A small but excited contingent of cross-country skiers and skijorers took to Tsalteshi Trails Saturday as part of the second annual Tustumena 200 Winter Solstice Cross-Country Ski Event. Thirteen skiers and a dozen skijorers came from around Southcentral Alaska to compete in 5-kilometer ski and 5- and 10-kilometer skijor events to support the T-200 race organization and the Tsalteshi Trails Association.
"We came down from Wasilla," said Rebecca Knight, who skijored with her dogs Clyde and Gypsy. "It's nice to have some different trails to ski on -- and it's warmer here, too."
Skijoring is a dog-powered sport and involves a cross-country skier, a tug line, a sled dog-type harness and a canine companion with an interest in running -- or at least trotting along on the trails.
Saturday's event included some "racing" dogs such Alaskan huskies and the German short-haired pointers favored by some sprint mushers, as well as a variety of retrievers, German shepherds and even a boxer trying the sport for the first time.
Knight said she was appreciative of both the beautifully groomed trails and the hills the trails traverse.
"We don't often get to race on hills. It's good -- I've got to get the dogs used to not just running on the flat all the time," Knight said.
Knight said she's headed to the World Championships in Norway in March, where she and her canine teammates will have to contend with lots of hills.
Kiersten Lippmann came down from Anchorage with her dog Tikko. She was hooting and hollering like she was on a roller coaster as she and Tikko navigated Tsalteshi's curves and hills.
"It was really fun," Lippmann said. "We've been working really hard on pulling on the hills and passing other dogs. (Tikko) is a distance dog, so I was really happy to keep up with the pointers."
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, bullhorn in hand, said Saturday's event was a great way to draw interest in the upcoming Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, which starts Jan. 29 and winds through the Caribou Hills, as well as winter sports like skijoring and the great trails available in the Soldotna area.
"We want to get people out of the house and on to the trails. There's some people with their house dog out here," Micciche said. "This trail system -- this is what makes the Soldotna area the place to live, especially in the winter. Sometimes even before your driveway has been plowed, because (Tsalteshi Trails groomer Bill) Holt has been up all night."
The event also introduced new sponsors for the Tustumena 200, including ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Anchor Point Energy, the city of Soldotna, Homer Electric Association and Kenai Peninsula Coca-Cola.
Patti Berkhahn said she's always sure to take advantage of the one day a year dogs are allowed on Tsalteshi Trails.
"It's nice to be out here on a day they let us have dogs," she said after running the course with Lilly, a Lab.
Gary Galbraith came from Cooper Landing and skijored with one of the more interesting dogs on the trail, a Bernese mountain dog-poodle mix named Cappela.
"We so much appreciate running these beautiful ski trails with our dogs," Galbraith said, noting that the options for groomed trails in Cooper Landing are limited.
Cory Route said she was new to the sport of skijoring, having just taken up skate skiing a year ago. She participated in the Solstice Ski Event with a young dog named Star.
"That's a ton of fun," she said. "I did a couple races last year. ... It's fun running dogs. We usually just go through the woods. They love it."
Tommy Honer posted the fastest time of the day in the 5-kilometer ski event, completing the course in 14 minutes, 13 seconds. Knight and Gypsy had the fastest 5-kilometer skijor time at 12:22. Knight and Clyde were fastest in the 10-kilometer skijor, clocking 23:10.
Tustumena 200 Winter Solstice Cross-Country Ski Event
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
5-kilometer ski: 19-44 men --1. Tommy Honer, 14:13; 2. Andrew Lee, 14:16; 3. Mike Salzetti , 35:46; 4. Daryl Palmer, 41:49. 19-44 women -- 1. Kiersten Lippmann, 14:25; 2. Larissa Phillips, 33:32. 45-and-over men -- 1. Tom Pillifant, 16:36; 2. Michael Malvick, 18:32; 3. Bill Tracy, 35:50. 45-and-over women -- 1. Laura Pillifant, 21:53. 10-13 boys -- 1. Addison Downing, 26:06. 10-13 girls -- 1. Sadie Fox, 21:52; 2. Mikaela Salzetti, 35:43.
5-K Skijor -- 1. Rebecca Knight, 12:22; 2. Kiersten Lippmann, 12:35; 3. Michael Malvick, 13:23; 4. Tom Seggerman, 13:35; 5. Cory Route, 15:08; 6. Patti Berkhahn, 15:17; 7. Andrew Lee, 16:09; 8. Joe Mooney, 16:17; 9. Addison Downing, 17:54; 10. Gary Galbraith, 18:16; 11. Scott Downing, 22:59; 12. Robyn Sullens, 27:58.
10-K Skijor -- 1. Rebecca Knight, 23:10 (1 dog); 2. Michael Malvick, 25:35 (2 dogs); 3. Kiersten Lippmann, 26:19 (1 dog).
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