Early winter on the central Kenai Peninsula has featured an uncommonly high number of perfect days for classic skiing — days with beautifully set tracks and mindless application of the wax it takes to get some kick.
Saturday was not one of those days. The Tsalteshi Classic Invitational at Tsalteshi Trails was all about dredging order from the chaos, best done by classic five-kilometer champs Karl Danielson of Kenai Central and Autumn Daigle of Homer.
Start with the origin of the meet itself. The skiers were originally supposed to be at a meet at Government Peak in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys over the weekend, but that was canceled due to high winds scrubbing the trails of snow.
So Soldotna coach Isaac Erhardt and Kenai Central coach Brad Nyquist got together and decided to throw together a quick five-kilometer, interval classic race for Saturday. SoHi would put together the trail, while Kenai would handle the timing.
“It’s really great we’ve got the kind of people around here to make something like this work,” Erhardt said. “We didn’t just hear the meet was canceled and say there was nothing we could do about it.”
Through Friday, conditions for Saturday’s race were shaping up to be perfect. But then snow fell starting late Friday night, and by the time of the race Saturday that snow had turned to rain.
To classic ski, skiers need something on the bottom of the ski under their feet to allow them to kick forward. Kick is easy to come by when temperatures are comfortably below freezing, but achieving kick when it is raining and temperatures are about 32 degrees is a nightmare.
Erhardt said the ingenuity of the racer comes into play during such conditions.
“A key factor today was the ability to read conditions when you are skiing and be able to change what you are doing,” he said.
That’s why Danielson — with no kick — and Daigle — with too much kick — were both able to find ways to win.
“It was crazy,” Danielson said. “I didn’t really know how it would turn out. I had a tiny bit of kick earlier in the day, but during the race conditions changed and I didn’t have any kick at all.”
Danielson won the boys race at 13 minutes flat, while Soldotna’s Jeremy Kupferschmid was second at 13:57 and Homer’s Jacob Davis was third at 14:14.
Not having any kick meant Danielson was able to cruise down the icy tracks on downhills and double-pole the flats with ease.
There were three uphills on each lap of the two-lap course, though. Without kick, Danielson was able to battle up those with a mixture of double-poling and the herringbone technique, or putting the skis in a “V” and using the edges to get up the hill.
Kuperschmid took a similar tact to Danielson in taking second place.
“I had no kick whatsoever,” Kupferschmid said. “The plan was to do double-poling, and then jump out of the tracks and herringbone when I had to.”
He said adjusting to different conditions is a challenge he welcomes.
“Ideally, we’d have good conditions with perfectly groomed trails, but this type of race can also be fun,” he said.
Unlike the top two in the boys race, the top two in the girls race had plenty of kick. But when the snow is perfect for a snowball fight — as it was Saturday — having kick often means it’s impossible not to have massive clumps of snow underfoot after applying all the pressure it takes to get up a hill.
Both Daigle, who won at 18:16, and Soldotna’s Kellie Arthur, who was second at 19:12, had that problem. SoHi’s Sonora Martin was third at 19:13.
Daigle wore zero skis. A normal classic ski gets kick from applying wax in the kick zone, but zero skis have a special material that feels like felt in their kick zone.
Zero skis can often be just the ticket in tricky classic conditions, but Saturday Daigle said she was getting large clumps of snow under her ski after the uphills.
Didn’t matter. She won the Division II state cross-country running title in the fall, so she was more than happy to turn a ski race into a running race.
“Running is my favorite,” Daigle said. “I do skiing to keep in shape and because it is super fun, but I’m not as good at it.”
In the interval start format, Daigle went out first and Arthur followed 15 seconds behind. Arthur had wax on the bottom of her skis that also generated snowballs on climbs.
Arthur was gaining on Daigle on the day’s first climb when she got to the top and rudely learned just how sticky those snowballs were when she face-planted.
“I ate it that first lap and that kind of pushed me back a little bit,” Arthur said.
Tsalteshi Classic Invitational
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
Boys individual results
1. Karl Danielson, Ken, 13 minutes, 0 seconds; 2. Jeremy Kupferschmid, Sol, 13:57; 3. Jacob Davis, Hom, 14:14; 4. Koby Vinson, Sol, 14:15; 5. Joshua Shuler, Sol, 15:20; 6. Jode Sparks, Sol, 15:40; 7. Denver Waclawski, Hom, 15:53; 8. Jack Harris, Sol, 16:07; 9. Bradley Walters, Sol, 16:46; 10. Foster Boze, Sol, 17:42; 11. Ryder Giesler, Sol, 17:53; 12 (tie). Josh Foster, Ken, Joseph Dammeyer, Sol, 17:56; 14. Lance Chilton, Sol, 18:35; 15. Anchor Musgave, Sol, 18:51; 16. Billy Morrow, Ken, 18:53; 17. Joshua Caspian, Hom, 19:00; 18. Andrew Super, Hom, 19:23; 19. Dylan Hogue, Sol, 19:25; 20. Tanner Reid, Hom, 19:29; 21. Toad Martin, Sol, 19:37; 22. Tristan Summer, Ken, 19:44; 23. Mathew Grzybowski, Ken, 20:39; 24. Hunter Beck, Ken, 21:42; 25. Gideon Colliver, Ken, 22:08; 26. James Chandler, Hom, 29:06.
Girls individual results
1. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 18:16; 2. Kellie Arthur, Sol, 19:12; 3. Sonora Martin, Sol, 19:13; 4. Zoe Stonorov, Hom, 19:33; 5. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 19:54; 6. Isabella Dammeyer, Sol, 20:55; 7. Mickinzie Ticknor, Ken, 20:54; 8. Hannah Delker, Sol, 21:52; 9. Brita Restad, Hom, 21:31; 10. Erika Arthur, Sol, 21:51; 11. Katie Delker, Sol, 21:52; 12. Macady Musgrave, Sol, 22:52; 13. Elise Kemppainen, Ken, 23:39; 14. Kyaran Matturo, Ken, 24:00; 15. Rachel Kopps, Ken, 24:10; 16. Sophie Thomas, Sol, 24:12; 17. Kortney Birch, Sol, 26:16; 18. Abbigail Moffet, Ken, 25:33; 19. Charlie Morton, Ken, 25:35; 20. Kara Super, Hom, 25:39; 21. Ellie Syth, Liberty Fabich, Hom, 27:10; 22. Payton Matturo, Ken, 27:20; 23. Kya Cox, Ken, 28:03; 24. Victoria Denison, Sol, 28:09; 25. Grace Cushman, Ken, 29:07; 26. Mykenna Foster, Sol, 33:00; 27. Molly Nusbaum, Ken, 41:16.