Legend has it there's nothing tougher than an Alaska woman, and one competition sets out to prove exactly who’s the toughest.
Each year, a hardy group of women gathers in Talkeetna -- the small, quirky community of 900 people nestled in the northern Matanuska Valley -- for the annual Wilderness Woman Competition.
The challenges test a variety of “skills” any good Alaska woman should have, from hauling water and chopping wood to “shooting” a moose and making a sandwich for a man lounging in a recliner.
The event is all part of the craziest weekend of the year in Talkeetna, when each December women from all over the state flock for a chance to get their hands on a real Alaska mountain man at the Talkeetna Bachelor Auction. The auction raises funds for women in crisis in Talkeetna. This year, the auction raised $23,000, selling off dates with 40 of Talkeetna’s most eligible bachelors.
The competition doesn't set out to make the big bucks like the bachelor auction. Instead, it was designed to give women “something to do” before the auction, according to event coordinator Joellen Bye. She said in the first few years they could barely get enough women to make it competitive, but now they have to cap it at 50 competitors.
This year, about 40 women signed up for the 28th annual competition. However, that number quickly shrank after the first round, which tested women's ability to carry two buckets full of water.
From there, it was down to five, who went through the various tasks -- including splitting wood, shooting a “ptarmigan” and running with snowshoes.
Of those, three came out on top. Their prizes? Various fur headwear -- ear muffs, a headband, and for first place, an impressively large locally made fur hat, complete with a ruff on top, a prize only fitting to match the bold personalities of the event.
First place went to Stephanie Schmidt, who won the title and “crown,” as well as a dozen red roses.
Second-place finisher Khalial Withem won a fur headband and half-dozen red roses. And in third place, Kelly Donnelly took home fur earmuffs and half-dozen red roses.