When you think of athletes like Kikkan Randall, Mark Iverson and Reese Hanneman, alpine skiing doesn’t necessarily jump to mind. But the three U.S. nordic skiers proved last Saturday that they’re masters of many trades at the second-annual AK Skimeister Challenge in Girdwood, Alaska.
A four-time U.S. Olympian, Randall, 31, won the individual women’s race at Alyeska Resort by more than 16 minutes in 59:53.01. The only U.S. Ski Team member in the field, she bested the field eight women, including two juniors.
Iverson, also 31, outlasted Hanneman, his former teammate at Alaska Pacific University (APU), by 2:46.25 minutes for his first win in the multi-sport event in 50:17.72. Twenty-four men and three junior men competed individually in the race, which also includes three-person teams.
“I’ve planned on doing this race all year,” Iverson wrote in an email. “I raced it last year (the first year for this race) and was 2nd. I was hoping to improve on that this year. I think anyone who is a skier is drawn to this type of race. It’s a great way to test and compete across disciplines and compete alongside alpine skiers and cyclists.”
The race began outside Alyeska’s midway lodge with a Le Mans start, where participants ran about 100 meters uphill to their skis — in their boots and all — before clicking into their alpine equipment and racing more than 2,000 vertical feet down.
“I grew up alpine skiing in Steamboat Springs [Colorado] and even raced a few years when I was younger,” Iverson explained. “I’m really comfortable on alpine skis, but what really helped me on the run was being able following Charlie Renfro, an APU Junior coach, good friend of mine and a really good alpine skier, down the course. We were 1-2 after the uphill sprint and he was able to show me the line the whole way down despite loosing his pole right at the start.”
While he was first to the bottom, Hanneman, who was first to the top, wrote in an email that he “got hosed because for some reason I took forever to get clicked into my alpine skis. It was a sidehill with fresh snow, and I burned up quite a bit of time. I felt like such an idiot, like I had never clicked into alpine skis before.”
By the time Hanneman started downhill, Iverson and Renfro were long gone.
From there, racers transitioned to a 6-kilometer cross-country ski. Iverson, a technically retired racer who skis for Rossignol, knew he needed to get as far ahead of Hanneman as possible in the alpine leg before the skate ski. Hanneman, 24, was coming off a classic-sprint victory at SuperTour Finals and bronze in the U.S. Distance Nationals 50 k classic in Anchorage just over a week ago. Hanneman also won the overall SuperTour title — which comes with World Cup starts early next season.
The defending Skimeister champ from the first race in 2013, Hanneman first caught Renfro, then Iverson within the a kilometer or so of the nordic ski, and Hanneman and Iverson remained together for the rest of it.
“[Mark] is in pretty good xc ski shape right now, and I knew that if I had an epic ski leg maybe I could put like 15 seconds on him,” Hanneman wrote.
“I got out of the transition a little ahead of Reese and starting pulling away on the groomed section of course,” Iverson wrote of the final snow-bike leg. “But I know he’s a strong biker mountain biker as well, so I stayed nervous on the 2nd 2/3rds of the course which was all single track. I never wrote him off.”
Iverson won by nearly three minutes, and Hanneman took second, about four minutes ahead of John Novak in third and Renfro another 14 seconds back in fourth.
“Frankly my body was just too tired to really want to go that hard,” Hanneman explained. “[Mark] just slowly pulled away from me on the couple mile long climb.”
Since the 50 k a week earlier, Hanneman wrote that he mostly went alpine skiing and cross-country skied once.
“I figured that the difference between feeling good and feeling bad in the xc ski would be mostly negated by the fact that my legs would be searing from coming straight into it right from a 4 minute, almost 3000ft alpine run,” Hanneman wrote. “I was pretty much right on… Once I was able to get all that lactic acid out my legs a couple k’s in, I started feeling better…”
Not Bad for a ‘Retired’ Guy
Iverson, who placed 19th in the 50 k, retired from elite racing last spring. While working full-time at the Anchorage-based Skinny Raven sports store, he jumped into a couple of nordic races last winter, including the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin and the four races at Spring Series in Anchorage.
“It’s been a little weird stepping away after the best season of my career,” Iverson said. “The hardest part was not heading out to West camp to see and train with all the people you’ve been out there with for years. I did a lot of mountain running last summer, and pretty much only roller skied when I was asked by Brent Knight or Reese. It’s different not training full time, but I’ve been at it long enough to be able to carry some good fitness. I just went into every race to have fun. I’ve always done best when I didn’t feel any pressure.”
That’s what made him happy about his results this year, including 10th in the 15 k at SuperTour Finals, 18th in the Birkie, and fourth in a 15 k skate FIS race in December (after University of Vermont senior Scott Patterson, Hanneman, and Eric Packer of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team, respectively).
As for his spring, summer and winter plans for 2014, Iverson said, “Work is getting busier and busier, but I plan on doing a lot of biking and mountain running. Come winter I think I’ll have a similar schedule of racing as I did this year: ski my favorite marathons for and race locally for Rossignol. You have to stay in shape somehow, right?”
Hanneman stated the Skimeister was an event that was more about “fun, off-the-cuff, non-standard competition,” which was a nice way to end the season, but most importantly, it raised money for Challenge Alaska, “an incredible organization that does a lot of awesome thing for people with disabilities,” he wrote.
“This event is so sweet because it is perfect for this time of year,” he added. “It’s pretty laid back, and because of all the different stuff going on within the race no-one really knows exactly what they’re doing. I think part of its appeal is that it is totally unrefined, and it feels kind of like an adventure. And then theres all the free food, music, and a big party afterwards.”
Hanneman is headed to northern Alaska on April 19 to volunteer with NANA Nordic, which shares nordic skiing with children in rural villages.
“It will be my 5th visit to a village with the program, and I am so stoked for it!!” Hanneman wrote.
Other than that, he’s trying to keep a low profile. “I have tried to make very few plans this spring. I want to give myself the chance to just kind of follow what my mind wants to do, in an attempt to let myself heal from the intense last few months of racing and traveling. Right now I am really starting to realize just how exhausted I really am.”
Queen of the Mountain
Randall won the Skimeister title in her first try, after her husband Jeff Ellis competed in last year’s edition and her U.S. Ski Team/APU teammate Holly Brooks won the women’s race that same year. Randall signed up for the event a couple weeks ago, she explained.
“I had backcountry skied a few times earlier in the week and got an afternoon at Alyeska of resort skiing,” Randall wrote in an email. “So I got in a little practice. But I still feel out of touch and out of shape for real alpine skiing. The course was set pretty much like a real downhill and the all mountain skis I was using are better for turning. I got more comfortable as I made my way down the mountain, would have been sweet to have a practice run before the race. My legs were burning pretty good by the bottom!”
By the time she got to the nordic portion, Randall explained that she felt tired and had trouble skiing fast. “But I warmed into it, the trails were in great shape and it was fun to catch some boys!”
Still out front, she managed to solidify the win on what she called the “most challenging” bike leg.
“The first half was on a cat track with a soft layer on top, which really worked the legs,” she wrote. “Then we got into the woods on some icy single track and I was being pretty tentative. It was a funny feeling to not be maxing out aerobically but still not able to go any faster.”
Back home after a long season, Randall did not make the trip to Washington, D.C, last week to meet the President and First Lady at the White House on April 3.
“I decided to stay home this time and have just been enjoying some nice days at home with Jeff after a busy winter,” she wrote. “So I’ve been in town all week, doing a few public appearances and catching up with friends.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.