Jeff Helminiak / Peninsula Clarion
                                Melissa Smith wins the women’s 40-kilometer freestyle Sunday at the Tour of Anchorage at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna.

Jeff Helminiak / Peninsula Clarion Melissa Smith wins the women’s 40-kilometer freestyle Sunday at the Tour of Anchorage at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna.

Klecka, Smith rule Tour of Tsalteshi

Another year, another totally different Tour of Tsalteshi.

Avid skiers of the roller-coaster trails on the edge of Soldotna say the charm is in how the trails change each day based on conditions, thus mitigating boredom.

The third edition of the Tour of Tsalteshi, held Sunday, proved that once again. 2018 was lightning fast, with the 40-kilometer men’s winner at 2 hours, 9 minutes and 24 seconds and the top woman at 2:34:04.

2019 saw a big snow dump the night before and rain during the race. The 40K men’s winner was at 2:46:36, while the women’s winner was at 3:12:50.

Sunday was marked by temperatures in the single digits and a crystalline snow that dusted the trails in the days leading to the event and grabbed at skis during the race. Eagle River’s Joey Klecka won the men’s 40K at 2:28:54, while Melissa Smith of Soldotna took the women’s win at 3:13:29.

Rounding out the winners were Anchorage’s Mary Krusen in the women’s 20K classic in 1:29:58, Soldotna’s Jordan Chilson in men’s 20K classic in 1:23:15, Kasilof’s Amy Anderson in the women’s 20K freestyle at 1:27:22 and Mitchell Andrew in the men’s 20K freestyle at 1:18:20. The race had 84 finishers despite a schedule conflict with the ever-popular Wine and Cheese Ski Tour in Homer.

Tsalteshi has been around since 1990. Its winners have experienced the trails in a wide range of times and places in their lives.

Klecka became familiar with Tsalteshi while working as a sports reporter for the Peninsula Clarion for eight years. He owns most of the best times for the loops on the social media app Strava and contended in the first two Tours, but had to outlast 2019 champ Luke Rosier of Anchorage this year.

During the second lap, Rosier told Klecka he was bonking. Nobody challenged Klecka after that, with Homer’s Pete Alexson finishing 4:44 back.

“I haven’t won a lot of races in my life,” Klecka said. “This is a hard place to actually win. It’s definitely a big one. I’m going to go home and gloat tomorrow.”

Part of that gloating will likely be with Klecka’s sister, Jacqueline Klecka, who won the women’s 40K in 2018, meaning the Kleckas join the Boonstras as the only families with multiple members as Tour champions.

“It’s a big race,” Klecka said. “It’s the crown jewel of the peninsula and it’s only in its third year. I hope it keeps getting bigger.”

Smith lives in the area, but returned Feb. 1 from a two-month biking trip in Vietnam and Cambodia. Long rides with a lot of climb prepared her for the Tour — kind of.

“They say biking translates well to skiing,” Smith said. “But the lateral support muscles light up pretty good when you start skiing.”

Smith defeated runner-up Jenny Neyman by just under six minutes.

“Conditions were great,” Smith said. “I felt really good about the race. I didn’t get a lot of muscle soreness and fatigue until the last 10K.”

In the men’s 20K freestyle, Mitchell Andrew pulled away from Dylan Hogue on the hilly second half to win by 2:19.

“Going up the mountain goat, I burned out,” Hogue said. “After that, I was just trying to keep second.”

Hogue is a junior at Soldotna and just competed in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Nordic ski championships Saturday. He wasn’t going to let that stop him from a third Tour of Tsalteshi.

“I just like skiing,” Hogue said. “It’s a good chance to go out and get a good ski.”

The remaining winners all fell under Tsalteshi’s spell while skiing for various area high schools. Anderson is a 2001 graduate of now-closed Skyview High School. She defeated Seward’s Hallie Bergwall for the women’s 20K freestyle title by 2:02.

Chilson is a 2007 graduate of Soldotna High School who, like Anderson, stayed in the community. In the first Tour in 2018, Chilson lost the 40K skate by one second, but has since become enamoured of classic skiing. He defeated runner-up Steve Milliron by almost nine minutes.

