There are many races that skiers take very seriously. They set goals months
in advance, train all year, and peak at just the right time for maximum performance.
The ultimate goal might be to win their age-group, or beat last year's time,
or beat their training partner. People might say they do the race because it
is a lot of fun, but ultimately it is only really fun if they do well. It is
all about the thrill of competition.
The Oosik Classic is not one of those races.
The Oosik Classic is all about fun. Sure there is a ski race, but the race
is really just an excuse for an end-of-the-season party. The weekend of events
is such a great time that it is impossible for anyone to get too worked up about
the race. After all, how seriously can you take a race called the Oosik? (If
you don't know what an Oosik is, suffice it to say that it is a unique part
of the Walrus anatomy. And it is not the tusk.)
Majestic Valley Lodge
Being relatively new to Alaska, I first heard about the Oosik in early
February of this year. This was right about the time that the minimal snow coverage
here in Anchorage decided to float downriver into the ocean and leave us skiers
staring at bare ground and trying futilely to hang on to our sanity. I was in
the Alaska Pacific University weight room with a number of APU Masters Skiers
when someone mentioned that they had heard that the skiing was great up at Majestic
Valley. My ears immediately pricked up and I quickly asked where Majestic Valley
was. It was explained to me that Majestic was about 2 hours from Anchorage and
that Adam Verrier organizes a great race there at the end of the season. I was
told that despite the miserable winter in Anchorage, Majestic had good skiing
and that the Oosik race was one race on the local schedule that would probably
not be cancelled.
The next day, when I woke to pouring rain and 35 degrees, I couldn't take it
anymore. I packed my ski stuff in the car and headed to Majestic Valley.
The Majestic Valley Lodge (in back), with Glacier Hall (red building) in foreground
The Majestic Valley
Lodge is located about an hour outside Palmer, Alaska at mile 115 on the
Glen Highway, nestled between the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. The beautiful
lodge, built in 2001, is home to the dining area, while guests stay in Glacier
Hall or one of the private cabins, Grizzly or Coyote. All of the buildings look
south towards an amazing view of the Chugach mountains. I was only two hours
from Anchorage, but I was in another world. Unlike the rain in Anchorage, the
sun was shining at the lodge and there was plenty of snow. A snow-covered, mountainous
This was a day trip so we did not stay at the lodge, but the trip was just
what I needed to ice my brain, which had been overheating from the warm weather
in Anchorage. Indeed the skiing there was beautiful – freshly groomed tracks
on 20K of trails (with another 15K across the street at Sheep Mountain Lodge),
with mountain scenery on all sides that is unmatched by any touring center in
As I skied, I thought about how this would make a great weekend getaway, even
when the snow is good in Anchorage. The unspoiled beauty of the area just cannot
be matched by the trails in town. I could see myself coming out here to ski
at least once every couple of weeks. I bet it is also a popular location in
summer. Lots of hiking, rafting on the Matanuska River, and Matanuska Glacier
just down the road – sounds like a great place to explore! I skied until I was
exhausted, and then immediately decided that I was going to come back for the
Oosik in April.
For the Oosik, we drove up to Majestic Valley Lodge on Friday evening. We checked
in, and were directed to our room in Glacier Hall. The rooms in Glacier are
not fancy, but each has a full-size bed and a twin bed, its own bathroom and the
view out our south-facing window was just breath-taking. The simplicity of the
accommodations helps focus your attention on the spectacular surroundings. Glacier
has a shared common room, with couches, lots of games, books and magazines,
as well as a coffee maker and a microwave, which we used to heat up our pre-race
Pasta meal. After dinner, I read a book as I watched the sun set over the mountains,
before heading off to bed.
Race Organizer Adam Verrier has organized this end-of-the-year race for the
past three seasons. Adam's vision for this race has always been to make it an
fun get-together event rather than a race. As he said to the Anchorage Daily
News, "No matter what the snow conditions, we should always have the Oosik
Classic Ski Race. And if there's no snow here at all, we should go for a hike
in the woods and call it the Oosik Classic."
