Chisato Johnson won the vote for the best costume Sunday at the Ski For Women at Tsalteshi Trails. Her sumo wrestling costume also was undoubtedly the smartest of the day.
With temperatures in the single digits below zero at race time, many of the racers struggled to balance quality of costume with keeping warm.
Not Johnson, who has lived on the central peninsula for 23 years but just started skiing last year the day before she did her first Ski For Women.
“This keeps me warm,” she said of the costume, which clearly had room for at least three or four more jackets. “It’s 5 below.”
Despite the tingling temperatures on the morning of blue sky and crisp, white, ruffled snow, 34 competitors showed up and braved five kilometers of skiing.
Lauri Lingafelt, a board member and treasurer at Tsalteshi, said the idea is to get women and children outside on Super Bowl Sunday, a day with high levels of domestic abuse. Money raised at the race goes to support all the grooming and events that go on at Tsalteshi Trails.
Thanks to community support, Tsalteshi Trails has come a long way over the years. And so has Morgan Aldridge, who finished at 19 minutes, 43 seconds, to defeat the 20:09 of Charly Morton and 20:10 of Carly Reimer.
Aldridge, a 2000 graduate of Soldotna High School who recently turned 36, won her second ski race in the last month. Those also happen to be the only two races she’s won in a near lifetime of skiing.
“I started skiing when I was a little kid and I was always that middle-of-the-packer,” Aldridge said. “Even in high school, I was the fifth person on the five-person (varsity) team.
“I know that most of the kids I skied with in high school don’t ski anymore, so it’s nice to know I can take the skills that I learned, even though I felt like I was bad in high school, and continue as an adult.”
Aldridge made it clear it’s not all about winning. East graduate Kikkan Randall, who is set to make her fifth trip to the Winter Olympics, was two years behind Aldridge in high school, so Aldridge said she knows her place in the cross-country skiing world.
“I can come out here and ski and it’s comfortable and it’s fun,” Aldridge said. “You’re thinking about your step turns and you’re thinking about your double-poling and your timing and it’s like, ‘I remember this.’”
Growing along with Aldridge all these years has been Tsalteshi. Aldridge has been in Anchorage for the Ski for Women in the past, but decided to stay closer to home this year to be with her friends and support Tsalteshi.
“Every year they get more trails, more workers, more participants,” Aldridge said. “It’s so neat to see it grow. When we skied here (in high school), there were three trails and they were all colors.”
Morton, a junior at Kenai Central, also has a special relationship with the trails. She said her mother, Charlie Morton, has been bringing her daughter to Ski for Women since she was little.
“We live so close to the ski trails and enjoy skiing so much,” Charly Morton said. “It’s really fun to do with the community.
“I’ll see teachers of mine from elementary school that I ski with. Then I’ll see people from my ski team that I’ll ski with, or parents.”
The event means so much to Morton that she participated even after doing high school races in Homer on Friday and Saturday.
“I’m definitely tired from skiing in Homer, I just didn’t want to miss this,” she said.
Morton was dressed as what she called a “makeshift pink panther,” using a costume left over from her days as a figure skater. Aldridge was a purple crayon, and actually organized a group of about a dozen crayons that won the prize for best group costume.
Two of those crayons were Katrina Cannava and her daughter, Ariana. Considering the recent weather, the cold didn’t slow the two down.
“Not at all,” Katrina said “We ski every day, no matter what.”
Katrina said she is usually a faster skier than her daughter. But Ariana, an 11-year-old at Soldotna Elementary, has been in the Tsalteshi Youth Ski Program for about six years now. She used those lessons to beat her mom Sunday.
“She was our inspiration for the other classic skiers,” Katrina said. “We were all trying to catch up with her.”
From Johnson to the Cannavas to Morton to Aldridge, none said they had a problem with the cold once they started skiing. But Aldridge was quick to point out Lingafelt and about 10 volunteers were not so lucky.
“It takes so many volunteers to put these things on,” she said. “It’s so neat to see all these people come out even when it’s this cold and stand around.”
Ski For Women
Sunday at Tsalteshi Trails
1. Morgan Aldridge, 19 minutes, 43 seconds; 2. Charly Morton, 20:09; 3. Carly Reimer, 20:10; 4. Melissa Smith, 22:25; 5. Kaya Cox, 25:03; 6. Alexi Charter, 25:31; 7. Denali Critchett, 26:49; 8. Grace Morrow, 27:05; 9. Audrey McDonald, 28:14; 10. Kat Sorensen, 28:42; 11. Amy George, 31:23; 12. Madison McDonald, 31:48; 13. Jennifer Showalter, 31:50; 14. Ariana Cannava, 32:12; 15. Angelica Sulley, 32:32; 16. Katrina Cannava, 32:50; 17. Heidi Isernhagen, 32:58; 18. Megan Smith, 33:04; 19. Tara Ruffner, 35:00; 20. Chisato Johnson, 35:16; 21. Gail Moore, 36:46; 22. Sara Bundy, 37:37; 23. Renee Reed, 39:55; 24. RaChelle Gruenberg, 40:43; 25. Melanie Hollon, 42:53.
26. Karen von Breyman, 44:50; 27. Carrie Wawrzyk, 45:14; 28. Lucia Carson, 49:31; 29. Mary King, 49:43; 30. Patricia Berkhahn, 49:43; 31. Yoshie Yamaoka, 49:57; 32. Amy Hogue, 50:04; 33. Rinna Carson, 50:04; 34. Nancy Carver, 56:14.