Bluebird conditions greeted the early birds who flew around the slopes of Alyeska on Saturday morning to ski and bicycle up, down and around the resort's icy slopes in the third annual Alaska Skimeister, a unique winter-to-spring transition triathlon.
"It's our three favorite winter sports, alpine, nordic and fat bike," said event organizer Jeremy Anderson of Challenge Alaska. "We combine that with some local musicians and have a good time."
The competition is a fundraiser for Challenge Alaska – a nonprofit that helps Alaskans with disabilities get involved with outdoor recreation – and the Alyeska Ski Club. Anderson said between a silent auction, corporate sponsors and entry fees, the event generates about $25,000.
Pete Ostroski finished in 51 minutes, 59.6 seconds to best Charlie Renfro by less than six seconds for the win. Mark Iverson was third.
Lydia Blanchet – a West High senior who earned the coveted Skimeister title at the state championships earlier this winter – won the women's race in 1:03:10.1. Ana Jager was second in 1:12:53.5, followed by Lauren Hess less than a minute later.
Luke Jager won the boys junior title and Zoe Hancock won the girls junior race.
The low-key event (which featured a post-race barbecue and live music by local Girdwood artists) annually attracts some top-notch competitors. Ostroski is a World Cup mountain biker in the summertime who also happens to coach alpine skiing for the Alyeska Ski Club during the winter.
Now in its third year, the Skimeister competition combines the three disciplines into a single race. On Saturday, that meant skiers had to cross-country ski up a steep hill from the base of the mountain to the top of Chair 3, then down to the Alyeska Prince Hotel and back to the base – a trip of about three kilometers total. From there, they strapped on downhill boots and skis and rode the chair lift up the mountain, then raced an icy alpine layout to the bottom, where the final transition – this time to fat-tire bikes – took place. The bicycle portion wound its way through the trails and trees for about eight kilometers before spitting competitors out at the finish line near Challenge Alaska's headquarters.
It's an event that's not for the faint of heart. Strong nordic skiers aren't always great downhillers – and vice versa.
Luke Jager is one of the top high school nordic skiers in Alaska and an age-group medalist at Junior Nationals. Jager said the alpine portion of the race was "rough." The icy conditions meant some participants were able to fly down the hill.
"Maybe if you knew what you were doing," joked Jager.
Ostroski said the downhill skiing leg was no joke.
"Your teeth were falling out of your head a little bit on the alpine," he said.
Organizer Aaron Stiassny of the Alyeska Ski Club said the current freeze-thaw cycle meant both the nordic and alpine courses were rock hard for the race, which was contested before Alyeska opened for regular business.
"I don't want to say it was bulletproof, but it was close," Stiassny said.
The nordic portion of the race almost didn't happen. Nordic ski trails in the area have already melted out due to the early spring, meaning organizers had to improvise. The resort allowed the race to use its alpine slopes for the cross-country leg, which Anderson said was crucial.
"We wouldn't have been able to do it without that," he said.
Anderson said the resort can always be counted on to support Challenge Alaska's mission.
"They've always got our back," he said.
In addition to a barbecue, the race also included daylong demos of fat tire bikes from 9 Zero 7 cycles and ski demos from Powder Hound skis. The event has become a nice way for the different winter sports communities to come together for a good cause and have some fun in the sun.
"It's a great end of the year event to bring the alpine and nordic and bike communities together," Ostroski said. "Anchorage just has a lot of active people and it's for a great cause."
Contact reporter Matt Tunseth at 257-4335 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Alyeska Skimeister Challenge
Men's overall – 1) Peter Ostroski, 51 minutes, 59.6 seconds; 2) Charlie Renfro, 52:05.1; 3) Mark Iverson, 53:04.0; 4) Jack Novak, 55:59.9; 5) Andre Lovett, 59:21.7; 6) Jared Gross, 1:03:50.9; 7) Abe Meyerhofer, 1:04:17.5; 8) Joe Austerman, 1:10:57.4; 9) Paul Ferucci, 1:12:57.7; 10) Chris Brehmer, 1:13:33.8; 11) Jared Walter, 1:13:55.7; 12) Brian Hartman, 1:14:03.1; 13) Brian Pekar, 1:14:05.1; 14) Rod Hancock, 1:15:10.9; 15) Dan Libbey, 1:19:11.9; 16) Nate Anderson, 1:20:01.3; 17) Alex Wright, 1:20:10.4; 18) Mark Melchert, 1:21:07.2; 19) Mark Flanum, 1:21:27.9; 20) Alec Walter, 1:25:28.9; 21) Elliot Stiassny, 1:27:55.6; 22) Felipe Restrepo, 1:48:49.0
Women's overall – 1) Lydia Blanchet, 1:03:10.1; 2) Ana Jager, 1:12:53.5; 3) Lauren Hess, 1:13:46.2; 4) Antonia Sparrow, 1:17:07.1; 5) Maggie Donnelly, 1:25:13.7
Junior boys – 1) Luke Jager, 51:44.9; 2) Samuel York, 52:09.1; 3) Noah Ravens, 1:01:14.1; 4) Peter Stiassny, 1:13:47.3
Junior girls – 1) Zoe Hancock, 1:03:26.3; 2) Quincy Donley, 1:12:09.7; 3) Piper Hancock, 1:34:42.1