The 6th Annual Tour of Tsalteshi changed this year to cater more to every athlete. That didn’t mean the event at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna on Sunday didn’t draw some of the elite names of American cross-country skiing.
For the first time, the Tour of Tsalteshi held a 20-kilometer fat bike race and 10-kilometer ski race. That’s in addition to the normal 20K freestyle, 20K classic and 40K freestyle.
“We’re trying to offer as broad of an appeal as we can,” Steve Cothran, race organizer, said. “So if the fat bike community wants to be part of this, we want to make it available to all.”
Cothran also was happy with what the 10K ski race accomplished. With 17 racers doing the fat bike and 40 doing the 10K, the race had 135 finishers. That’s up from 85 last year and just 11 off the event high in 2021.
“We had a great turnout for that,” Cothran said of the 10K. “Our goal is to promote skiing and community. So if we can reach out to more people, that’s kind of the mission of the tour.”
Sunday’s race included two of the more decorated resumes in American cross-country skiing in Todd Boonstra and Holly Brooks.
Boonstra, 60, of Kenai, won the men’s 20K freestyle for the third time. He competed in cross-country skiing in the Winter Olympics three times and also won the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America, once.
Brooks, 40, of Anchorage, won the women’s 40K freestyle in her race debut. She skied in the Winter Olympics twice and also won the Birkebeiner twice.
“We had two Olympic skiers in just a little community race,” Cothran said. “We have a vibrant ski community here in Alaska, and the central peninsula.
“It’s great to have the elite skiers along with, I had one of the 9-year-olds in my ski class ski the 10K. It’s just great to reach everybody.”
What attracts youth and elite alike is the skiing community and the quality of Tsalteshi Trails.
“It’s really fun to ski new trails,” Brooks said. “I’ve skied here before, but it’s been over a decade. And it’s just fun to come to a local race and everyone’s so friendly. It’s just nice to see a new scene.”
Brooks finished in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 18 seconds, while Ashley Lutto, 30, of Soldotna, was the runner-up at 2:39:13.
The men’s 40K was a battle of two Anchorage skiers and former winners of the Besh Cup, awarded to the top prep skier in a circuit of six races each year. Andy Liebner, 39, was able to get the best of runner-up of 43-year-old Rob Whitney, who is married to Brooks. Liebner finished at 2:10:52, while Whitney crossed at 2:21:21.
Liebner is a 2001 graduate of Soldotna High School and has coached cross-country skiing at two Olympics. He has four NCAA All-America titles in skiing and won the American Ski Marathon series in 2009-10.
Whitney finished seventh in the 10K classic at Junior Worlds in 1999, which Liebner said makes Whitney one of the most accomplished American juniors of all time.
While Whitney didn’t overcome Liebner, Whitney said he did take advantage of Brooks having slow skis to defeat his wife for the first time in eight years.
“I raced for my life in the last couple of K’s,” he said.
That didn’t mean the race was all serious business.
“It was super fun,” Brooks said. “Especially that first loop, we were skiing pristine corduroy. We were just like, ‘This is unreal.’ It was just fresh, beautiful snow skiing through the trees.
“We were just chatting it up. And then some people dropped the hammer a little bit.”
Liebner, who won the Class 4A state cross-country running title at Tsalteshi in 2000, said the ski brought back memories at what he calls his “hometown trails.” He is the owner of the United States Ski Pole Company and said it was important to him to give back to the event as sponsor.
“I can’t remember the last time I raced here, and the trails have gotten better and better,” he said. “It was good to see a growing scene.”
Liebner has been to ski venues around the world and said if Tsalteshi was wider to allow more passing, it has all the terrain needed to be world class.
“It’s got everything a world-class venue needs,” he said. “It’s got hills, it’s got flats, it’s got rolly and it’s got corners.”
It’s that course that keeps central peninsula skiers Todd and Kelli Boonstra coming back. Kelli, who nearly qualified for the 1998 Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing, won the women’s 20K freestyle for the fourth time.
