Rookies dominate 2002 Arctic Man

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two men normally on a quest for gold brought home the green at the Tesoro Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic on Friday.

Sacha Gros of Colorado and Ryan McDonald of Washington, members of the U.S. national ski and snowboard teams, won the men's Arctic Man competitions and walked away with the biggest shares of the event's $100,000-plus pot.

Gros, who skied in the 1998 Olympics, won by four-hundredths of a second, the closest margin of victory in Arctic Man's 17-year history. His time in the event was 4 minutes, 37.36 seconds. Three-time Arctic Man champ Eric Heil was runner-up at 4:37.40.

''Four-hundredths, that's like two feet,'' said Gros after his victory. ''I should've shaved -- could've been five-hundredths.''

The Arctic Man is an only-in-Alaska daredevil event held in the Hoodoo Mountains off the Richardson Highway near Summit Lake, three hours southeast of Fairbanks.

Skiers and snowboarders schuss down a 1,700-foot slope at breakneck speed, then grab a towline dangling from a moving snowmobile. They're towed up a 1,200-foot slope at speeds that can exceed 80 mph. At the top of the slope, the snowmachiner peels off and the skier or boarder speeds back down another 1,200 feet to the finish line.

The record for the roughly 5.5-mile course is 4 minutes, 17.29 seconds, set by Heil in 1997.

Gros, skiing his first Arctic Man, was pulled by snowmobiler Tyson Johnson of Anchorage. Gros was quick to credit Johnson, as well as his equipment, for the victory.

''My skis were the fastest they could be and my driver was one of the best drivers in the state,'' he said.

Gros said he had never been pulled by a snowmobile prior to training for the race, but did a lot of observing in the days leading up to Friday to figure out techniques and strategies.

Heil, towed by Len Story of Anchorage, said he released from the tow cable too early, losing momentum on the final stretch.

Lower-than-average snowfall left the course rockier, bumpier and more hazardous than usual. Of the 56 entrants, 18 failed to finish and others posted high times due to falls and other mishaps, especially in the rocky area around the bottom of the first hill.

John Dormer, who won the skiing event at the race's last running in 2000, failed to finish.

McDonald and driver Lane Geisler of Kenai won the snowboard event in 5:21.06, beating runner-up Kenny Miller and driver Tony Brickley, both of North Pole, by 10 seconds.

McDonald, 22, competes in the slalom and parallel giant slalom for the U.S. Snowboard team. He was running his first Arctic Man, as was Geisler, 34.

''We were pretty confident,'' Geisler said. ''I knew I could hang with any driver and he knew he could hang with any boarder.''

McDonald, however, said more than skill was involved.

''A lot of it is a lottery,'' he said. ''I don't care what anybody says ... it's just dumb luck if you don't crash.''

Colorado skier Noel McMenamy, 39, and Fairbanks snowmobiler Rachel Stenvik, 21, won the women's ski category in 4:46.73 seconds. It was the first Arctic Man for both women.

''That just was the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done,'' McMenamy said. ''I just felt like I was hanging on to the tail end of a tornado.''

Anchorage skier Lena Mashburn and Palmer driver Michelle Maynor, finished second in 5:08.37.

Anchorage boarder Tina Harmons and driver Kim Woodbury won the women's snowboard competition in 7:08.74.

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