The population of Germany is roughly 82 million. The population of Talkeetna, Alaska, was 876 in the 2010 census. At least three skiers from Germany have won the Oosik Classic, the annual late-season classic marathon that takes skiers on the rivers and hills around beautiful downtown Talkeetna for 50 kilometers, give or take, each spring. No native son or daughter has yet to win Talkeetna’s hometown race … but one Talkeetna native is getting closer.
Anchorage skier and former Alaska Pacific University (APU) Masters Coach Dylan Watts collected his third-career Oosik title Saturday afternoon, covering probably slightly less than 50 k in 2:22:40 to pace a field of 65 skiers in the longer race on a perfect spring day. He was followed 1:21 later by current APU Masters Coach Galen Johnston, who moved up from his previous career-best 50 k Oosik finish of fifth to take second overall. Third was Anchorage skier and current University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) athlete Seiji Takagi, an additional six minutes back.
Watts was not immediately available for comment.
Johnston had nothing but praise for his former APU colleague, coupled with a certain degree of hometown pride. “It has been a couple years since I’ve been able to race the Oosik,” Johnston wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “Coming back to it and being able to pull off second, relatively close to the win, made me hungry to want to come back and take a first-ever hometown 50k win.”
Johnston continued, “For a while it was a Norwegian’s race. Now we have an American Oosik master in Dylan [Watts]. I’d love to crack into that winners’ circle for the home crowd.”
Reflecting the international diversity of Alaska’s NCAA ski programs, former Oosik champions have indeed hailed from Norway (Trond Flagstad, Kjetil Dammen, Thomas Oyberg), as well as Sweden (Erik Söderstrom) and Germany (Jonas Löffler, Michael Fehrenbach, NCAA champion Marius Korthauer). (Plus Holly Brooks once won the race wearing Aino-Kaisa Saarinen’s Finnish Olympic suit.) Numerous winners have hailed from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Just no one from Talkeetna yet.
This year’s women’s winner, Nichole Bathe, originally called Madison, Wisc., home, but has spent the past four seasons in Fairbanks. The end may be in sight for the UAF senior, but is not here yet, as Bathe still plans to compete in all four races at Spring Series (USSA Distance Nationals) starting in Fairbanks later this month.
Bathe found Saturday’s outing “pretty fun,” she wrote to FasterSkier. “I skied alone for most of it. I went out of the start pretty hard because it was a flat course for the most part so I just wanted to see how fast I could double pole really. The 50K course hooked back up to the 25K course with around 15K left and so that was pretty interesting with the course being single tracked through the woods and really narrow, it was kinda fun to dodge the 25K skiers as well as getting to walk up some of the hills behind them!”
First place for each gender was good for several hundred dollars. In deference to her current student-athlete collegiate status, Bathe clarified that she was still waiting to figure out if she would be allowed to receive her winnings, and “as of now haven’t accepted anything.”
Bathe crossed the finish line in 2:53:19, good for 11th overall. She was relatively unchallenged within the women’s race, as second-place Shalane Frost and third-place Nicole De Yong were each over ten minutes behind her. Frost and De Yong reprised their podium finishes from the Tour of Anchorage 50 k skate race two weeks earlier.
The 25 k men’s race was also a rematch of sorts, as three Alaska Winter Stars U18 athletes who had raced against each other all season long, in the Besh Cup Junior Nationals qualifying series as well as high school races, toed the line once more. Gus Schumacher was once again victorious, adding the Oosik title to his three golds and one silver at JNs as he crossed the finish line first in 1:24:24. In the day’s closest race, he was shortly followed by Andrew Hull (+:05) and Zach Bassett (+:11).
The 25 k women’s race, by contrast, saw a mix of age and experience. First was Soldotna’s Sadie Fox, currently a sophomore at the University of Alaska Anchorage, whose 1:32:33 was only slightly off her winning time in this year’s 25 k classic Tour of Anchorage. Second, over ten minutes later, was Karina Packer, a 20-something Anchorageite who skied in college (Dartmouth ’15). One second behind her was another former college skier, the ageless Nancy Pease (Dartmouth ’82), a legend in Alaska skiing and mountain running circles.
Pease won the Tour of Anchorage 50 k in 1989, several years before either of the athletes ahead of her on Saturday was born. She set the women’s course record in the Bird Ridge Hill Climb in 1993, lodging a time in the two-mile, 3,400′ vertical feet ascent that no one has come close to in the two decades since. (Subsequent skiers with slower times include Holly Brooks, Jessica Yeaton, Mara Rabinowitz, Becca Rorabaugh, Kikkan Randall, etc.) In July 1989 the Anchorage Daily News hailed Pease as the “Toughest Woman in Alaska.” Perhaps little has changed.
A total of 65 skiers finished the 50 k on Saturday, plus nearly 600 more in the 25 k. The total field of 662 finishers, nearly the size of Talkeetna itself, made the Oosik the country’s largest classic-only ski race this winter, well ahead of the Craftsbury Marathon. In a year without the Birkie, southcentral Alaska can claim the largest classic ski race, largest ski race overall, and richest ski race in the country this winter.
— Gavin Kentch