The philosophy behind the Oosik is very similar to big ski marathons in Scandinavia,
where crowds of people camp out on the side of the trail and drink beer and
build bonfires while the racers go by. The only difference with the Oosik is
that the racers themselves camp by the trail and drink beer around the bonfire,
after the race is over. The Oosik has a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel to
it. From what I have heard and seen, there are always last minute course changes,
sketchy sections of what might loosely be called 'trail', and sometimes conflicting
trail markers. All of which keeps the competition from getting too serious,
but which also belies the amount of effort Adam puts into organizing this race.
This year the Oosik had about 100 racers. This was down from 150 last year,
but still an impressive showing considering that many people haven't been able
to ski much this winter.
Yes, this was part of the race course
Like most european races, the Oosik starts a little later in the day. The Oosik
started at noon, which was just about right on this cool, but sunny spring day.
As everyone tested wax prior to the race, the snow was staying nice and cold,
even though the sun was shining brightly. Extra blue was kicking great in the
rock-hard tracks. We knew that sooner or later, the snow would warm up, but
how much? Should we risk putting on a warmer (ie slower) wax? Most people did
not. But as it turned out the snow started to warm up just as the race started.
Oosik Race Start
The first 15K was on very challenging trails at Sheep Mountain. From the start,
we skied through a gravel pit, and right up out of the gravel pit on a very
steep incline. We kept climbing on a narrow trail through the woods to the top
of the Sheep Mountain trails. From here there was a screaming 2K of downhills,
with tight turns, high speeds, and just enough panic to let us all know that
we were in for an interesting day. Welcome to the Oosik! Soon after, we had
to pass over a frozen waterfall of ice which had covered a section of the course.
Yep, definitely the Oosik. Some skiers tried to go around it, but I just did
my best to get up enough speed to cruise straight across it – with no sudden
movements – before gravity pulled my downhill and into the bushes. I made it
across standing up, but barely. At this point I was trying desperately to hang
on to the lead group of skiers. My kick was was not working very well and I
could not get into rhythm, but I kept them in sight.
After 15K we came flying back down into the gravel pit, up through some more
bushes (Oosik!) and onto a long gradual uphill, about 5-6K, on the Old Glenn
Highway. Despite the fact that we were climbing for so long, this was a great
part of the course. Amazing views, and the even grade meant that I could finally
get my wax to work and get into a rhythm. As I started up the hill, I saw Frode
Lillefjell, who had been in the lead pack ahead of me, pull off and start applying
klister to his skis. My kick was not great, but I saw no reason to stop and
rewax. A few minutes later, Frode caught up to me. His skis were kicking great,
but they were a bit slow. The 25K racers had started 30 minutes after us and
had headed directly for this uphill, so we were able to feel good about ourselves
by passing some of the slower 25K racers as we climbed. Frode and I stayed together
for the rest of the uphill. I managed to get a little ahead on the downhill,
but he quickly closed in at the bottom.
At this point in the race, we had to cross the highway to ski the Majestic
Valley trails. Originally, this crossing was supposed to take place through
a tunnel under the road. Adam and Trond Flagstad had shoveled this tunnel with
snow the previous weekend and dubbed it the Oosik Express, because of the downhill
that would shoot you into the tunnel. Adam seemed confident that this route
was safe and that it was 'a go'. But a few skiers who showed up early on Friday,
and were well aware of the Oosik's reputation, decided to check out the tunnel
for themselves. Upon inspection, these skiers immediately became concerned because
of its steep and icy entrance and exit, as well as the boulders lining each
side. Hey, that's the Oosik! Adam reassured them that it was fine, but he then
decided that he should test it himself, just in case. He grabbed his skis (metal-edged
no less) and headed to the tunnel. The first time through, he crashed. The second
time, he made it. Upon further review, Adam decided that a 50% success rate
for a former Olympian was not an acceptable safety level. So the tunnel was
overruled, we had to take our skis off and run across the road.
