Friday afternoon offered a welcome respite to the wintertime blues that cross-country skiers have been dealt for several consecutive winters. The powder was deep and fresh and there were no puddles or bare patches of ground.
So why were racers doing throwing around beanbags?
It was all a part of the fun of the annual Candy Cane Scramble at the Tsalteshi Trails.
Ruby Lindquist of Seward and Josh Shuler of Soldotna claimed the victories in the girls and boys races, respectively, but the holiday giddiness and laid-back nature of the day was the bigger winner. Skiers from Kenai Central, Soldotna, Seward and Nikiski all joined in the fun by donning holiday sweaters and Santa Claus caps to show off their festiveness — and gain a time advantage.
According to the coaches, any racer competing with a Christmas hat or sweater would get 15 seconds lopped off their finishing time, although the end result was not affected. Shuler crossed the finishing line in 17 minutes, 53 seconds, covering a distance of just over five kilometers, to beat runner-up Patrick Michels of Kenai by 36 seconds. Lindquist won the girls race in 20:29, beating second-place Anya Danielson of Kenai by 2:37.
“It didn’t feel like a race,” Lindquist said after finishing. “It was more fun than a race.”
“This is kind of the fun aspect of racing,” Shuler later added. “Especially with a smaller group.”
The race was structured biathlon style, meaning that between each of the three laps that made up the course, skiers were to enter a “firing” zone, which was composed of several stations of beanbags. Each racer was given two opportunities to sink a bag into one of several waste bins lined up about 10 feet away. Make one shot, and the racer can be on their merry way.
But if both attempts missed, then the racer was forced to ski a penalty loop, which added 20 to 40 additional seconds to the total time.
Lindquist came into the firing range after finishing her first lap with no other racers in sight, hit the second of her two shots and raced off before anyone else could catch her. On her second go-round, Lindquist hit her first attempt from a sitting position.
“I play basketball a little bit, so I thought it shouldn’t be that hard,” Lindquist said. “But I’m just not used to this type of thing in a ski race.”
Shuler had more competition than Lindquist had, completing the first lap in a pack of several Kenai and SoHi skiers. Shuler had gotten off to a slow start and trailed a trio of Kenai racers for the early portions of the first lap. Shuler said he passed two of his Kardinals opponents before taking aim at race leader Michels.
“I definitely wish the trails were groomed beforehand,” Shuler said. “The hills going up were super difficult.”
The challenge of the race was powering through the fresh layer of snow that blanketed the Kenai Peninsula the night before. With no grooming done on the trails prior to the start, the going was tough as the deeper powder wore out tired bodies much quicker than normal.
“The trails just got softer and softer as we went along,” Lindquist said.
Several of the faster skiers from the peninsula opted not to race Friday due to the upcoming Besh Cup races in Anchorage over the weekend, so the day presented the opportunity for other skiers to shine. The next high school races are not scheduled until after the holiday break, when local teams take on their northern brethren at the Valley Invite, Jan. 13 and 14.
Candy Cane Scramble
Friday at Tsalteshi Trails
Girls — 1. Ruby Lindquist, Sew, 20:29; 2. Anya Danielson, Ken, 23:06; 3. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 23:25; 4. Ithaca Bergholtz, Ken, 23:26; 5. Molly Erickson, Sol, 23:51; 6. Maria Salzetti, Ken, 23:52; 7. Hannah Delker, Sol, 24:45; 8. Dareena Doyle, Ken, 27:22; 9. Mickinzie Ticknor, Ken, 27:56; 10. Selby Hill, Sol, 28:37; 11. Charly Morton, Ken, 28:54; 12. Kyaran Matturro, Ken, 29:59; 13. Kealy Hendricks, Sol, 30:19; 14. Tirzah Young, Nik, 31:10; 15. Emma Armond, Sew, 32:12; 16. Merle Oldenburg, Ken, 33:02; 17. Sophie Thomas, Sol, 34:20; 18. McKenna Palmer, Ken, 38:21; 19. Payton Matturro, Ken, 40:26; 20. Tanis Lorring, Sew, 43:35; 21. Veronika Budyanu, Ken, 45:30; 22. Britney Storms, Ken, 46:48.
Boys — 1. Josh Shuler, Sol, 17:53; 2. Patrick Michels, Ken, 18:29; 3. Eric Kempf, Ken, 19:31; 4. Joseph Dammeyer, Sol, 19:49; 5. Jode Sparks, Sol, 19:57; 6. Tyle Owens, Sol, 20:44; 7. Jack Harris, Sol, 21:00; 8. Mathew Minium, Nik, 21:35; 9. Trevor Debnam, Ken, 21:40; 10. Cy Dull, Ken, 21:43; 11. Taylor Nelson, Sol, 21:53; 12. Egor Sturdy, Sew, 22:13; 13. Cooper Nelson, Sol, 22:40; 14. Bradley Walters, Sol, 22:41; 15. William Morrow, Ken, 23:24; 16. Tristan Summers, Ken, 23:40; 17. Tucker Mueller, Ken, 25:12; 18. Josh Foster, Ken, 25:32; 19. Marcus Crampton, Sol, 25:50; 20. Ben Wilson, Sol, 26:13; 21. Kyler Pritchet, Sol, 28:41; 22. Steven Osborn, Sew, 31:50; 23. Florian Kehl, Ken, 31:51.