Region III skiers ready to tackle a bear of a loop

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2004

Life will be full of ups and downs for competitors at the Region III ski meet at Tsalteshi Trails today and Saturday.

The meet starts out with a girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle race at 2:30 p.m. today and a boys 10-kilometer freestyle race at 3:30 p.m. today.

Saturday, there will be a 7.5-kilometer classical race for the boys at noon and a 5-kilometer classical race for the girls at 1:30 p.m.

By the time it's over, the boys and girls will have spent plenty of time touring Tsalteshi's notoriously up-and-down trails.

Friday, both the boys and girls will even get a chance to ski the famed Bear Loop. This loop goes up and down most of the hill drivers hit just when leaving Soldotna on the way to Homer.

"I'd like to have a video camera on some of the kids on those big hills," Nikiski coach Dale Bakk said. "The excitement and the speed of those downhills should really be something.

"I'd also like to see some of the kids' faces on that big climb when they turn the corner, look up, and see they still have a bunch to climb."

Of course, coaches were quick to point out that skiers do have some things going for them. At this point, they have a season's worth of technique and aerobic base on which to rely.

"It shouldn't be that bad," Skyview coach Kent Peterson said. "Once they get to the top of that hill on the red loop, they only have 10 minutes to the finish line."

Any casual community skier might be quick to point out that those 10 minutes will be packed full of climbing up and breezing down numerous other hills, but Kenai coach Dave Feeken has the ultimate look on the bright side.

"That (Bear Loop) hill has not been in the region race since my son graduated in 1996," Feeken said. "That year, they had to ski it twice."

Ultimately, the course should do a great job of deciding who the best skiers and teams are in the region because with all its various ups, downs and corners, Tsalteshi tests every cross-country skiing skill.

The whole region does not get together too often during the season, so it's tough to predict a winner.

On the boys side, Soldotna will be looking for a fifth straight Region III championship.

The competition for that title should be fierce. At last weekend's borough meet, Kenai finished first, Soldotna second and Skyview third. All teams were within a minute of each other.

"We haven't really seen a year like this for a while, where there wasn't one team that was completely dominant," Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. "Several teams have the opportunity to sneak in there."

Most peninsula coaches think Colony, which had a convincing win at the Mat-Su Pursuit early in the season, is the favorite for the crown. The crown will not just be handed to the Knights, however.

"I think all three of us and Colony are pretty evenly matched," Feeken said.

The battle for the top individual skier also should be close, with a number of skiers having a shot at the crown.

On the girls side, Skyview will aim for its 10th region title in 13 years. The Panthers have been in a close battle with Soldotna all season, but Skyview has momentum after winning the borough title by almost two minutes last weekend.

"We don't want to take anything for granted," said Peterson, who also is wary of Susitna Valley. "There's a lot that can happen in two days of racing.

"Both teams are pretty close in classic races. We may have a little advantage on the skate side, but it will be a close race."

The race for the individual title should also be a treat. Susitna Valley's Tazlina Mannix, Valdez's Elizabeth Embick, Homer's Aleta Phelps and Skyview's Elisabeth Habermann have all proved themselves among the top skiers in the state in Besh Cup qualifying and should battle for the individual crown.

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