The temperature has been at or below zero during the day for the past few days at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park in Anchorage, which will host the first day of the US Cross Country Championships tomorrow morning. Snow conditions couldn’t be better for the nation’s biggest week of ski racing, with most competitive skiers enjoying three months of snow in the Anchorage area. Even with around $150,000 dollars of the city’s donation-funded grooming budget lost to a dodgy fee collection company, local skiers have seen near-perfect grooming along the 120 kilometers of trails within the municipal park system. But with the high temp hovering around the legal cutoff at -4F, running an exceptionally difficult sprint course up to four times Saturday morning could be a little rough, to say the least.
To protect their lungs from the cold, skiers out to preview and train on the official courses have been using Norwegian “Varm Pust” mouth pieces and other face masks to warm the air entering their lungs. It’s like a nuclear test facility out there, even at high noon in a day that lasts only 5 1/2 hours. The local teams are taking precautions, as well. UAA ditched a time trial on Wednesday’s 10K classic course in favor of less intense L3 intervals to avoid the typical potential problems that skiers deal with like airway infection and inflammation from asthma.
Other Alaskan towns are enjoying a particularly pleasant icy winter weather, and might consider Anchorage residents weak in the knees. NOAA is reporting -40F to -55F with fog around Fairbanks, around 350 miles north of the Pacific, while Barrow has -20 down to -38 with the wind chill on the Arctic Ocean. Other areas like McGrath will see even colder temperatures.
Despite the colder temperatures and a postponement to 11:30am Saturday morning, the incoming competitors will enjoy a terrific venue organized by a local ski community out in force. A foggy skate ski on slow, abrasive snow through difficult trails donning well deserved names like “Ice Box,” “Mize’s Folley,” “Stairway To Heaven,” and “Compression”, might not be on everyone’s list of top destinations for the weekend, but the tracks on Kincaid’s shiny new sprint course have been set rock solid for several days and sunny weather and terrific stadium lighting will make for an exciting day of racing for the spectators.
This will be the second season for the park’s new sprint course, and the first season for the final modifications made during the summer of 2008. The course includes a monster 300 meter climb with 17 meters of vertical directly out of the stadium with no remorse from a tight drop and turn at the top before blasting back into the Daytona-like stadium terrain. Crashes are most likely upon reentry into the stadium, right in front of the majority of the spectators, since stronger skiers will be able to take a chance in the heats by cutting the difficult turn tightly to gain a small advantage, where every move counts.
This will be one of the two most exciting series of spectator races that Anchorage has seen. If you can make it out to the races, dress smart and be sure to bring your sunglasses.