The 25th annual Alaska Ski for Women is going virtual this year, which is a bit of a drag for a sports event that has always been as much about camaraderie and costumes as competition.
But there are some silver linings for the silver anniversary.
For the first time, men won’t be limited to volunteer roles. They can race too.
And, for women who have skipped the race in the past because it interfered with their plans for Super Bowl Sunday, they can keep their game-day routine and do the race later in the week.
This year’s Ski for Women will be a five-day event running from Sunday to Thursday. A 4-kilometer race course will be marked and decorated at Kincaid Park, but participants can choose to ski 4 kilometers anywhere they want.
“As long as they get out and ski, and ideally wear their bibs and celebrate the event,” race director Molly Mylius said.
Early signup numbers suggest this year’s event may rival recent years for participation. As of Tuesday evening, 497 people were signed up, including 73 men. Last year’s race drew 618 skiers, the 2019 race had 652 and the 2018 race had 614.
The no-men-allowed aspect is a big reason for the popularity of the Ski for Women, one of Anchorage’s biggest ski races even though it only draws from half the population. The event was created to encourage more women to ski, but organizers decided that because of the pandemic, it made sense to open it up to men this year.
“It just seemed like a logical choice,” Mylius said. “In November the (COVID-19) cases were really bad and people were encouraged to only recreate with people in their immediate household. For that reason we wanted to encourage entire households to ski together, and we thought we would enable men to enter too.”
Mylius said organizers decided last fall to make the race a virtual event, and they stuck with that idea even when winter came and real ski races started happening at Kincaid.
“The intent of those races is the competition and having the fastest time, and people are discouraged (from) congregating at them,” she said of Anchorage Cup and high school races. “This event, even though it has timed events and friendly competition, the bulk of this event is the camaraderie and the costumes and the fun.”
What’s happening now is sort of a hybrid event — part virtual, part in-person.
Mylius said a number of participants are expected to ski the 4K course at Kincaid on Sunday. The race course will be ready around 10 a.m., but there will be no official start, no costume parade and no timekeeping. There will be a merchandise pickup table in the stadium for those who pre-ordered items and a photo booth somewhere on the race trail.
Others are expected to ski the Kincaid course at other times and on other days, and some are expected to ski on other trails in Anchorage and elsewhere.
Registration, which runs through the final day on Feb. 11, is ahead of where it was last year at this point. Entry fee is $35 for adults and $15 for youths, with proceeds going to Alaska nonprofits that work to end the cycle of domestic violence.
Participants will receive emails Thursday that include a ConocoPhillips race bib to print out, and because it’s the silver anniversary, all of the bibs will be No. 25. The email will also include instructions on how to submit race photos for the costume contest.
One of Anchorage’s most elaborate costume parties, Mylius said peacocks, fairly princesses, giant cellos, witches and sled-dog teams still are expected to part of the scene, whether at Kincaid or neighborhood trails. Mylius said she plans to dress like a flamingo.
Because things are virtual, organizers were able to recruit an international panel of judges to pick costume winners. Two-time Olympian Holly Brooks, 2018 Olympian Rosie Frankowski and World Junior Championships medalist Hailey Swirbul will chose the winners in a Zoom meeting, with Swirbul making it an international panel by logging in from Europe, where she is currently competing on the World Cup circuit.