Organizers of the Oosik Classic Ski Race bill it as a “fun and funky” race and tour, followed by a night on the town of Talkeetna. Until recent snows, however, it wasn’t clear just how fun the race was going to be.
This weekend, hundreds of cross-country skiers will flock to Talkeetna for the annual Oosik Classic Ski Race and Tour. The race will happen late in what has been an unusual winter. Record winter highs have been recorded throughout Alaska, and the Upper Susitna Valley saw two prolonged melting periods before mid-March. The lack of snow had event organizers, including Trail Meister Bill Barstow, concerned.
“The race probably would have been severely constrained,” Barstow said. “It wouldn’t have been very Oosik-y.”
Bill Barstow says the race was probably not in danger of being canceled outright, as happened with a cross-country event in Homer, but there were concerns that the skiing would not be ideal.
That all changed recently with well over a foot of snow falling in the last week. Some of that has since melted as well, but race organizers believe that it will still leave a good trail.
“We’re really lucky, because we haven’t gotten that much snow, but I still think we’re going to be able to make it happen,” Barstow said. “We put in a lot of work on some nice, interesting trails that we were thinking we weren’t going to be able to use, but [more snow] brought it all back into the picture. Now…we make it pretty and hope things are going to keep cooperating.”
When registration closed on Tuesday, 678 skiers were signed up. That’s more than three-quarters of the year-round population of Talkeetna. Arthur Mannix of the Denali Nordic Ski Club says that the Oosik is a different type of skiing experience, which contributes to its popularity.
“Part of the appeal of it for a lot of skiers is that it’s based out of a funky little town, and the trail itself is…cross-country, through the woods, over hill and dale,” Mannix said. “It really makes you ski. It makes you ski with the country.”
In addition to the somewhat rustic trail, the Oosik has developed a feel and a culture all its own, as might be expected from an event named after part of a male walrus’s anatomy.
Advertisements for the event state, “Some race. Some wear costumes. Everyone has fun.”
Costumes aren’t the only unique factor, however. In addition to the official aid stations where skiers can recharge with a quick snack, area residents have begun a tradition of setting up “unofficial” aid stations, which often serve beer, bacon, and other consumables that might not normally be considered serious skiing cuisine. Arthur Mannix says that Talkeetna’s unique culture probably has something to do with it.
“I guess it’s part of what makes our little town unique,” Mannix said. “People come up with these spontaneous ideas, and they’re creative and outside of the box. I guess what’s really cool is that this event has provided a venue for people to express themselves in a lot of different ways.”
Talkeetna will begin to fill up as the weekend approaches, and the nearly 700 skiers will take off this Saturday afternoon.