The Arctic Man, an iconic Alaska sports event, hit the finish line for what could be the final time Friday in the Hoodoo Mountains near Paxson.
In what may have marked the final appearance of skiers and snowboarders at the 33-year-old high-speed race, two teams shattered the course record.
Skier Marco Sullivan and snowmachiner Tyler Aklestad captured their seventh Arctic Man championship by shattering the record they set in 2013.
Their victory came in the centerpiece event of the days-long celebration of spring and snow at Summit Lake, where thousands of snowmachiners and campers gather every year.
Sullivan and Aklestad finished the roughly 5-mile course in 3 minutes, 49.83 seconds for a narrow victory over skier Scott Montalbo and snowmachiner Tyson Johnson, who clocked 3:50.19. Both teams eclipsed the old record of 3:52.72.
It was an electrifying end to one of North America's most extreme sports.
Next year's event will feature only snowmachiners, according to race director Howie Thies. Blame the change on a dwindling pool of skiers and snowboarders — only 26 teams entered this year. Peak years have drawn more than twice that many teams.
Whether skiers and snowboarders ever return is up in the air, Thies said in a post at arcticman.com.
"Officially, Arctic Man featuring skiers and snowboarders will not happen in 2019!" he said. "This portion of the event will be put on hold for review while we look at how to change the race with the times. After this year's race we will step back and decide its future in the years to come."
The race begins with a skier zooming 1,700 feet down a two-mile slope to the bottom of a canyon, where he hooks up with his partner by grabbing a tow rope behind a snowmachine that is already on the move. The team makes a swift, two-mile uphill ride to the summit of a second mountain, where the skier lets go of the rope and descends 1,200 feet to the finish line.
No one has had more success at Arctic Man than Sullivan and Aklestad. Sullivan, of California, is a four-time Olympic downhill and super-G skier with four World Cup podium finishes in a career that ended in 2016. Aklestad, of Palmer, is a top Iron Dog racer who won the 2016 Iron Dog with Johnson.
The second-place finish was the third straight for Montalbo and Johnson. The Alaskans recorded the second-fastest run in race history, but victory eluded them by .36 of a second.
"We've been right there toying with the record for five years now," Montalbo told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "It seems like we're always just right there."
Aklestad was a double winner Friday. He teamed up with Nate Holland, a three-time Olympic snowboarder and seven-time X Games gold medalist, to win the snowboard division in 4:25.48.
Second place went to Johnson and Pat Holland, Nate's brother, who finished in 4:30.37.
This year's only women's team — skier Anna Berecz and snowmachiner Ashley Nicolai — posted a time of 4:23.19, which ranked 10th among all 15 skier-snowmachine teams.
Men's ski division (skier is listed first) — 1) Marco Sullivan-Tyler Aklestad 3:49.83; 2) Scott Montalbo-Tyson Johnson 3:50.19; 3) Errol Kerr-Eric Quam 3:58.75; 4) Radek Cermak-Vince Monzulla 4:00.28; 5) Wiley Maple-Rob Mason 4:04.83; 6) Petr Kakes-Larry Levine 4:09.33; 7) James Scott-MoAnna Bradshaw 4:13.29l 8) Willie O'Malley-Trent Larson 4:18.05; 9) Mark Haynes-Kevin Kornack 4:20.47; 10) Zach Finkel-Ivar Carlson 4:55.17; 11) Eric Heil-Len Story 5:36.6.
Women's ski division — 1) Anna Berecz-Ashley Nicolai 4:23.19.
Men's snowboard division — 1) Nate Holland-Tyler Aklestad 4:25.48; 2) Pat Holland-Tyson Johnson 4:30.37; 3) Robert Minghini-Ryan Sottosanti 4:36.41; 4) Cole Johnson-Rob Mason 4:37.74; 5) Will Durdick-Sam Durdick 4:41.22; 6) Matt Yenni-Matt Ice 6:01.82.
Men's semipro ski division — 1) Brad Krupa-Chris Carroll 4:26.41; 2) Jeff Levine-Jackson Kinnen 4:38.53; 3) Nick Possenti-Chuck Hegdal 4:44.14.
Men's semipro snowboard division — 1) Sam Balyeat-Jackson Kinnen 5:14.71; 2) Taran Firor-Scott Frantz 5:40.72.