Frode quickly pulled away from me after we cross the road, on the first uphill
on the Majestic trails. The last exciting part of the race was a very steep
and very fast downhill with about 5K to go. It was long enough that you got
a good bit of steam going. Then at the bottom, the trail was just uneven enough,
with just the right amount of turn and bumps, to throw any overly aggressive
skier hurtling on his stomach or butt toward the snowbanks. Oosik. Both Lars
Flora and Frode Lillefjell apparently took spills here. I was able to safely
navigate the hill, but only because a skier from the 25K was going down the
hill ahead of me in a wide snowplow and I had to slow down until the trail was
wide enough to pass.
From here is was smooth sailing to the finish line. I finished 6th – slightly
behind the top five, but well ahead of the rest of the pack. Trond Flagstad
proved once again that he is the Oosik Master by winning for the third time.
Lars Flora used his sprinting speed to edge out UAF skier Peter Barton for second.
In the women's race UAF standout Sigrid Aas was the winner, with APU's Erin
Quinn-Hurst in second, while Nicole DeYoung was third.
In the 25K race, the women's top three were Sara Hansen, Becky Hauser, and
Hege Hjelmeland. In the mens 25K, it was Patrick Gilroy taking the win ahead
of Mark Brady and Kerry Klauder.
By now it was about 3:00 pm. The race may have been over for most people, but
the fun was just beginning. The Majestic Valley Lodge prepared a terrific post-race
barbeque of Bratwurst, potato salad, cookies and more, which we washed down
with a donated keg of Midnight Sun's Oosik Amber (fittingly enough). The sun
was shining outside, but the temperatures were still a little cool for springtime,
so most of us hung out in the beautiful lodge while we digested our meals and
socialized with our fellow skiers. Awards were presented to the top three in
each race, and there were lots of generous raffle prizes as well. Following
the awards, usually there is a band that kicks the party into high gear. This
year, since the race was questionable due to snow conditions, Adam did not book
a band. So the party dispersed temporarily. Some people headed home. Those of
us who stayed to enjoy the lodge and the surroundings for another night either napped, relaxed our weary bones in Majestic's sauna, or
took the party elsewhere.
Later in the evening, after everyone had a chance to relax and regroup, the
festivities were ignited again by the bonfire. A crowd of about 30-40 hearty
skiers sat huddled around a bonfire sharing stories and drinks, while watching
a modest display of Northern Lights. The fire finally started to dwindle down
in the wee-hours of the morning. At this point, I made my way back to our cozy
room in Glacier Hall to finally collapse from a long day.
The Day After
The morning after the race we were all in the mood for a leisurely and hearty
breakfast. I had heard great things about the meals at Majestic Valley, but
because of our race schedule and the barbecue yesterday, I had yet to eat a
meal in their dining room. But Sunday's breakfast more than made up for any
meals I missed. The lodge prepared a mouthwatering meal of omelets, home fries,
grapefruit, and deliciously sinful cinnamon buns. Life is good.
After stuffing myself at breakfast and feeling sore from yesterday's race,
I hardly felt like skiing. But I was not about to leave behind the excellent
tracks at Majestic without one last ski. I shuffled around the trails for an
hour and a half before reluctantly getting into my car to head back to Anchorage.
It was a very poor winter in Anchorage. But for two magnificent days at the
Oosik Classic, that seemed very far away. Thanks to Adam Verrier and Majestic
Valley Lodge (and countless sponsors and volunteers!), we were all able to wrap up the season on a very positive note.
I'll definitely be back next year for the Oosik, and I hope to be back at the Majestic
Valley Lodge before that.
