The Valdez Qaniq Challenge in Alaska may be in its inaugural year, but race organizers have big plans for its unveiling in January, including $10,000 dollars in total prize money.
The Qaniq Challenge is a 50-kilometer classic and freestyle ski race set to take place Jan. 17-18, 2015, in the coastal town of Valdez. The city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services began planning the event earlier this year in an attempt to showcase the city’s trail systems in addition to promoting tourism in the Alaskan town.
You may be asking yourself the meaning of “qaniq.” In a native Alutiiq dialect, it means “falling snow,” which race organizer Darryl Verfaillie thought was a fitting name for the competition and respective of the local Alutiiq population.
The race has an unusual format. In order to accommodate 400 participants on the local trails, Verfaillie said that there would be two separate courses used over the two days of racing.
On the first day of the Challenge, one group of racers will ski a classic course on the “in-town” trails of Valdez, while the remaining participants will ski on a freestyle course on the “out-of-town” trails. The next day, Sunday, the two groups switch courses. Race organizers will then combine the times from both days to rank skiers.
A lottery will be held the night before the race to choose who will start on what course.
The Valdez Qaniq Challenge will distribute $10,000 dollars in total prize winnings with $3,000 going to both the top male and top female. Second place for each gender will receive $1,500 and third place will earn $500. The total prize purse will make the race one of the highest-paying ski competitions in the country.
According to Verfaillie, a race committee will have its first meeting in the coming weeks and start to solidify the details of the Challenge. Verfeillie said that a race website would be created this fall and that registration would be open no later than mid-October.
Once registration opens, it’s a first-come first-serve process to register for one of the 400 starting spots.
Verfaillie says that while the race will inherently attract more Alaskans, he hopes to see skiers from across the country participate.
“I’d love to see as many [racers] from the lower 48 come up as possible. Travel is hard, but we’re not targeting any one group,” he said on the phone. “We want to be a true community.”
“I’d love to see as many [racers] from the lower 48 come up as possible. … We want to be a true community.” — Valdez Qaniq Challenge Race Director Darryl Verfaillie
There are also plans to invite international skiers to the competition, but according to Verfaillie, those are in the initial phases.
Race organizers have also marketed the Qaniq Challenge as an opportunity to ski alongside elite American skiers. While Verfaillie had yet to confirm any specific elite racers, he said that he had been talking with Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier Lauren Fritz to get several elite-team members in the race.
While Verfaillie acknowledges that the Challenge is a new race trying to fit into an already busy national schedule, he hopes that with the right planning, the event will grow in the coming years.
“We want to make it successful. We’re hoping it builds from year to year and it’s an annual event,” he said.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.