Kelli, 52, of Kenai, finished at 1:12:10, while Morgan Aldridge, 41, of Sterling was runner-up at 1:18:45.
“It’s fun to ski everything,” Todd said. “When conditions are like today, I mean, it was just perfect. It set up nice from yesterday. You get to ski everything and it’s fast.”
Both agreed that the groomers did a great job setting the course considering all the snowfall this week.
“Todd and I went out and tested some wax yesterday, and the snow was a couple inches deep,” Kelli said. “I thought, ‘I guess it’s going to be a slog today.’ I’m impressed with how nice the groomers got it. It was amazing.”
Todd said he didn’t start out super hard and it paid off when he felt strong all the way to the finish. He finished at 1:07:04, while Anchorage’s Ben Histand, 38 and a Soldotna High School graduate, was next at 1:15:13.
Kelli said she benefited from a great pair of skis. Her plan was to stay with Mitchell Andrew, who has two 20K freestyle titles to his credit. Andrew beat Kelli in the 7K Food Cache Ski Dash at Tsalteshi in late January and finished third in the men’s 20K at 1:15:49.
On one of the course’s biggest downhills, Kelli said her fast skis carried her past Andrew and he wasn’t able to catch up.
“He was like, ‘You were so strong today,’” Kelli said. “I don’t know. I think I had really good skis.”
Kenai’s Ronna Martin, 55, won the women’s 20K classic in 1:47:36. Martin is the sister of Kelli Boonstra and the one-time high school ski coach of Liebner. Homer’s Alison O’Hara, 59, of Homer was second at 1:49:20. Eric Auten, 52, of Valdez, defended his men’s 20K classic title by finishing at 1:15:49, while Trevor Davis, 51, of Soldotna, was next at 1:30:56.
Claire Beutou, 24, of Homer won the women’s 10K at 36:31, while Homer’s Megan Corazza, 43, was next at 36:32. The men’s 10K title went to Toto Rios, 16, of Chile, in 34:54, with Ollie Dahl, 13, of Soldotna the runner-up at 37:00.
The first men’s and women’s fat bike titles went to Eric Thomason of Kenai and Rose Garner of Anchorage.
Thomason had just finished fourth in the Little Su 50K fat bike Saturday. Since the ski trails at Tsalteshi are normally closed to fat biking, he jumped at the chance to drive back to Soldotna to ride them.
Even after a tough effort in the Little Su, Thomason was able to win at Tsalteshi. He won at 1 hour, 25 minutes, 3 seconds, while Geremy Skeen was second at 1:52:12.
“It was like mashed potatoes with no gravy,” Thomason said of the Little Su. “The only thing that could have made it worse would have been overflow. I went out really hard. My goal was to get on the podium.
“I was third for like three hours, then I just blew up and started cramping. I didn’t have enough nutrition. I wasn’t planning on being out there four hours.”
Thomason said the conditions were much better at Tsalteshi and it was fun to fat bike the ski trails for the first time.
He also said it was all good training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which starts Sunday. He will be doing the 350-miler on foot.
Garner said Aldridge talked her into coming down for the fat bike race. Rose Garner won at 1:50:32, while Katrina Garner was second at 2:06:32.
“I thought it would be a nice, quick, easy race,” Rose said. “Nobody told me that there were so many hills out here.”
Rose said she has a bunch of riding friends in Anchorage and would definitely give a thumbs up if asked about the event.
“There was definitely some work out there,” Garner said. “It wasn’t perfect conditions, but it was fun. I was trying to catch Eric because I figured Eric was a little tired. But nope. Not tired at all.”