“It was the perfect day for classic skiing,” Chilson said, due to glide being hard to come by and kick being easy to achieve.

Chilson also is on the Tsalteshi Trails Association board and the organizing committee for the Tour. He said the race went great this year and had plenty of volunteers, but paid special tribute to organizer Steve Cothran.

“I can’t thank Steve enough,” Chilson said. “He probably does 80 to 90 percent of the organizing for this race.”

Krusen is a 2002 graduate of Kenai Central. Since moving off the peninsula, she skis Tsalteshi Trails whenever she visits her mother, Rebecca Lambourn. She wanted the opportunity to take the full tour so decided to do the race when Anchorage friend and 1999 Kenai grad Jessie Banas also decided to come down.

“It would be fun to gather former peninsula people who have moved elsewhere, and come back and have a reunion at this race,” said Krusen, who defeated runner-up Karen Bronga by over 10 minutes. “There are definitely friends in Anchorage I’ll be telling about this.”

Jessie Banas skied the race with her mother, Gigi Banas. They plan to recruit Jessie’s brother, 2004 Kenai grad Andy Banas, for the race next year.

Krusen said the cold winter has had her doing a lot of classic skiing with what she called the Nunaka Valley Ski Alliance.

“It was so beautiful cresting the hills with the sun showing through the trees,” Krusen said. “There was some peninsula pride.”

She also said it was great to see the peninsula skiing community again.

“It’s fun to see how the place has grown, but it’s also fun to see the same people volunteering and grooming the trails with the same enthusiasm they had back in the glory days,” Krusen said.

2020 Tour of Tsalteshi

Sunday, Tsalteshi Trails

Women’s 20K classic — 1. Mary Krusen, 1 hour, 29 minutes, 58; 2. Karen Bronga, 1:40:18; 3. Krista Arthur, 1:43:32; 4. Alice Moran-Tacey, 1:44:41; 5. Jessie Banas, 2:09:27; 6. Gigi Banas, 2:09:40; 7. Lara Griffin, 2:16:15; 8. Angelica Sulley, 2:18:50; 9. Christine Bergholtz, 2:21:35; 10. Stephanie Wright, 2:24:36; 11. Kristie Cotroneo, 2:27:46; 12. Yvonne Leutwyler, 2:33:52; 13. Sara Bundy, 2:37:57; 14. Patti Berkhahn, 2:44:37; 15. Arlana Cannava, 2:44:42; 16. Katrina Cannava, 2:45:17; 17. Yennhi Tran, 2:50:29; 18. Rachel Gilliland, 2:57:28; 19. Becky Hart, 3:09:34; 20. Carrie Wawrzyk, 3:17:40; 21. Marly Perschbacher, 3:20:08; 22. Irene Houdek, 3:29:43.

Men’s 20K classic — 1. Jordan Chilson, 1:23:15; 2. Steve Milliron, 1:32:07; 3. Ben Boersma, 1:32:17; 4. Tom Bronga, 1:36:28; 5. Trevor Davis, 1:40:03; 6. Dan Harbison, 1:42:29; 7. Michael Bergholtz, 1:48:48; 8. Benjamin McGarry, 2:05:41; 9. Patrick Lewis, 2:09:38; 10. Will Morrow, 2:15:30; 11. Pete Sprague, 2:16:20; 12. Jeremiah Hamilton, 2:19:42; 13. F. Jon Iannaccone, 2:20:41; 14. Clark Fair, 2:24:51; 15. Andrew Walsh, 2:27:54; 16. Zachary Cureton, 2:33:09; 17. Ryan Ek, 2:35:21; 18. Jamie Nelson, 2:48:29; 19. Carlos Molina, 2:50:34; 20. Dan Balmer, 2:54:07; 21. Tim Millings, 3:04:00; 22. Geoffrey Geler, 3:18:50.

