They may start the race on Stink Lake, but, for some reason, organizers don’t call it that.
The popular Marsh Lake Cross-Country Ski Loppet is a points getter for talented racers. But it actually starts and finishes south of Marsh Lake, on Bob Lake, which is also called Stink because its anaerobic composition sometimes gives off a whiff in the summer.
However, that ice-capped stench has not prevented the Loppet from being recognized by the national cross-country body.
“It’s an officially sanctioned race,” said race chief John Streicker. “So all these up-and-coming young racers are all using it as a means to get points.”
After being cancelled last year because of minus 35 Celsius weather, about 162 skiers, young and old, put ski to snow in the 15th annual Loppet Saturday.
“It’s a Marsh Lake institution,” said Streicker. “It’s definitely our biggest event of the year. This is when we have the most people from around the Yukon showing up here – and people from Alaska come as well.”
The Loppet, which consists of one- and 2.5-kilometre races for kids and 10- and 20-kilometres open races for adults, began an hour late since organizers wanted to make sure the temperature wouldn’t fall below the minus 20 cutoff.
However, lower numbers – down from the usual 200-plus – were not necessarily because of the chill in the air.
“The race date gets set a year ahead, and then we found out we’re right on top of the (Yukon) Quest start and on top of Frostbite,” said Streicker. “We support all Yukon events, but for us we sit inside a broader Cross-Country Yukon schedule. So once our race was set, it was set.”
A couple weeks after winning the open men’s 10-kilometre freestyle event at the Don Sumanik Memorial Homecoming Race in Whitehorse, Team Yukon skier Knute Johnsgaard, 16, won the open 20-kilometre event with a time of 1:10:49.
“The conditions weren’t the greatest (with) really cold, hard snow,” said the first-time winner, Johnsgaard. “But I had a good race, was pretty fast.”
Johnsgaard stayed in a small pack of racers until the midway point where he left them behind and didn’t see another 20-kilometre competitor until after he crossed the finish line.
“I’m a distance racer,” said Johnsgaard. “I like to race the longer ones.”
Shortly before Johnsgaard finished, the top finishers of the 10-kilometre event began to trickle across the finish line. Appearing from the woods neck-and-neck were Team Yukon members Jeff Wood, 16, and Michael Abbott, 17, who, instead of fighting for first, were content with crossing together and taking a tie with the time 43:33.
“We skied together, taking turns leading,” said Abbott. “That’s what we wanted Ã‰ We raced together and wanted to finish together.”
“It’s probably the most fun race in the Yukon,” said Wood. “The atmosphere: everybody’s out – there’s lots of people – and everybody’s having fun.”
However, because Abbott registered for the 20-kilometre race and decided to switch to the 10- at the last second, Wood won the men’s 10-kilometre race.
Both are veterans of the race, having competed in the one-kilometre race as atoms. However, the frigid temperatures convinced them to enter the shorter adult event.
“I’ve done the 20(-kilometre) before, but since it was a little cold today, I decided to do the 10 – just take it easy,” said Abbott.
“It’s really dry and feels like sandpaper on your skis.”
Other noteworthy performances include Lucas Taggart-Cox, taking the Youngest Skier Award and Paul Sparling, winning the Captain Fun Award (in honour of Peter Milner.)
The distance races are done in the classic technique, which, according to Abbott and Wood, better suits the territory.
“The trails get really narrow out there,” said Abbott. “And we mostly do classic in the Yukon because it’s so cold all the time.”
“The temperature slows the snow down a whole bunch,” added Wood. “Then skating (technique) gets really hard and is not worth doing.”
All three of the Team Yukon members will be heading to Canmore, BC, later this week to compete at the Western Canadian Championships.
Jeff Wood 43:33.
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