FAIRBANKS - Most of the people in Talkeetna played a part in the 10th annual Oosik Classic Ski Race on Saturday.
Some of them cheered, others set the trail, handed out cups of water and cookies, timed the finish or acted friendly. It all made for an informal afternoon, in keeping with the Talkeetna approach to life when the climbers and tourists are not in town.
In the brilliant sunshine gleaming off the slopes of Denali, one of the world’s great skylines, more than 300 skiers took off from the air strip at about noon.
There was a 50-kilometer race and a 25-kilometer race. I chose the 25-kilometer race, knowing it would be as much fun as I could stand.
Four of us, all in our 50s, spent a great deal of time developing a wax strategy during the car ride to Talkeetna. One of us had purchased an expensive container of wax that promised “extreme acceleration,” which sounded like a runaway Toyota.
I have never grasped all of the minute details of waxing classic skis, but I know two things.
One type of wax, placed on the front and back of the ski, allows you to glide over the snow. The second type, placed in the center of the ski, allows you to go uphill without gliding backwards. This sticky stuff is known as kick wax and it has a tendency to wear off, especially when the weather is warm.
I know enough about glide wax to scrape by, but the infinite varieties of kick waxes and their combinations are like black magic. So much so that there is even a wax called Black Magic.
The temperature Saturday was above freezing, creating conditions that made it as challenging to find the ideal wax as to discover the secret formula for Coke. The wax on my skis lasted for an hour. The race lasted two-and-a-half hours.
I had to walk up the hills, but there weren’t many, and I had a wonderful time watching the scenery and gliding along.
I didn’t take the first warning sign seriously, which said I should watch a certain part of my anatomy, until I hit the ground with that part of my anatomy, which is why I paid attention to the second sign.
All in all, I had a great time and I hope to do this race again.
Paul Beberg, the former University of Alaska Fairbanks ski coach, and artist Bill Barstow coordinated the event, which, to keep things interesting, has a different course and distance every year.
The after-race party in Don Sheldon’s old hangar, next to the airport, was highlighted by a great dinner, a slide show featuring hundreds of photos of that day’s race, and an off-the-cuff recitation by Fairbanksan Will Putman of “Ode to an Oosik,” which he memorized decades ago when he saw it on the door of Ivory Jack’s.
Everyone I talked with enjoyed the race, the views of the mountains, the beautiful weather, the spirit of the moment and the free beer.
A couple of weeks earlier I went to Anchorage for the Tour of Anchorage and took part in the 40-kilometer race through the state’s largest city.
That was a lot of fun too, though it is more regimented, which is a necessity because of the size of the crowd. As in Talkeetna, the conditions were excellent and it was a good community event.
This Sunday, Fairbanks has its turn. The Sonot Kkaazoot, founded by Bob and Sharon Baker 23 years ago, takes place. The skiers, who can choose a 20-kilometer or 50-kilometer course, will either start on the Chena River, or, if snow and river conditions don’t allow, at Birch Hill.
I’ve got to sign up for that one today.