BY: Melis Coady
Registration is open for the 2014 Oosik ski race, which begins in Talketna. The race has grown greatly in popularity over recent years, and 2014 does not look to be an exception. At many places, lodging has been booked a year in advance.
The Oosik race is the brainchild of former Olympic nordic skier Adam Verrier and Deb Essex of the Girdwood Nordic ski club. Fifteen years ago they had the vision and follow through to create a nordic ski race in Alaska with throw backs to old European traditions. Critical elements are creating an original course with narrow trails on engaging terrain and balancing a casual yet competitive atmosphere.
For 5 years they organized and hosted what they called the “Oosik ski race” near the base of Sheep Mountain at the head of the Matanuska River. In 2005 the race began to outgrow its venue, and for the last ten years the Denali Nordic Ski Club has enthusiastically hosted the race in the upper Susitna Valley. In mid to late March the Oosik classical ski race and tour is typically the last great race of the winter for Alaskan nordic skiers. Racers are usually blessed with March’s sunny warm weather, blue skies, crusted and hard-packed snow, and incredible views of Denali and the central Alaska Range.
In a year when everyone seems to be complaining about snow conditions, this year’s trail meister Bill Barstow brags that Talkeetna still has a good 18” base. Bill has been out most days lately clearing brush and packing down a very creative course that starts on some of Talkeetna’s newest Nordic trails that were designed by Bill Spencer. The trails then quickly dump adventurous competitors into a maze of single track trail that climbs hills, skirts swamps, and at one point circles a 20-foot tall granite boulder that is so incongruous that it looks as if it fell from space.
The Oosik race attracts a motley and eccentric group of racers. It is not unusual to see Olympic hopefuls double poling past teams of friends in themed costumes. Spectators are encouraged to cheer racers on throughout the course. Also, a tradition of impromptu aid stations has emerged, like the legendary bacon station that seems to pop up at a new trail marker each year. Although there is a strong party atmosphere, the race is real in terms of length and wilderness character. Participants are encouraged to train and ski heartily. Race organizers spend a great deal of time planning contingencies for injuries and illness that may occur along the remote trail and local first responders staff many points throughout the race.
The weekend also includes a number of events other than the 25k and 50k races, including the Winter Wildlands Backcountry Film festival, free ski waxing, and a free 3k Junior Race for young skiers. After the main event, the town will play host to one of the biggest celebrations of the winter, just a week before the spring equinox.