For another account of the Oosik, check out the article in the Anchorage
Daily News: You
Can't Be Serious
Women — 1) Sarah Hansen 1 hour, 28 minutes, 9 seconds; 2) Becky Hauser 1:30:54;
3) Hege Hjelmeland 1:38:18; 4) Karen Bronga 1:41:34; 5) Adinda Demske 1:52:01;
6) Deb Essex 2:00:01; 7) Julia Coster 2:07:46 8) Kathy Christy 2:10:35; 9) Lene
Nielsen 2:12:20; 10) Becky Shaftel 2:12:27; 11) Valli Peterson 2:20:28; 12)
Karen Hopp 2:21:48; 13) Linda Blumberg 2:27:59; 14) Marilyn Modaferri 2:32:20;
15) Jacquie Luke 2:40:18; 16) Susan Kent-Biro 3:06:02.
Men — 1) Patrick Gilroy 1:23:29; 2) Mark Brady 1:25:16; 3) Kerry Klauder 1:27:30;
4) Max Treinen 1:28:20; 5) Nate Berry 1:28:28; 6) Tim Rice 1:37:10; 7) John
Kent 1:38:10; 8) Geir Hjelmeland 1:38:18; 9) Thomas Bronga 1:41:44; 10) Nicholai
Smith 1:42:39; 11) Tyler Kornfield 1:47:56; 12) John Gallagher 1:48:24; 13)
Reno Depry 1:53:33; 14) Brett Roth 1:58:32; 15) Jim Reeves 2:00:34; 16) Joe
Daugherty 2:01:08; 17) Russell Hood 2:03:13; 18) William Campbell 2:06:35; 19)
Steve McKeever 2:13:13; 20) Jason Cooperdock 2:13:42; 21) Hugh Wade 2:21:57;
22) Philip Hayden 2:22:24; 23) Bob Kean 2:23:49; 24) Dan McLean 2:35:22; 25)
Dale Berry 2:35:22; 26) Mark Gasionov 2:40:27; 27) Frank Biro 2:40:34; 28) Fred
Women — 1) Sigrid Aas 2:10:02; 2) Erin Quinn-Hurst 2:21:40; 3) Nicole DeYong
2:22:53; 4) Sara Nielsen 2:29:16; 5) Kiersten Lippmann 2:33:25; 6) Lisa Beattie
2:45:24; 7) Ellen Toll 2:49:17; 8) Diana Evans 2:53:07; 9) Lindsey Flagstad
2:53:35; 10) Cyd Sneed 2:55:24; 11) Kathy Faryniaz 3:01:35; 12) Tina Devine
3:02:12; 13) Devra Barnhart 3:38:24; 14) Berit Flora 3:39:00; 15) Emily Binnian
Men — 1) Trond Flagstad 1:44:25; 2) Lars Flora 1:48:07; 3) Peter Barton 1:48:08;
4) Zach Violett 1:48:26; 5) Frode Lillefjell 1:49:49; 6) Cory Smith 1:50:39;
7) Trond Bjorn-Jensen 1:56:22; 8) Benji Uffenbeck 1:59:00; 9) Colin Quinn-Hurst
2:06:04; 10) Scott Hauser 2:08:50; 11) Mike Cramer 2:10:02; 12) Casy Fagerquist
2:11:01; 13) Ken Leary 2:13:54; 14) Mikhail Glasionov 2:14:50; 15) Gary Snyder
2:17:17; 16) Dana Mossman 2:17:52; 17) Lars Spurkland 2:18:22; 18) Seth Downs
2:24:38; 19) Chris Robertson 2:24:54; 20) Scotten Blair 2:27:28; 21) Peter Riley
2:32:17; 22) Dave Blanchet 2:34:04; 23) Ken Rice 2:38:42; 24) Andrew Lee 2:40:43;
25) Ned Rozell 2:42:31; 26) Spencer Sneed 2:44:33; 27) James Sprott 2:52:49;
28) Edward Plumb 2:55:01; 29) Mark Selland 2:55:56; 30) Craig Harpel 3:01:21;
31) Tiger Demers 3:07:22; 32) Curt Wilson 3:42:06.