Last year, a moose forced a temporary halt of the lead pack of skiers at the 50-kilometer Tour of Anchorage cross-country ski race.
On Sunday, a moose in the early stages of the race managed to split the lead pack, leaving David Norris and Thomas O’Harra out in front to duel for the 2022 title.
Norris won the 50K race in a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds, topping O’Harra by 20 seconds to put an exclamation point on a strong run of racing recently. When Norris wasn’t able to qualify for the 2022 Olympic team, he shifted his focus.
“I missed that and shifted my season to try to figure out how to utilize my fitness,” he said. “I knew I was in good shape and looked at the calendar and just started chasing all of these bucket-list races.”
While the meddlesome moose in 2021 was on the Coastal Trail, the 2022 disruptor halted a large group of racers near the Spencer Loop, within the first 5 or 6 kilometers of the race.
“It’s the way it goes racing in Alaska,” Norris said. “It definitely impacted the front of the race. And I didn’t even know until I finished the race. That’s just the crazy stuff that happens racing here.”
Last year’s winner, Tyler Kornfield, finished third Saturday and was the first to encounter the moose on the trail.
“They walked right behind Thomas and right in front of me,” he said. “Last year (when the whole lead group was stopped), we made an agreement. This year there wasn’t much we could do. A few more people showed up behind me, and gradually it started wandering its way down the trail until if found a nice hard patch of snow to get off” the trail.
Norris watched as his girlfriend Jessica Yeaton, a 2022 Winter Olympian representing Australia, took the top spot in the Tour women’s division with a time of 2:25.43.
Norris and Yeaton were only a week removed from competing in the 50K at the American Birkebeiner.
The longtime couple both finished in the top five at the Birkie, with Yeaton placing fourth in the women’s division and Norris placing second in the men’s.
Add in another 30K for Yeaton competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, and the mileage started to stack up.
But endurance clearly wasn’t an issue for Yeaton, who said she tried to put it into overdrive heading up the hills as she neared the finish at Kincaid Park.
“That’s 130K in about three weeks, but it’s not as bad as you’d think,” Yeaton said. “I kind of expected to feel worse.”
And just like in the Birkie, Yeaton and Sadie Bjornsen Maubet challenged at the front of the pack. At the Birkebeiner, Bjornsen Maubet finished in fifth. This time time, on Sunday, Yeaton finished just 19 seconds ahead of runner-up Bjornsen Maubet.
With sunny and warm conditions and fresh snow on the trail, Yeaton joked that it was almost difficult to concentrate on the race.
“The whole way along the Arm, I was like ‘ahhhhh’ and looking up,” Yeaton laughed. “Sadie and I were both like, ‘Whoa, it’s so beautiful out here.’ ”
Kornfield, who tied the Tour record in 2021, wasn’t able to repeat but also said the pristine conditions made for a great day.
“What can you do?” he said. “Enjoy the views, look around and don’t get stressed. That was my motto for the day.”
The top 7 men’s finishers were all part of the vaunted APU elite ski team.
“I’m excited to have that competitive field in Anchorage,” Kornfield said. “I think the Tour can continue to build momentum and I’m excited about the community.”
Anna Dalton took the 40K freestyle in 2:18:48 and Oliver Wright won the men’s 40K free in 2:06:11. Eric Auten (3:10:41) and Colleen McGovern (3:54:37) were the winners of the 50K Classic division. Will Ross won a competitive men’s 50K fat bike division in 2:10:19 and Kinsey Loan (2:55:17) won the women’s fat bike 50K.