Our pre-game pick for MVP on Super Bowl Sunday:
Fifty-one-year old Susahn Pepper, who moved to Anchorage from San Diego six months ago and will put on cross-country skis for the first time in her life Sunday for the 21st annual Alaska Ski for Women.
Win, lose or DNF, Pepper is a champion. The last time she ventured onto snow with her feet attached to a board — five years ago — she broke her arm while snowboarding.
"I have never been on a pair of skis in my life and I'm old and I'm terrified I'm going to hurt myself," Pepper said Thursday afternoon. "… I'm terrified, but I'm game to do it, so why not?"
Pepper picked a perfect time to take up skiing. After two consecutive nearly snowless winters, during which skiers made do with a ribbon of mostly man-made snow at an otherwise brown Kincaid Park, winter is back with a vengeance.
Conditions are ideal at Kincaid, and a big crowd is expected for the race, which has never lacked for participation even though it's held on the same day as the Super Bowl.
With two more chances to register still to come, 580 women and girls have already signed up for the race — more than last year's total turnout, said Tamra Kornfield of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage.
She expects a couple of hundred more will sign up at Friday's bib pickup and registration event at REI and on the day of the race, when registration will be limited to the nontimed party wave.
Nearly 200 of the early registrants are new to skiing, Kornfield said, and they're in much better luck than first-timers in either of the last two years.
In those years, the Ski for Women had to use a short loop that included a steep uphill and downhill. This year, the race can return to its traditional route on the Mize Loop and Arlene's Way, which are perfect for beginners, Kornfield said.
"It's gentler terrain," she said.
Skiers of all experience levels are in for a treat given the ample snow.
"It's great," Kornfield said. "There's really good coverage. It's really deep and we have full tracks. I've been teaching some people to ski for the first time, and the snow is forgiving (and) not too icy."
In winters when the snow is good, the Ski for Women can attract a thousand or more women and girls. The event is one of Anchorage's wildly popular ladies-only events — although none of them would be as successful without the many men who volunteer to help — and this one raises money for organizations that help abused women and children and work to end the cycle of abuse. In 20 years, more than $1 million has been raised.
Pepper is joining the crowd this year because the accounting firm KPMG, where she works as the office manager, fields a Ski for Women team. When a notice was sent out seeking skiers for this year's team, Pepper decided to go for it.
"I have lived my life with an irrational fear in some cases," she said. "I don't experience things because of that, so this is a step in changing that."
She's renting skis and entering the party wave, where there is no race clock, lots of costumes and a low-key vibe — just right for a beginner.
Pepper said she has the support of her husband — who isn't a skier either — and more than a half-dozen co-workers who say they'll stick with her during the 4-kilometer party wave, even though they are experienced skiers.
She is worried about falling and getting hurt, but she decided not to skip something fun because of something that might happen. And with time running out for her to learn to ski before race day, she believes she made the right choice.
"We've raised money and we've had camaraderie," Pepper said. "Those things far outweigh the fear of falling."
Ski for Women
Noon-7:30 p.m. — Bib pickup and registration at REI
9-10 a.m. — Bib pickup and party-wave registration, Kincaid Park chalet
9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. — Shuttle buses between Kincaid Elementary and Kincaid Park for skiers and their skis. (Parking at Kincaid Park will be very limited.)
10:30 a.m. — Duathlon and first skate wave begin
11 a.m. — First classic wave begins
11:45 a.m. — Costume parade and judging
Noon — Awards ceremony
12:15 p.m. — Non-timed party wave begins
Note: A representative from Toko wax will provide waxing in the stadium area.