By Gavin Kentch
A host of collegiate skiers from Alaska’s two NCAA ski programs dominated the top of the results sheet in the 16th annual Oosik Classic, a 50-kilometer classic race held on the rivers and woods near Talkeetna, Alaska, last Saturday, March 19. Skiers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) took the top six spots in the men’s race, while the women’s podium featured representatives of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), UAF and a speedy citizen racer among the top three.
The Oosik Classic was founded in 2001, and aims to put the “country” back into “cross-country skiing.” The race is notorious and beloved in the Alaska ski community for its unorthodox courses, distances that may charitably be described as approximate, and festive party atmosphere that characterizes at least three fourths of the field, as well as a number of unsanctioned aid stations. This year’s race saw relatively cool conditions, even for Alaska in spring, as temperatures were still in the teens at the noon start of the race, and never rose much above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. A light snow fell during the afternoon. The cool temps and firm trails were a marked departure from the bright sun and klister skiing that have characterized the last several editions of this race.
Amidst the snowfall, the men were led by Michael Fehrenbach, a UAF senior, who completed the two-lap, approximately 50 k course in 1:55:38. He was followed by Jan Cech, also a senior, 1:23 back in 1:57:01. Another UAF skier, redshirt sophomore Nick Lovett, finished third in 1:57:48. UAF, which sent the lion’s share of its men’s nordic ski program down to Talkeetna for the weekend after the recent NCAA Championships, also saw Alexander Eckert, Seiji Takagi, and Conner Truskowski finish fourth through sixth among the men.
The women’s podium was less homogenous. Shalane Frost, previously described as an “unaffiliated dark horse and Fairbanks local” when she finished third in the inaugural Qaniq Challenge in January 2015, took the win in 2:20:13, good for eleventh overall. Hanna Slotte, a senior who recently finished her collegiate ski career with UAA, followed 1:47 back in an even 2:22:00. Third place went to Martina Himma, a sophomore member of the UAF team. Himma was some distance back from second, finishing in 2:29:12, though she did edge out teammate Ann-Cathrin Uhl by one second in the battle for third.
UAF was back on top of the women’s podium for the one-lap 25 k race, which started 30 minutes after the 50 k. Christina Turman, an assistant coach for the UAF team (and former collegiate racer for Northern Michigan University), was first in 1:30:23. Citizen racer Krista Heeringa took second, and first master by a healthy margin, three seconds back in 1:30:26. Sadie Fox, a freshman skier for UAA, was third in 1:35:53.
The top three in the men’s 25 k race were likewise a mixture of youth and experience. First place went to Gus Schumacher, who claimed two U16 national titles at Junior Nationals in Cable, Wis., earlier this month, in 1:19:19. He was followed less than a minute back by high school junior Andrew Hull in 1:20:12. Third place went to 40-something Anchorage skier Gary Snyder, who finished another 54 seconds back in 1:21:06.
This year’s race had 519 official finishers, including 61 racers in the 50 k and 458 in the shorter race.
The 17th Oosik Classic will be held in Talkeetna in March 2017. Registration has historically opened on Feb. 1.