The Great Ski Race – a Tahoe winter staple – ready for triumphant return | SierraSun.com

The Great Ski Race – a Tahoe winter staple – ready for triumphant return

Amelia Richmond
Special to the Sun

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The Great Ski Race finally returns to Lake Tahoe on Sunday, March 6, after being canceled the past two years — and three of the last four — due to lack of snow.

The largest cross-country ski race west of the Mississippi, The Great Ski Race covers 30 kilometers with 1,200 feet of uphill and 1,800 of downhill between Tahoe City and Truckee.

The race's current record time is one hour, seven minutes, and the final contestant typically crosses the finish line within seven hours.

A RACE AS REWARDING AS IT IS CHALLENGING

Race veterans often reminisce about their fun times competing with friends over the years.

Truckee resident Jo Jo Toeppner, who has competed in every race since she moved to town in the 1980s, recalled the year she broke a pole and had to ski the race sharing her friend's pole between them for most of the course.

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"We came down the finish arm-in-arm and tumbled across the finish line," laughed Toeppner.

Toeppner says she absolutely recommends The Great Ski Race to anyone thinking about signing up.

"It's so great to ski a point-to-point race, to ski over the pass and down to the party," she said, advising first-time competitors to pace themselves up the hill to Starratt Pass, as it's not the last hill you climb.

The Great Ski Race represents the ultimate challenge for Nordic skiers and downhill or backcountry skiers who want to try their hand at cross-country skiing.

Participants say the race is as rewarding as it is challenging, and locals rave about the fun to be had at the finish line, where Truckee's Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar loans their parking lot for the party, featuring food, live music and an awards presentation.

"The event draws skiers from around the country and around the world," said Doug Read, co-race director for The Great Ski Race. "We see everyone from Olympic Nordic skiers to local skiers who are just out there to enjoy a ski in the woods with friends, great soup stations and a heck of a party."

A GOOD TIME FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Beyond being a good time, The Great Ski Race serves as the main fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to locating and recovering lost or injured skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, snowmobiles, hikers and climbers.

All funds raised from The Great Ski Race support the team's year-round volunteer operations, as well as the winter survival and avalanche education programs the team sponsors and conducts at local schools.

A CRITICAL RESOURCE

The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has been an especially critical resource this winter, now that snow has finally returned to the region.

Since December, the team has conducted eight successful searches, bringing three skiers and five snowboarders safely home to their families. Search locations ranged just outside ski resort boundaries to deeper into the Tahoe backcountry, and most took place at night in stormy conditions.

In a letter to the team, one of the lost skiers wrote, "Words cannot express the amount of gratitude and respect I have for the search and rescue volunteers like yourself and the TNSAR organization! Without your rescue, my fate would have been much worse."

The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was also among the more than 400 volunteers and numerous rescue agencies who looked for several days for 23-year-old Carson May, who was reported missing from Sugar Bowl Resort on January 15 and has not yet been found.

Through the positive outcomes and tragic loss, the team's mission remains steadfast: to conduct fast, safe rescues and to educate the public about winter safety.

TAHOE NORDIC SEARCH AND RESCUE

Currently consisting of more than 100 volunteers, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was founded in 1976 and maintains an extremely high level of medical, mountaineering and skiing expertise among its ranks. Members include EMTs, emergency room nurses, firefighters, professional ski patrollers, paramedics and doctors.

The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has located more than 300 individuals to date, ultimately saving lives and bringing lost loved ones home whenever possible. The funds raised annually at The Great Ski Race help the team to continue their mission.

"The Great Ski Race is not only the main fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, but it's become an iconic winter event for the region," said TNSAR president Chris McConnell. "The entire team is very proud of what the event has become."

READY TO RACE?

Registration for The Great Ski Race is currently open at TheGreatSkiRace.com.

Registration fees are $60 through February 20, $70 February 21 to March 5, and $110 on race day. Juniors 18 and under can race for $25.

All entry fees include a Great Ski Race T-shirt, refreshments and a hot lunch, as well as live music and dancing at the finish.

More information about the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team and The Great Ski Race can be found at tahoenordicsar.com and thegreatskirace.com.

Amelia Richmond is a North Lake Tahoe-based freelancer writer. Email her at amelia.s.richmond@gmail.com.

The fine details

The 39th Great Ski Race will take place Sunday, March 6, as part of SnowFest! The first wave starts at 9 a.m. at Tahoe Cross Country, at 925 Country Club Drive in Tahoe City.

Parking is limited at the race start, and carpooling so highly recommended. Easy parking is available at nearby North Tahoe High School on Polaris Drive, with a groomed 1.2-km track to the start line.

The finish is at Cottonwood Restaurant, at 10142 Rue Hilltop Road in Truckee. Follow advice of on-site parking attendants to park at race finish.

Registration:

Through Feb. 20: $60

Feb. 21 – March 5: $70

Race Day: $110

Juniors 18 & under: $25

Learn more: thegreatskirace.com/registration

After Party:

Where: Cottonwood Restaurant

When: Live Music from 12-4 p.m.; awards ceremony at 1:30 p.m.

More information: thegreatskirace.com