Steve Cothran, organizer of the Tour of Tsalteshi, said he wants to make the event a race of the Kenai Peninsula cross-country skiing community.
So in some ways, the soft conditions brought about by 24 hours of snow before Sunday’s event, while not perfect, were appropriate.
Because from Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna to the Kenai Nordic Trails to the many trails rolling through the hills of Homer to the Divide, Bear Lake or whatever’s skiing in Seward, conditions are rarely perfect.
There’s just not the population base and money for all corduroy, all the time.
Luke Rosier, who won the 40-kilometer freestyle Sunday, has found that out this year after relocating from Seward to Anchorage.
“Crappy conditions in Anchorage are like some of the better days in Seward,” said Rosier after skiing a second lap in rain falling on a big powder dump, which is so Seward.
Emily Lints, who won the women’s 40-kilometer freestyle, said some in Homer who signed up didn’t show up Sunday. But it wasn’t because they expected tough skiing.
“Homer people will ski anything, but the roads scared them away,” she said.
Sure, the groomers of the peninsula can’t deploy massive armies of snowmachines or a monstrous and brand-new grooming machine known as a PistenBully, but on the peninsula that seems to make them more beloved.
Some of the loudest applause at the awards ceremony at Kenai River Brewing came when Cothran mentioned that Bill Holt, John Pothast and the Tsalteshi grooming crew had worked all the way to midnight, then were back at the trails at 8 a.m.
“I love Bill Holt,” Lints said.
Even Ninilchik’s Todd Boonstra, who has been to three Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing, had no problem with the trail prep.
“The groomers did a great job of just trying to keep up with the snow,” said Boonstra, who won the men’s 20-kilometer freestyle, while his wife, Kelli Boonstra, took the women’s 20K. “It’s hard when you get 3, 4, 5, 6 inches of snow the night before a race.”
This year, the Tour of Tsalteshi offered a discount to Kachemak Nordic Ski Club and Seward Nordic Ski Club members. Registration jumped from 79 last year to 112 this year, with 83 from the central peninsula, 12 from Homer, 10 from Seward and seven from off the peninsula.
Nobody was complaining about the snow.
“We’ve all been waiting for a winter wonderland and we’ve got it this year,” Kelli Boonstra said. “This is awesome. I love all this snow. It’s great skiing.”
Boonstra, 48, was the lone repeat champion. She finished at 1:27:44, while Seward’s Mackenzie Barnwell was next at 1:31:29. Boonstra said she gets her energy from working with the Tsalteshi Youth Ski Program and from being head ski coach at Kenai Middle School. There are 46 kids out for the team this season.
“It’s amazing. I’m with them five days a week,” Boonstra said. “I get a workout just trying to keep up with all my kids.”
Boonstra said the Tour of Tsalteshi is part of a burgeoning Nordic culture that includes big growth in youth programs since the Boonstras came back from Galena in 2011.
“It’s been inspirational to see all the youth programs grow with all these kids,” Boonstra said. “It’s something they’re passionate about and it gets them outside in the winter. Kids need that.”
Boonstra was one of the nation’s top cross-country skiers, nearly qualifying for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Todd and Kelli met through skiing, so both liked sharing the victories Sunday.
Todd Boonstra, 56, finished at 1:15:55, while Tony Eskelin was next at 1:27:00.
“These trails are sweet skiing and I’ve done most of these trails, but I’ve never done them hard,” said Boonstra, who missed last year due to illness. “I wanted to see what they’re like in a race.”
Rosier, 32, finished third last year while Seward’s Chaz DiMarzio took the win. But Rosier’s second lap in worsening conditions marked him as a man to watch, and Sunday he proved why. He won at 2:49:36, while DiMarzio was second at 2:53:41.
Rosier lived in Seward for eight years, ski coaching at Seward High School for three years, before relocating to Anchorage this school year as a student teacher. He’s tangled with DiMarzio in endurance pursuits for years.
“I’ve never beaten him at anything,” Rosier said.
He figured he had a chance this year because he’s done so much more skiing while teaching at Service, which has top-notch and tough trails right out the door.
He broke from the pack at 7K and never looked back, kinda, in taking his first lifetime victory in a major race.
“I wasn’t physically looking over my shoulder, but there was never a time during the race I wasn’t mentally looking over my shoulder. I know he can punish himself so much at the end of the race,” he said of DiMarzio.
Rosier said Boonstra was a big help in building a big lead during the first lap. As a 20K skier, Boonstra started five minutes after Rosier. Boonstra said his goal was to track down all the 40K skiers, and the only one he didn’t was Rosier.
“He still looked really good, quick and smooth at halfway,” Boonstra said. “I wasn’t catching him. I was impressed.”
Lints, 36, won at 3:12:05, while Sterling’s Morgan Aldridge was second at 3:25:54. Lints, a former skier at Dartmouth, has coached high school and junior high in Homer. She now leads the Kachemak Women’s Nordic Group.
She expected a group of over 10 of her students, but some couldn’t make it due to the roads. One who did is Tara Schmidt, who was third in 3:34:59. Schmidt broke a ski in a fall near the start and came back to the starting area, rounding up another ski, before completing the race.
Could she have challenged Lints if not for the accident?
“I couldn’t have stayed with her,” Schmidt said. “Emily is my coach.”
Lints put in a plug for two other peninsula Nordic events, the Kachemak Ski Marathon on March 9 and the Homer Epic on March 16.
“I love smaller, community races,” she said. “The closer to home, the better.”
Cothran also thanked the 20 volunteers it took to put on the race.
Editor’s note: The results have been changed to reflect several corrections made by race organizers.
Tour of Tsalteshi
20-kilometer freestyle — 1. Todd Boonstra, 1 hour, 15 minutes, 55 seconds; 2. Tony Eskelin, 1:27:00; 3. Dante Petri, 1:30:00; 4. Chad Anderson, 1:33:06; 5. Jack Laker, 1:34:49; 6. Sean Ulman, 1:38:59; 7. Ryder Giesler, 1:39:27; 8. Mitchell Andrew, 1:39:50; 9. Dylan Hogue, 1:40:52; 10. Tom Seggerman, 1:40:56; 11. James Butler, 1:47:25; 12. Erik Johnson, 1:47:38; 13. Lee Green, 1:48:12; 14. James Eaton, 1:48:22; 15. Anthony Murray, 1:50:14; 16. Noah Mery, 1:57:04; 17. Gregory Fallon, 1:59:27; 18. Quinn Cox, 2:03:07; 19. David Lorring, 2:04:25; 20. Matthew Grzybowski, 2:10:14; 21. Bernie Stratman, 2:14:45; 22. Joel Todd, 2:16:41; 23. Rhyss Vivian, 2:17:01; 24. Ed Schmitt, 2:29:43; 25. Craig Cheek, 2:30:14.
26. Pete Sprague, 2:31:18; 27. Drew Cox, 2:33:43; 28. Ethan Hogue, 2:33:47; 29. Benjamin Veh, 2:33:49; 30. Eric Pederson, 2:37:01; 31. Steve Cothran, 2:39:12; 32. Mark Laker, 2:39:24; 33. Roy Stonecipher, 2:51:09; 34. Chris Beadoin, 3:01:38; 35. Zach Cureton, 3:04:12.
20-kilometer classic — 1. Jordan Chilson, 1:39:55; 2. Mike Bergholtz, 1:43:36; 3. Trevor Davis, 1:59:02; 4. Jon Iannaccone, 2:08:50; 5. Benjamin McGarry, 2:11:10; 6. Brad Nyquist, 2:11:27; 7. William Morrow, 2:30:59; 8. Chad Arthur, 2:40:28; 9. Dan Balmer, 2:43:25; 10. Jamie Nelson, 2:47:15; 11. Clark Fair, 3:08:08; 12. Tim Millings, 3:12:38; 13. David Paperman, 3:40:32; 14. Jeff Perschbacher, 3:42:11.
40-kilometer classic — 1. Luke Rosier, 2:49:36; 2. Chaz DiMarzio, 2:53:41; 3. Joey Klecka, 2:55:52; 4. Frederick Dickerson, 3:15:42; 5. Jeff Helminiak, 3:20:45.
20-kilometer freestyle — 1. Kelli Boonstra, 1:27:44; 2. Mackenzie Barnwell, 1:31:29; 3. Amy Anderson, 1:40:38; 4. Kathy Sarns, 1:43:48; 5. Melissa Smith, 1:44:42; 6. Hallie Bergwall, 1:44:45; 7. Anna Williams, 1:56:55; 8. Tara Swanson, 1:59:03; 9. Libby Jensen, 2:00:50; 10. Megan Kemp, 2:01:45; 11. Kat Sorensen, 2:09:10; 12. Paula Murray, 2:17:37; 13. Patty Moran, 2:19:32; 14. Elizabeth Earl, 2:21:47; 15. Mykenna Foster, 2:29:58; 16. Sheryl Nelson, 2:34:41; 17. Alexa Dobson, 2:38:12; 18. Alexi Charter, 2:43:29; 19. Sondra Stonecipher, 2:50:52; 20. Amanda Taylor, 2:55:31; 21. Jane Adkins, 3:20:25; 22. Wendy Bryden, 3:25:35.
20-kilometer classic — 1. Denali Critchett, 2:29:07; 2. Kristie Cotroneo, 2:30:44; 3. Tammy Vollom-Matturro, 2:36:15; 4. Lara Griffin, 2:36:15; 5. Sara Bundy, 2:47:18; 6. Patti Berkhahn, 2:49:06; 7. Jen Showalter, 2:51:27; 8. Katrina Cannava, 2:51:29; 9. Larissa Arbelovsky, 2:53:21; 10. Megan Smith, 2:53:46; 1a. Melanie Holton, 3:12:08; 12. Yvonne Leutwyler, 3:12:33; 13. Heidi Isernhagen, 3:12:38; 14. RaChelle Gruenberg, 3:15:42; 15. Marly Perschbacher, 3:37:13; 16. Dana Paperman, 4:00:00.
40-kilometer freestyle — 1. Emily Lints, 3:12:05; 2. Morgan Aldridge, 3:25:54; 3. Tara Schmidt, 3:34:59.