Tour of Tsalteshi
Sunday at Tsalteshi Trails
Women’s 10-kilometer freestyle — 1. Claire Beutou, Homer, 36 minutes, 31 seconds; 2. Megan Corazza, Homer, 36:32; 3. Ruby Davis, Soldotna; 40:02; 4. Kylie Smith, Soldotna, 50:50; 5. Krista Arthur, Soldotna, 52:49; 6. Frances Jurek, Kenai, 55:17; 7. Johnua Shaw, Soldotna, 58:09; 8. Julie Laker, Kasilof, 1:03:24; 9. Colette Ireland, Homer, 1:06:37; 10. Cassie Sheridan, Soldotna, 1:11:04; 11. Ailis Vann, Palmer, 1:14:32; 12. Katrina Cannava, Soldotna, 1:17:51; 13. Sara Bundy, Soldotna, 1:17:52; 14. Annmarie Rudstrom, Soldotna, 1:18:53; 15. Penny McClain, Palmer, 1:19:47; 16. Sheri Koziczkowski, Kenai, 1:20:39; 17. Jennefer Stubblefield, Soldotna, 1:21:19; 18. Larissa Arbelovsky, Soldotna, 1:22:33; 19. Susan M. Krafft, Soldotna, 1:26:04; 20. Buie Wainer, Kasilof, 1:30:44; 21. Amy Hogue, Soldotna, 1:30:47; 22. Alice Marang, Kasilof, 1:37:02; 23. Marly Perschbacher, Sterling, 1:40:56; 24. Julie Williams, Kenai, 1:41:13; 25. Becky Wick, Kenai, 1:42:18; 26. Rachel Grossl, Soldotna, 1:46:19; 27. Oriana Tomlin, Kasilof, 1:46:29.
Men’s 10-kilometer freestyle — 1. Toto Rios, Chile, 34:54; 2. Ollie Dahl, Soldotna, 37:00; 3. Justin Hansen, Kenai, 44:57; 4. Leif Laker, Kasilof, 49:33; 5. Alaska Hippchen, Soldotna, 51:05; 6. Mark Jurek, Kenai, 51:08; 7. Jim Bennett, Anchorage, 1:06:54; 8. Timothy Thornley, Girdwood, 1:11:04; 9. Sam Spencer, Sterling, 1:19:35; 10. Chris Arbelovsky, Soldotna, 1:22:33; 11. Brian Marang, Kasilof, 1:37:05; 12. Dan Counetta, Kenai, 1:40:43; 13. Ben Wishnek, Soldotna, 1:41:56.
Women’s 20-kilometer classic — 1. Ronna Martin, Kenai, 1:47:36; 2. Alison O’Hara, Homer, 1:49:20; 3. Sayla Smith, Soldotna, 2:33:33; 4. Patricia Berkhahn, Soldotna, 2:36:13; 5. Chelsea Wingard, Soldotna, 2:49:36; 6. Cherie Taylor, Soldotna, 2:49:39; 7. Deanne Ruiz, Kenai, 2:52:54; 8. Jane Adkins, Kasilof, 3:16:03; 9. Amie Condon, Anchorage, 3:19:31; 10. Avigail Curry, Anchorage, 3:19:34.
Men’s 20-kilometer classic — 1. Eric Auten, Valdez, 1:15:49; 2. Trevor Davis, Soldotna, 1:30:56; 3. Marcus Dammeyer, Soldotna, 1:31:47; 4. Mike Bergholtz, Kenai, 1:32:49; 5. Steve Milliron, Soldotna, 1:38:41; 6. Jeremiah Hamilton, Kenai, 1:49:32; 7. Ben Meyer, Kenai, 1:51:49; 8. Ed Schmitt, Soldotna, 1:55:21; 9. Dan Balmer, Sterling, 2:09:55; 10. Rusty Hippchen, Soldotna, 2:18:24; 11. Westen Curry, Anchorage, 2:23:17; 12. Michael Eyre, Soldotna, 2:28:17; 13. Matt Tunseth, Anchorage, 2:46:32; 14. Blair Martin, Kenai, 2:52:54.
