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Only in the Arctic, man: Alaska event unlike any other on Earth

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Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2011 10:25 am | Updated: 12:48 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - You won’t find skiers and snowboarders being pulled behind snowmachines and shot over the side of a mountain at more than 70 miles per hour just anywhere. The Tesoro Arctic Man Classic is unique to Alaska, and its participants and fans are proud of that.

“There’s nothing else like this anywhere in the world,” Marco Sullivan said. Sullivan won the 26th annual Arctic Man on April 9, and he’s no stranger to different skiing circuits; he’s a member of the U.S. ski team.

He said the best part of Arctic Man is being able to have a beer after you cross the finish line, something many skiers and snowboarders do after the 5 1/2 miles, as their legs start to give out.

“I’ve skied in the Olympics and in the World Cup circuit,” said Sullivan, who was pulled behind the sled of Tyler Aklestad. “Arctic Man is the same caliber, but it’s laid back. You’ve got four minutes of work in, like, the week you spend up here.”

Rebekah Coats raced in this year’s Arctic Man and found success, even though she and snowmachining partner Kerre Smith were first-timers. The race has always appealed to Coats, a Salcha native, but she knew finding a partner for such an extreme race would be slim.

“It’s hard to find someone,” she said. “You’re never going to have to find a girl who wants to be pulled down a mountain at over 70 miles per hour anywhere else.”

Race director Howie Thies described the adrenaline- filled weekend as a “spring getaway” for Alaskans who are getting a bit of cabin fever at the end of winter.

“People can unload here,” he said. The draw for competitors, Thies said, stems from the fact that the race is unlike anything they’ve ever done before or will ever do again. “People could have raced all their life, but they get here, and they’re like, ‘Holy moley,’” Thies said. “Racers will cross that line and tell me their legs are burning, and these are Olympic racers, people who have raced all their lives, who are always training. But Arctic Man, boy, it’s tougher on those bodies.”

The race is becoming more family-friendly, Thies added, saying he thinks that aspect is another draw for people to spend their weekend at in the Hoodoo Mountains. In addition to the main ski and sno-go race, there’s Hill Cross, SnoCross and derby events throughout the weekend. “It’s really becoming more of a family event, people bringing kids, which is good,” Thies said.

“There’s lots going on. If you can’t get in one event, you can get in another.”

Another reason the Arctic Man race is so popular is because it’s accessible — accessible in the sense that Thies and his crew make it as easy as possible for racers to enter and attend.

Jayson Hale won this year’s snowboarding race, and Thies said Hale called on Sunday and said he wouldn’t be able to make it. Same with Smith, who called the week before the race, saying she couldn’t make it. Both competitors said it was financially straining for them to make the trips from Sieraville, Calif., and Government Camp, Ore., respectively.

“Jayson called, and I said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll get you here.’ Same with Kerre,” Thies said. “We used the organization’s miles and helped them with their tickets.”

Thies made sure the two racers knew it wasn’t a free act of kindness — they’d be expected to pay the Arctic Man organization back. “That should be no problem now,” Thies said, with a laugh. “Both of them won. See? This is why it’s worth it to do whatever it takes to make sure people who want to be here can be. I’ll do whatever I have to if someone wants to race.”

The uniqueness of the sport behind the race, the laid back environment and the congeniality of the higher-ups all adds to the allure of Arctic Man, and even though the dust is still settling from this year’s storm, Thies said he’s already excited for next year’s race.

“We had a phenomenal race this year,” he said, “and I look forward to doing it all again.”

Contact staff writer Renee Thony at 459-7583.

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