When fluffy snowflakes started falling in the Kenai Peninsula region Sunday night, contrary to popular belief, the cross-country skiers were not happy.
Fresh snow and warm temperatures made waxing for Monday’s classic race at the Tsalteshi Ski Trails in Soldotna almost impossible.
In fact, several of the 22 territorial skiers had to make a dash just to get to the start line after some last-minute wax adjustments.
The right wax can make a skier more efficient, but the wrong wax can strip seconds, even minutes, off a skier’s time.
Despite the tricky conditions, all of the Yukon’s skiers made it to their respective races on time and four even managed to pick up some of the contingent’s first ulus.
Yukon coach Johanna Martin was parked at the start line to make any last-minute wax adjustments if needed.
The team of waxing experts, made up of three coaches and one wax technician, were up until the wee hours the night before Monday’s event making sure each ski had a coat of glide wax.
The kick- or grip-wax wasn’t added until the morning when they were able to get a better sense of the conditions.
But even then, the conditions — air temperature, humidity and snow temperature — were constantly changing.
“We continue to test while racers start because there are about two hours and the wax of the day can change during that time,” said Martin.
“The racers get their skis about 20 minutes before their start and they go out and test, but if they’re not happy with the wax we have to quickly change it before they race.”
Brittany Smith had to line up for her individual start in Monday’s five-kilometre classic race with no skis at all.
She did get them just in the nick of time, however — which can add to the excitement, said Martin. It can also be a little stressful.
For Smith, however, the wax still wasn’t quite right, and she was a little disappointed with her results at the finish line.
“How’d it go, Brittany?” asked Martin shortly after Smith crossed the finish line.
“Zero wax,” Smith replied. “There was nothing.”
“Good wax is essential for a good race, and I’ll use Beckie Scott as an example; she felt that she wasn’t competitive in Turin because of wax,” Martin added later.
“I have extra wax at the start line and if anyone needs a little top-up then I can do that because the athletes need to feel comfortable and sure-footed out there.”
The Yukon’s head coach, Alain Masson, who was in Turin as a wax tech, isn’t at the Arctic Winter Games but is with another group of Whitehorse skiers currently competing at the national championship in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“He is a wealth of knowledge and for us here, it’s a good experience as far as waxing goes but it does take us a little longer,” said Martin.
Getting ready for these Arctic Winter Games was also a challenge for Yukon skiers. An abundance of snow at the beginning of the season around Whitehorse gave the team an early start, but the snow quickly disappeared after a warm spell, leaving the team to train on rock skis.
“We’ve still been able to have our races in Whitehorse and the team has posted some good, solid results,” said Martin.
“The older skiers probably tried to peak for this competition and will try and maintain that peak into Westerns (Western Canadian Championships) when we get back.
“Peaking is a lot harder for the younger ones because they’re just learning how to do that.
“This is definitely a focal point for most of the skiers.”
Over the week, the cross-country athletes will compete in classic and freestyle events as well as sprints and relays. But with all the other sports and activities going on around them, this is much more than just a ski race, said Martin.
This is the first Arctic Winter Games for juvenile skier Holly Bull. She finished 19th in Monday’s event. Not bad considering she’s skiing against opponents five years her senior.
“I really liked the course and I was happy with my results,” said Bull afterwards. “I just find this a good experience to see how the older girls are skiing.”
At just 11 years old, Dahria Beatty also posted impressive results, winning a silver ulu in the midget female division.
“The trails were soft, but I had good wax,” said Beatty, who is competing in her second Arctic Winter Games. “I came here wanting to win an ulu, so I’m happy.”
“There are a couple fast skiers that weren’t here two years ago, so that was a little unexpected,” said Logan Potter, 14, who finished 11th in Monday’s race.
“I want to try and finish top five here. This is definitely a stepping stone; I want to qualify for the Canada Winter Games and hopefully go the Olympics some day.”
Here are the results of Monday’s five- and three-kilometre races:
Janelle Greer, gold; Dahria Beatty, silver; Heidi Brook, 9th; Kendra Murray, 10th
Sarah Murray, 7th; Rochelle Egan, 12th
Ziggy Reimer, 4th; Brittany Smith, 9th; Holly Bull, 19th; Marie-Louise Roy, 20th
Jeff Wood, bronze; Logan Roots, 5th; Knute Johnsgaard, 7th; Fabian Brook, 10th
David Greer, silver; John Parry, 10th; Matthew Sutherland, 11th; Sam Lindsey, 16th
Logan Potter, 11th; Lee Hawkings, 15th; Michael Abbott, 17th; Spencer Sumanik, 18th