FAIRBANKS -- Barb Baysinger, who teaches school in Tetlin, had more time than any of the other 243 competitors to enjoy the 27th annual Sonot Kkaazoot, which marked the arrival of spring skiing in Fairbanks Saturday.
Though she finished last, no champion could have been happier at the end of a 50-kilometer race.
"Thank you for an inspiring event to celebrate another Alaska winter," she told race director Susan Sugai. A veteran of the Equinox Marathon, the Leadville Trail 100-mile bike race and other events, Baysinger had never skied the course before and didn't know what to expect around each corner. She spent 7 hours, 32 minutes going the distance on waxless skis.
The name of the race comes from two Athabascan words with a rough translation of springtime and sliding your feet across the snow. Baysinger said that on every hill she found herself repeating the letters "sonot, kk,aa, zoot" to ease her sliding over the snow.
Temperatures on race day climbed into the 30s under clear blue skies, creating excellent trail conditions. Unlike other parts of the state, Fairbanks has had good snow for skiing throughout the winter.
"Thankfully I did not know my first 50K was the hardest in our country," she said. "I promise to buy faster skis for my caboose role next year. Hooray!"
The race, founded in 1988 by Bob and Sharon Baker, starts and ends in downtown Fairbanks on the flat surface of the Chena River. But there is a 30-kilometer section of hills that requires skiers to ascend hundreds of feet above the river on Birch Hill, making this the springtime complement to the Equinox Marathon in September, which follows a grueling trail up Ester Dome.
"I just can't believe how nice this is," Baysinger said. "This was the hardest athletic event I've ever done. It was awesome. Every time I thought 'Allright, I have the hills under my belt,' there was another loop to go," she said.
She said that next year, perhaps, she might see if her students in Tetlin want to take part in the 20-kilometer version of the race, which sticks to the river.
That was encouraging news to Sugai, 64, who has skied in the race all 27 years. She sees this event and the daily habit of regular skiing—regardless of the temperature—as part a healthy lifestyle in snow country. It's not about finishing first or going faster than others, but about combating the tendency to be sedentary.
"We want to encourage people to participate," she said, adding that the excitement that Baysinger displayed in her "caboose role" and her gratitude to the dozens of volunteers who encouraged her along the way, epitomizes the spirit of the event.
The youngest skiers in the 20K race were under 10, while the longer 40K and 50K races including many people in theirs 60s and some in their 70s.