not just constant double pole.”
Organizers say this year’s race was a big success. Chris Mannix says the real measure of how well the race goes can be seen on the faces of skiers as they reach the finish line.
“It went fantastically. The weather–what do you say? Last night at 8 o’clock it was raining, and then it turned around. We had a beautiful day and the course held up. It was awesome. We had a couple of glitches out there, but I saw people skiing across the finish line with big smiles on there faces, saying it was fun.”
After the race, the party hosted by the Denali Nordic Ski Club lasted well into the night. On Sunday, hundreds of cars filtered up the Talkeetna Spur, but many will be back for next year’s Oosik Classic.
Complete race results are posted on the Denali Nordic Ski Club website.