Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue puts on successful Great Ski Race
TRUCKEE, Calif. — The historic ski hill outside of the Cottonwood Restaurant hadn’t been so full of smiling face since, well, the last Great Ski Race.
After a two-year hiatus due to low snowpack, the largest Nordic race west of the Mississippi returned for its 39th running Sunday, bringing with it its festive finish-line party and masses of people emanating good vibes. With well-earned drinks in hand, participants beamed with accomplishment over stories of their adventurous 30-kilometer trek from Tahoe City to Truckee.
“That was quite literally the most challenging race I’ve ever done. Just trying to wade through the dirt, the ice, the speed bumps, the turns — it was the whole package,” said Wyatt Fereday of Reno, minutes after claiming victory in a field of 428 finishers. “So thank you so much to every volunteer out here for pulling that race off. I’m amazed it even happened.”
Conditions and weather remained largely unknown leading up to the race, and both varied considerably throughout the day.
The backcountry course boasted plenty of snow early in the winter. But a dry February left some of the lower elevations thin on coverage, meaning racers faced the possibility of having to remove their skis and run certain stretches.
At the same time, the threat of a major storm left organizers with the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team, which puts on the race, on edge about sending such a large group of people into the woods.
Heavy rain Saturday turned to snow overnight, leaving a fresh blanket of white on the course, particularly for the first 25 kilometers. The final 5K on the descent into Truckee remained thin on coverage. The weather, too, changed drastically throughout the day, from sunny skis to bouts of heavy snow.
“It was entertaining, for sure,” said Ben Grasseschi of Tahoe City, who placed 64th overall and first among classic skiers. “It was super fun in an adventurous kind of a way. It varied tremendously, from running to mud to rocks to perfect snow.”
Women’s champion Katerina Nash of Truckee credited the army of volunteers who shoveled snow on the burned-out sections, in addition to their handling of other behind-the-scenes logistics.
“Those guys did an amazing job with what they had,” she said. “I was going to bed last night thinking, ‘This is going to be miserable if it’s raining like it is now.’ But it really turned into a nice day and good conditions. It’s nice to see the Great Ski Race back after a couple of years.”
The main fundraising event for the nonprofit, all-volunteer Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team, the 39th edition of the Great Ski Race drew 580 registered participants, said team president Chris McConnell. The event typically draws anywhere between 500 and 1,000 racers.
About half of the field on Sunday were first-time racers, McConnell added, while some came from as far away as Scotland. There were even two snowshoers.
“I was able to watch all the racers fight their way to the finish, and most everyone did it with a smile and seemed to enjoy the challenging conditions,” McConnell said.
Fereday outdistanced the field with a time of 1 hour, 30 minutes and 55 seconds. Truckee’s Tav Streit and Nick Sterling followed shortly after, posing times of 1:32:19 and 1:32:28, respectively, while Nash was the first woman and seventh overall in 1:36:01. Nash also was the top woman in 2013 and 2003.
After the frontrunners crossed the line, the skies darkened and heavy snow greeted racers for the next half hour. Then, as quickly as the weather rolled in, the clouds gave way to bright sunshine as waves of skiers appeared around the last corner and descended the final hill.
Spectators lined the finish chute, shaking cowbells and congratulating the racers — whether they skidded to a graceful stop or crashed in a heap. As always, there was no shortage of the latter.
“Oh man, I crashed hard at the finish. Real hard. I broke a ski,” said Justin Nistler of Truckee. “Kept it upright everywhere else though.”
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.