Great Racing on tap | SierraSun.com

Great Racing on tap

Sylas WrightSierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sun file photoThe Great Ski Race "Cheerleaders" Debbie Kelly-Hogan, Suellen McGeorge, Toni Rockwell, Kim Szczurek, Laura Read, JoJo Toeppner, Blake Novoa and Beverly Lynch ski down the last hill to the finish of last year's Great Ski Race. This year's race will be held on Sunday.

While much about the Great Ski Race has changed since its inception more than three decades ago, the original concept remains rooted in tradition.It was (intended) to see who could get to Truckee the fastest, said founder Skip Reedy, 65, a former Tahoe Nordic Search andamp; Rescue Team member and owner of Tahoe Cross Country Center then called Tahoe Nordic Center.After 30-plus years, its still about who can outdistance the field in a 30-kilometer (18.43-mile) race from Tahoe Cross Country Center in Tahoe City to the Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee. Yet not everyone goes for the gusto, as many treat the community-supported event which is made possible in large part through a united effort from volunteers as a non-competitive and festive party.Now the main fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search andamp; Rescue Team, the annual race that began with 60 finishers has swelled to become possibly the largest Nordic race west of the Mississippi River, drawing elite competition and Nordic neophytes alike from throughout the country.We only had 60 or 65 competitors the first year, and then it started growing and becoming more and more popular, Reedy said. It got so big I needed help, so I got the Search andamp; Rescue Team to help. Then I handed it over to them.Since that inaugural year, which was pushed back from 1976 to 1977 due to a dearth of snow, the Great Ski Race has grown more than tenfold. It didnt take long for word to get out, as more than 100 skiers entered the race in 1978. The next year there were 156 racers, then 185, 264, 467 and, by 1983, 632. In 2005, a record 1,109 people entered the race, while last years event drew 888 racers. The only Nordic event west of the Mississippi that rivals the Great Ski Race in size is the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho, which featured 723 finishers this year.I think the Great Ski Race kind of has it all, said Jeff Schloss, a coach for Far West Nordic and Auburn Ski Club and a regular Great Ski Race competitor. Going point to point has some kind of magic to it, instead of racing in circles. And its something you dont get to ski the rest of the year, so no one is tired of the course.Schloss, who first competed in the Great Ski Race in 1986, posted a second-place finish in 1990 for his best result. Clint Roberts placed first that year, edging Schloss with a time of 1 hour, 19.32 seconds. The course record belongs to three-time winner Patrick Weaver, who scorched the competition in 2005 with a time of 1:07.I dont expect to be up there anymore, Schloss said of finishing among the lead pack. My goal is to get back into the top-10, but Im not making any predictions.Asked what was his favorite aspect of the race, Schloss had trouble settling on one answer.I like it all, he said. I love climbing up Starratt Pass. You feel like youre in the middle of nowhere. I also like coming into Truckee, seeing the town below you. And then theres the after party.For many entrants, especially those not shooting for a winning time and theres hundreds of them the party at the finish is icing on the cake after a scenic tour through the woods. According to Reedy, however, time has tamed those parties.Its always been a fun event, but in the beginning we had a lot more beer I think we had 15 kegs one year, he said. But the beer consumption has gone down over the years.Mark Nadell, Nordic administrator for Far West Nordic, has competed in the Great Ski Race about 20 times, starting in the early 80s.My favorite aspect is the pageantry of it, he said. Just the amount of people who are excited about it, from elite racers from across the country to people doing their first tour.With prime conditions after last years dud of a winter, this years race may see a record turnout.If the forecast stays clear, I think it will be a huge turnout, Schloss said.

The 32nd annual Great Ski Race will be held on Sunday, March 2. Cost is $45, or $65 if registering on race day. Race registration is available at http://www.thegreatskirace.com. For more information, contact Pam at 546-7393 or visit http://www.thegreatskirace.com.