Judges and spectators wait for contestants to finish a classic cross-country skiing race at the Lake Catamount Touring Center outside of Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning.

Photo by Brian Ray

Judges and spectators wait for contestants to finish a classic cross-country skiing race at the Lake Catamount Touring Center outside of Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning.

Cross-country ski purists converge at inaugural race event

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A set of classic cross-country ski tracks sit carved into the trail at the Lake Catamount Touring Center outside Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning.

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A pair of classic cross-country skis wait for their owner to return at the Lake Catamount Touring Center.

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Dori McNeill, 12, crosses the finish line of a classic skiing race at the Lake Catamount Touring Center outside Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning.

Keep on kicking

Nordic nuts and novices alike can continue the weekend of cross-country ski events at today's Colorado Ski for Women day at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center.

"We'll set out a 5K course and you can skate, do classic or snowshoe or go at your own pace," Touring Center's Tim Paschke said of the event, which is for all ages and abilities. "We have our little costumes ready."

Registration runs from 9 a.m. to noon, and skiing starts at 12:30 p.m. A minimum $20 donation earns participants a gift bag and lunch. All proceeds go to benefit Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. The theme of the festivities is "Black Tie Affair" and also will include live music and prize giveaways.

"Hope to see you here," Ski Touring Center owner Birgitta Lindgren invited. "Come as a penguin, come as a cow, come dressed up anyway, anyhow."

Visit www.nordicski.net or call the Ski Touring Center at 879-8180 for more information.

— Classic cross-country skiing comes pretty naturally to Sven Wiik.

Of course, he just thinks of it as traditional skiing - a part of life he can't remember not doing. Born in Sollefteå, Sweden, in 1921, Wiik grew up with ski jumping and the parallel kick-and-glide of cross country as the only two ski disciplines out there. He watched the Alpine ski craze pick up in the '30s and then watched Bill Koch change cross-country skiing by popularizing the new freestyle skate technique in the '80s.

With skate skis allowing faster speeds and a steeper initial learning curve, Wiik - a former U.S. Olympic ski coach and former owner of and current instructor at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center - is seeing the once fringe skate discipline expand.

"We used to carry just a couple pairs of skate skis," Wiik said. "If you take a look down there, now it's probably 50-50."

Wiik also has noticed another trend.

Skiers are returning to the roots where the sport began.

"Classic skiing is the foundation to all skiing - Alpine and Nordic," Wiik said. "It's not disappearing, it's just coming back - about 85 percent of our classes are classic. For backcountry skiing, too, you can do more on classic."

The classic comeback was no more apparent than at Saturday's Ski Haus 15K Classic Race at the Lake Catamount Touring Center trails. Held for the first time, this soon-to-be annual race pulled in 66 competitors - enough participants for organizers to divide what was to be two race distances into four - racing on 2-, 5-, 8- and 15-kilometer courses.

Greg Rawlings, who helps organize the Steamboat Nordic Challenge Series - rarely getting the opportunity to compete against his Nordic peers - was ready to race Saturday, along with daughter Elena and 4-year-old son Johnathan, who raced in the 2K.

"These people all own classic skis - they just keep 'em in the closet," Rawlings said. "Well, everyone's come out of the closet today."

Although Rawlings now admits to doing both, for years he was just a skate skier. The more he skis classic though, the more Rawlings realizes it all comes down to technique and rhythm.

"Skating is a lot of leg and lung, classic skiing is about technique and it's beautiful, like a dance really," said Rawlings, who jokes that he often finds himself looking at a man twice his age for inspiration and asking, 'What would Sven (Wiik) do?'"

Other classic technique masters like Kyrill Kretzschmar have been waiting for a classic-only race to finally measure themselves against the local competition.

"We never have had (classic-only), so if you show up and want to compete with them, they're on skate skis and then they're gone," Kretzschmar said. "Like at the (Jan. 20 Howelsen Hill Climb), people said that would be a good classic race, but it might just be you showing up in classic skis."

Kretzschmar got his fill of competition Saturday. As junior standout Ian Mallems skied away with a healthy win in the men's 15K division, Kretzschmar and Mallems' Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach, Brian Tate, duked it out for second place. Coming in on the long, flat final stretch, the two skiers were neck and neck, double-poling it for 200 yards to the finish, where Kretzschmar finally pulled ahead.

Meanwhile, ski coach Deb Rose was busy showing a crop of about 15 young skiers how to "throw a foot" at the line should they find themselves in a tight finish of their own some day.

"Classic skiing makes you faster at skating," Rose said. "It's a technique that shouldn't go away - it's beautiful, very relaxed and different."

And while some classic nay-sayers would argue the difficulties of matching the right kick wax to the right ski conditions, Saturday's warm temperatures and clear blue skies had most racers, like 10-year-old Abbey Habermehl, simply satisfied to be out kicking, sliding and competing.

"It felt good finishing," said Habermehl, who took second in the 2K race. "Just being out here and knowing you worked hard."

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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