Women’s 20K freestyle — 1. Amy Anderson, 1:27:22; 2. Hallie Bergwall, 1:29:24; 3. Anna Williams, 1:36:45; 4. Libby Jensen, 1:41:15; 5. Kat Sorensen, 1:43:48; 6. Sarah Foster, 1:44:36; 7. Elizabeth Earl, 1:53:10; 8. Patty Moran, 1:57:54; 9. Chloe Desbois, 2:10:03; 10. Gina Gregoire, 2:35:08; 11. Sonya Childs, 2:47:24.

Men’s 20K freestyle — 1. Mitchell Andrew, 1:18:20; 2. Dylan Hogue, 1:20:39; 3. Jason Parks, 1:21:22; 4. Jack Laker, 1:22:29; 5. Chad Anderson, 1:23:50; 6. Chase Laker, 1:27:28; 7. Matthew Grzybowski, 1:27:44; 8. Justin Hansen, 1:27:50; 9. Tom Seggerman, 1:28:26; 10. Carter Cannava, 1:31:24; 11. Andrew Cox, 1:35:25; 12. Ethan Hogue, 1:35:53; 13. Bernard Stratman, 1:43:37; 14. Sean Ulman, 1:48:33; 15. Bill Berkhahn, 1:50:53; 16. Kenny Regan, 1:53:18; 17. Brad Mahood, 1:55:26; 18. Mike Salzetti, 1:57:00; 19. Mark Laker, 2:05:48; 20. Ed Schmitt, 2:12:45.

Women’s 40K freestyle — 1. Melissa Smith, 3:13:29; 2. Jenny Neyman, 3:19:08.

Men’s 40K freestyle — 1. Joey Klecka, 2:28:54; 2. Pete Alexson, 2:33:38; 3. Chuck DiMarzio, 2:35:48; 4. Robert McNown, 2:38:26; 5. Frederick Dickerson, 2:53:55; 6. Dante Petri, 2:56:12; 7. Jeff Helminiak, 2:57:37.

Tim Millings finishes the 20-kilometer classic race at the Tour of Tsalteshi on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Tim Millings finishes the 20-kilometer classic race at the Tour of Tsalteshi on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Sports

Nikiski’s Lillian Carstens drives to the rim by South’s Paige Noble Saturday at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip Off tournament. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
All-state basketball teams announced

The Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches announced all-state teams Wednesday. In balloting… Continue reading

Bear Lake. Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/For the Clarion)
Tangled Up in Blue: Shelter from the storm

I ran into a stranger while enjoying some spring skiing on Bear… Continue reading

Refuge Notebook: Keeping an eye on birds

Around this time of year I start to include a pair of… Continue reading

Out of the Office: Nature in a time of pandemic can heal

As I write this I am in my third day of working… Continue reading

Refuge Notebook: Migration is not canceled

A friend told me recently that March is her favorite month. What?… Continue reading

Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula powers up against Nikiski’s Kaycee Bostic on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi’s Tuisaula nabs MVP of NLC

Soldotna senior Ituau Tuisaula was named most valuable player of the Northern… Continue reading

Bears forward Ritchie commits to St. Lawrence

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Logan Ritchie has earned a commitment to… Continue reading

SoHi’s Truesdell commits to UAF basketball

Soldotna High School senior Jersey Truesdell capped a decorated prep career by… Continue reading

The Peninsula Oilers play the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Oilers cancel 2020 season

The Peninsula Oilers have canceled their 2020 season, stopping the string of… Continue reading

Crested auklets are just one of 30 species of seabirds that we study, but theyղe one of the strangest with their otherworldy eyes, showgirl plumes and tangerine odor. The citrus odor may be important for repelling pests. (Photo by Michael Johns/USFWS)
Refuge Notebook: Introducing Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

We’ve probably already met, but you didn’t realize it. We’re the other… Continue reading

During this time of uncertainty, the author vacillates between being outdoors and binge watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” (Photo courtesy of Kat Sorensen)
Tangled Up in Blue: Lonely among us

I set daily goals to accomplish during this universal pandemic, a different kind of frontier.