Women’s 20-kilometer skate — 1. Kelli Boonstra, Kenai, 1:12:10; 2. Morgan Aldridge, Sterling, 1:18:45; 3. Libby Jensen, Soldotna, 1:21:41; 4. Kristin Davis, Soldotna, 1:21:59; 5. Megan Coon, Anchorage, 1:24:46; 6. Poonyanuch Klobuczek, Girdwood, 1:28:19; 7. Kat Sorensen, Seward, 1:29:37; 8. Binget Nilsson, Seward, 1:30:56; 9. Denali Critchett, Kenai, 1:35:37; 10. Alexandria Serventi, Soldotna, 1:35:37; 11. Rynn Peterson, Sterling, 1:35:53; 12. Elizabeth Chilson, Soldotna, 1:39:10; 13. Jessica Austin, Homer, 1:51:46; 14. Patty Moran, Soldotna, 1:52:48; 15. Heather Shank, Seward, 1:56:51; 16. Kristin Mitchell, Soldotna, 2:04:10; 17. Olga Hippchen, Soldotna, 2:05:07; 18. Marie Alexson, Homer, 2:14:06.
Men’s 20-kilometer skate — 1. Todd Boonstra, Kenai, 1:07:04; 2. Ben Histand, Anchorage, 1:15:13; 3. Mitchell Andrew, Soldotna, 1:15:49; 4. Nels Dahl, Soldotna, 1:16:42; 5. Tom Seggerman, Sterling, 1:21:15; 6. Kevin Klott, Anchorage, 1:22:01; 7. Andrew Walsh, Kenai, 1:22:51; 8. Jeffrey Hall, Kenai, 1:25:25; 9. Sean Ulman, Seward, 1:25:51; 10. Heinrich Klobuczek, Girdwood, 1:27:31; 11. Dan Harbison, Soldotna, 1:33:23; 12. Geremy Skeen, JBER, 1:34:02; 13. Brad Mahood, Soldotna, 1:36:45; 14. Jordan Chilson, Soldotna, 1:39:12; 15. Bill Berkhahn, Soldotna, 1:39:42; 16. Tor Dahl, Soldotna, 1:41:25; 17. John Sanborn, Soldotna, 1:47:59; 18. C.O. Rudstrom, Soldotna, 1:48:23; 19. Patrick King, Kenai, 1:52:56; 20. Henry Sprague, Soldotna, 1:55:54; 21. Jamie Nelson, Kenai, 2:29:09.
Women’s 40-kilometer freestyle — 1. Holly Brooks, Anchorage, 2:22:18; 2. Ashley Lutto, Soldotna, 2:39:13; 3. Mary Krusen, Anchorage, 2:43:24; 4. Megan Youngren, Soldotna, 2:51:58; 5. Melissa Smith, Soldotna, 2:59:43; 6. Laura Mcnown, Anchorage, 3:02:02; 7. Sierra Smith, Soldotna, 3:08:15.
Men’s 40-kilometer freestyle — 1. Andy Liebner, Cheboygan, 2:10:52; 2. Rob Whitney, Anchorage, 2:21:21; 3. Chuck DiMarzio, Seward, 2:31:43; 4. Michael Mazzacavallo, Anchorage, 2:40:10; 5. Pete Alexson, Homer, 2:41:42; 6. Collin Atkinson, Seward, 2:45:53; 7. Jeffrey Helminiak, Kenai, 2:57:47; 8. Joe Mcellroy, Kasilof, 3:07:39.
Men’s 20-kilometer fat bike — 1. Eric Thomason, 1:25:03; 2. Geremy Skeen, 1:52:12; 3. Cade Dickey, 1:57:34; 4. Robert Toll, 2:00:00; 5. C.O. Rudstrom, 2:39:40; 6. Caleb Brown, 2:48:46; 7. Stuart Marcotte, 2:49:59; 8. Justin Mosso, 2:54:55; 9. Kelly Sederholm, 2:59:12.
Women’s 20-kilometer fat bike — 1. Rose Garner, 1:50:32; 2. Katrina Garner, 2:06:32; 3. Giselle Lambert, 2:09:51; 4. Sondra Stonecipher, 2:13:22; 5. Morgan Aldridge, 2:16:53; 6. Cassie Collins, 2:16:53; 7. Mariel Brown, 2:46:14; 8. Sarah Apsens, 2:55:02.