It was a frosty 21 degrees at the start of this year's Alaska Ski For Women "Party Wave" at the Kincaid Park stadium Sunday morning.
Cyndi Lauper played on the loudspeaker. Hundreds of women dressed as rainbows and jellyfish and life-sized tortilla chips set off on groomed trails of sparkling snow.
The trail was fast and a little icy but doable, said Sarah Stone, skiing with her 3-year-old daughter Izzy Elbow.
This year's Ski for Women was a testament to the magic of trail groomers, said event director Fiona Peichel. A week ago, conditions were so bad that organizers were considering making the ski event a walk instead.
"The groomers are wizards. Absolute wizards," said skier Jeanne Molitor, dressed in a pumpkin costume.
The Alaska Ski For Women, now in its 18th year, started as a ski race that happened to be on Super Bowl Sunday. It has become a tradition for generations of Alaska women as well as a fundraiser that annually raises tens of thousands of dollars for woman-focused nonprofits. Last year, participants raised $60,000 for charities like Clare House, Standing Together Against Rape and Running Free Alaska, a program that teaches inmates at Hiland Correctional Center healthy exercise habits.
Peichel said about 1,000 women turned out on Sunday, though a final participant tally isn't in yet. Donations won't be counted up until later in the week, she said.
The number of participants was down slightly from last year, Peichel said. But it could have been much worse.
Last week when organizers surveyed the trails at Kincaid Park, they concluded the main trail was in decent shape but the stadium area -- where the races start and finish and the costume parade happens -- was a sheet of ice, Peichel said.
Maybe, organizers thought, it would be better to lose the skis altogether this year.
In the winter of 2005 there was no snow on the ground and the race did become a walk.
At the time, a Daily News reporter described hundreds of women and girls trudging a course "marked by frost, gnarled ice, brown grass and frozen gravel" to the "squeaky, scratchy sound of ice grippers and sneakers."
Organizers wanted to avoid that fate this year, especially because ice is harder to walk on than dirt, Peichel said.
Happily, weather swung in the race's favor. As soon as temperatures dipped below freezing late in the week, groomers began grinding the ice into something that looked and felt a lot like snow on Sunday morning.
The groomers, Peichel said, are the heroes of this year's event.
"Somebody asked me, 'Where did you bring the snow in from?' " Peichel said. "It's just ground-up ice."
It wouldn't be the Ski for Women without a bodacious costume contest.
This year, there were jellyfish on skis trailing chiffon tentacles, and trench-coat-wearing agents of the "Ski-I.A."
A group dressed as peacocks used their backs as gliding billboards that detailed the signs and symptoms of gynecological cancers. Vivid rhymes were employed to get the message across. (The only newsprint-friendly example: "That little itch could be telling you something!")
"We wanted something people would remember," said Sierra Winegarner, the executive director of Let Every Woman Know Alaska, a nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of such cancers.
And there was the curious case of the posse in shiny black unitards, with noticeably padded bellies, feathers and beaks.
Were they ... pregnant ravens?
"No, we're chubby crows," said Katie Reilly. "Well, one actually is pregnant. But we're all wearing pillows."
"Chubby Crow" was a spin on the Anchorage sports shop fixture Skinny Raven, Reilly said.
Some of Anchorage's recent weather angst was captured by a group of women dressed as Alaska's seasons: Winter, Dreams of Spring, Breakup, Road Construction and Summer.
Angie Glover was Breakup, complete with Styrofoam ice chunks and other even less pleasant reminders of what Alaska's big melt brings out of the snow.
Her friend Jennifer DuFord was an ice queen in all white -- the way winter, she said, is supposed to be.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS