Both 2018 Kenai Central graduate Karl Danielson and the Besh Cup made a successful return to Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna on Saturday and Sunday.
Danielson swept the Saturday freestyle sprint and Sunday interval classic races, while the Tsalteshi crew earned positive reviews for hosting some of the top junior skiers in the state for the first time since January 2019.
The main purpose of the six Besh Cup races is to choose the Junior Nationals team, though younger and older skiers also use Besh Cups to get in top-notch racing. Junior Nationals will be held in Minneapolis in early March.
Now skiing for the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, Danielson is too old to qualify for Junior Nationals. He raced Besh Cups 3 and 4 this weekend as a way to spend some time at home and on familiar trails.
“Just some good race efforts and it’s nice to spend time at home,” Danielson said.
All of Sunday’s races used the classic technique and interval starts. In the men’s Under-18 and over 10-kilometer race, Danielson took first at 25 minutes, 6 seconds. Aaron Power of Alaska Winter Stars was second at 25:14.
“It was really great conditions — fast and firm,” said Danielson, who set the course record in winning the 40K freestyle at the 2021 Tour of Tsalteshi. “It was a great course.”
Pat King, the chief of competition, said the Besh Cup provides area athletes a chance to see some of the best skiers in the state.
He also said the event gives the rest of the state a chance to see what the Kenai Peninsula has in Tsalteshi Trails.
The trails have been snaking around in the woods near Skyview Middle School for over 30 years now. The trails and the knowledge of the race volunteers has been fine-tuned to a point that even impresses the organizers of a series that produces some of the nation’s top skiers year after year.
“Most of the comments I heard this weekend is that people like coming here,” King said. “We kind of have a reputation for putting on good races.
“We have really helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, so people enjoy coming here to race. The rest of the state likes to come here.”
No volunteer can be as helpful at a ski meet as Mother Nature. During the Saturday freestyle sprints, a warm, wet snow fell instead of rain. Had that been rain, the sprint would have been no fun and the classic race would have had to contend with all the debris from a recent windstorm.
With the Saturday snow, the groomers were able to stay a bit past midnight and set an ideal classic course.
“They are impressed with our terrain,” King said. “They like our trails and the ups and downs.”
King said the races, which had over 200 racers each day, took at least 50 volunteers to put on. That gave a big list of local skiers the chance to compete with the state’s best, including one of the peninsula’s own.
“I think it’s good for local people to see top-notch skiing,” King said.
Also in the Under-18 and over men’s race from the Kenai Peninsula, Soldotna High School’s Quinten Cox was 21st in 28:55, Kenai Central’s Tyler Hippchen was 23rd in 29:13, Soldotna’s Andrew Cox was 32nd in 31:54, Kenai’s Ben Boersma was 33rd in 32:11, Soldotna’s Benn Abel was 35th in 32:53 and Kenai’s George Wright was 37th in 34:54.
The 5-kilometer Under-16 and over race went to APU’s Marit Flora at 15:01, with Katey Houser taking runner-up at 15:07.
From the peninsula, Kenai’s Jayna Boonstra was 25th in 17:30, Kenai’s Emily Moss was 29th in 17:39, Kenai’s Leah Fallon was 39th in 18:47, Soldotna’s Ariana Cannava was 40th in 18:47, Homer’s Ireland Styvar was 46th in 19:29, Kenai Middle’s Tania Boonstra was 47th in 19:37, Kenai’s Gabriella Tews was 50th in 19:50 and Kenai’s Madison McDonald was 54th in 21:07.
In the 5-kilometer Under-16 boys race, Murphy Kimball of the Alaska Winter Stars won at 13:15, while APU’s Hatcher Menkens was the runner-up at 13:56.
Kenai Central’s Gregory Fallon and Jack Laker both got into the top 10. Fallon finished fifth at 14:33, while Laker was 10th at 14:48.
Also from the peninsula, Kenai’s Zane Tews was 25th at 16:47, Homer’s Jody Goodrich was 28th at 17:09 and Kenai’s Owen Smith was 31st at 18:49.
Lilli Bond of Fairbanks won the Under-12 and Under-14 girls race, finishing 3 kilometers in 10:48, while Reine Soule was second at 10:55.
In the 3K race for Under-12 and Under-14 boys, Jack Leveque of Alaska Winter Stars won at 9:58, while Grayson Stanek-Alward was second at 10:18. The peninsula put two in the top 10 in this race as well, with Kenai Middle’s Chase Laker taking fourth at 10:39, and Homer Middle’s Ethan Styvar taking eighth at 11:36. Homer’s Fischer Spurkland was 29th at 22:30.