With snow in Tahoe forecast, 39th Great Ski Race slated for Sunday | SierraSun.com

With snow in Tahoe forecast, 39th Great Ski Race slated for Sunday

More than 750 cross-country skiers line up to compete in a past Great Ski Race from Tahoe City to Truckee. The race is set for this Sunday.
File photo |

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Snow or shine, Sunday’s 39th annual Great Ski Race from Tahoe City to Truckee is a go — in all likelihood, anyway.

“It’s on. The only contingency is if, for some reason, the heavens and Earth open up and it’s too dangerous to send people,” said Chris McConnell, president of the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team, which puts on the race.

“I’d say there’s a 2 percent chance of that. We really feel like it’s going to happen. We’ve had it in every condition you can imagine for 39 years, so it won’t be our first time in a big snowstorm.”

Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue (TNSR) has not been so fortunate in recent winters.

The Great Ski Race, which serves as the primary fundraiser for the nonprofit, all-volunteer rescue team, has been canceled three of the past four years due to low snowpack. It had only been cancelled once prior to the 2011-12 winter.

Now, after a promising start to the snow season, a dry February has left certain areas of the course thin on coverage. That could change by race time, however, as a powerful storm is forecast to wallop the Tahoe area Saturday and Sunday.

“The current situation is, we’ve got a course that we can run all the way to the Cottonwood (finish), but there’s one or two sections where racers would need to take off their skis and run or walk,” McConnell said. “But the reality is that the current situation is going to change. We think we’re going to have fresh snow conditions when the race starts. It’s just a matter of how much and how nasty it will be.”

McConnell said that race organizers, who have been analyzing the weather forecast all week, expect between 6 and 12 inches of new snow by the time the starting start pops at 9 a.m. Thanks to the support of Northstar California, Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows and the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, the 30-kilometer course will be groomed by multiple snowcats just before the start, McConnell added.

“These snowcats are going to lay down corduroy, so the racers are going to get phenomenal grooming,” he said. “It’s likely going to be snowing, though, so it’s not going to be a fast race. It’s going to be a slog. It’s going to be an endurance event.”

More than 500 people were registered as of Thursday morning, while McConnell said he expects a final tally of somewhere between 600 and 700 racers — unless “it’s nuking,” he said, in which case the numbers might drop by half.

“If it’s really snowing hard a lot of people will say, ‘No, I’m staying on the couch today.’ But we also have a lot of hard-core racers who are going to make the effort. There are a lot of people chomping at the bit,” McConnell said, adding that, in the unlikely event that the race is canceled, TNSR will send out an email Sunday by 6:30 a.m. notifying participants.

In anticipation of the stormy weather, race organizers splurged for party tents and heaters that will be set up in the finish area outside of the Cottonwood Restaurant. There will also be a live band, food and a beer garden. TNSR encourages those who have registered but opt out of the race to join the finish-line party.

“The Great Ski Race has become much more than just a fundraiser,” McConnell said. “It’s a really big winter community event. It’s a little bit of a rite of passage for Tahoe locals.”

About the race

The Great Ski Race remains one of the largest cross-country ski races west of the Mississippi, drawing between 500 and 1,000 participants annually.

The 30-kilometer course, which begins at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area in Tahoe City and ends at the Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee, features 1,200 feet of uphill, 1,800 feet of downhill and a steep pitch to the finish line, where racers are greeted by a festive party.

The top racers typically finish between one and two hours, depending on conditions, while the final finishers come in closer to seven hours.

The action begins Sunday at 9 a.m. with wave starts. While online registration closes Thursday at midnight, participants can register in person at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area on Friday from 2-5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Day-of registration is also available at Tahoe Cross Country until 8:30 a.m. Cost is $70 through Saturday and $110 on race day.

For more information, including past results, visit the event website at thegreatskirace.com.

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