FAIRBANKS — Cody Priest was familiar with the 50-kilometer freestyle course of the Denali State Bank Sonot Kkaazoot before Saturday morning’s 27th edition of the cross-country ski marathon that starts and finishes on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks.

The former Alaska Nanook later became familiar with being a winner in one of the longest races of the Sonot Kkaazoot, whose title comes from two Koyukon Athabascan words.  Sonot (pronounced “saw not”) means springtime and the translation of Kkaazoot is “to slide your feet across the snow.”

This year’s competition included a 50K classical race, a 40K freestyle and a 20K freestyle that turned around on the river. 

Both 50K events — equivalent to 31 miles each — turned around at the  Birch Hill Recreation Area. The longest races covered 30 kilometers of the trails at Birch Hill, including difficult ones like Black Hole, North 40 and Outhouse.

The 40K covered 20 kilometers of trails at Birch Hill but didn’t include the Competition, Black Hole, North 40, Blue and Outhouse sections.

More than 200 participants were greeted Saturday by clear, blue skies with temperatures in the 30s and trail conditions that were hard and fast.

Saturday marked Priest’s fifth straight entry in the Sonot. In the previous four, he among the top finishers in the 50K freestyle, but he didn’t place first until Saturday’s effort of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 55.2 seconds.

“I’ve always lost it on the river. It seems that I’ve always been in the pack and then dropped off,” said Priest, a Nanook from 2009-12.

Priest’s time dropped on Saturday compared to last year, when he placed third in 2:37:17.9. 

“It’s awesome,” Priest said. “With all the volunteers that had to put this together, it’s an awesome race today. There’s tons of people out cheering.

“I had never won it and this was my fifth time doing it. So it feels awesome,” said the 25-year-old ski coach for Chugiak High School near Anchorage.

Priest’s previous best finish was second place in 2012. He finished third in 2011 and fourth in 2010.

Priest traded leads early in Saturday’s race with eventual runner-up and former Nanook Alex Morris, and current Nanook Isaac Lammers, who placed third in his Sonot Kkaazoot debut.

“It’s exciting. It’s definitely super fun to be racing with Alex and Cody,” said Lammers, a University of Alaska Fairbanks sophomore.

 Priest separate from Morris and Lammers on some of the course’s steep hills, but Priest and Morris were together when they returned to the river.

 Priest propelled ahead of Morris with about four kilometers away from the finish line underneath the Centennial Bridge.

“The lead changed quite a bit; I was kind of always second or third for a while just trying to hang on to them,” Priest said. “When we got on the river, we could see Isaac behind us, and we worked together a little bit to try to keep him back.”

Morris finished in 2:22:42.9 and Lammers clocked a time of 2:23:11.4,

“It was pretty close for most of the race and we spread out toward the end,” said Morris,  who skied for the Nanooks from 2008-12 and is currently a UAF engineering graduate student.

Lammers led at the start but he was struck by leg cramps about 37K into the 50K freestyle.

“I just went into everything slowly and just built off of that,” he said. “I kept picking up the pace and I tried to hold it together at the end.

“It was just keep moving and don’t let your legs cramp,’’ Lammers said. “It was important to get to the feeds (stations) and get some Gatorade, and keep going.”

Rebecca Konieczny, a Nanooks skier from 2009-13, earned the women’s title in the 50K freestyle in 2:33:38.7. Shalane Frost, a UAF forestry technician, was runner-up in 2:37:47.6, and Melissa Lewis placed third in 2:48:46.2.

Saturday’s weather helped motivate Konieczny, a three-time Sonot Kkaazoot

participant who turns 24 Tuesday.

“I joke that I’m solar-powered because on bluebird days like this, I always have my best races,” she said with a bright smile. “The snow was super fast,, and I was lucky to have Mike Kramer to ski with.

“It was a hard race and we took turns pulling each other (for most of the race),’’ said Konieczny, now an assistant coach for the Fairbanks XC program of the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks.

Kramer placed sixth overall in 2:33.27.9.

Peter Leonard won overall in 3:00:58.4 in the 50K classic technique race. Nanooks head coach Scott Jerome was runner-up in 3:19:42.0 and David Apperson placed third in 3:29:44.4.

Lynne Peterson emerged with the women’s title in 4:45:11.4. Jessie Turner followed with a runner-up time of 5:44.01.0 and Liz Pawelko took third in 5:47:07.2.

Mark Ross overcame exhaustion from an ultra-fast start to win overall in the 40K in 2:31:08.8. Patrick Druckenmiller placed second (2:35:11.9) and former Nanooks skier Patrik Sartz was third (2:37:18.3).

“I went out way too fast and at 20K, I didn’t have anything,” said Ross, a first-time entry in the 40K race after competing in previous Sonot Kkaazoots. 

“My skis were pretty good so I could stand on them. So I just kept going,’’ he said.

Kristin Kelly garnered the women’s 40K title in 2:38:11.1, followed by Robbin Garber-Slaght in 3:10.09.2 and Maria Berger in 3:37:35.0.

Ti Donaldson, 13, outpaced Kevin Brune and Benjamin Koenig to gain the overall 20K title in 50:21.6. Brune, a Lathrop High School skier, was runner-up in 50:37.6 and Koenig, a West Valley skier, placed third in 50:37.8.

West Valley freshman Jenna Difolco won the women’s 20K in 56:46.0, followed by Kriya Dunlap in 1:05:01.2 and Christine Broda in 1:08:21.2.

Complete results of the race are scheduled to published in Monday’s sports.

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at

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