Peeps and pups: Fourth annual skijor race a success

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
February 19, 2013

Skijorers made their way around the West Ridge Ski Trails at the Skijor race on the morning of February 16, 2013. Adam Taylor/Sun Star

Skijorers made their way around the West Ridge Ski Trails at the Skijor race on the morning of February 16, 2013. Adam Taylor/Sun Star

Dog barks, growls and excited whimpers echoed through the University of Alaska Fairbanks West Ridge Ski trails Feb. 16. The reason behind this rare chorus? Saturday was the 4th annual West Ridge skijoring race, a tradition that organizer and member of the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association, Brian Charlton feels is vital to the Fairbanks and the Alaskan community.

While the competition has been planned for four years, it has only taken place for three of those years. Last year’s race was canceled at the last minute due to very low temperatures.

Over 20 people, some students and Fairbanks community members, participated in this year’s race. Teams consisted of one to three members.

“I haven’t skijored in a really long time so this should be awesome,” UAF Nanook Men’s Ski team member Wyatt Mayo said.

Mayo raced with his friend, Nina Ruckhaus’ husky mix, Sasha, a dog known for her speed and attention to commands.

The competition consisted of a number of different length loops measured at various lengths, some going as far as the T fields and Smith lake.

“Make sure she doesn’t start off too fast,” Ruckhaus advised Mayo before the race began. “If you let her go, she’ll tire herself before before you even reach the T fields.”

Needless to say, when Charlton counted down from 5 Sasha took out of the gate at full speed.

The competition’s youngest member was 10-years-old. Gentry Johnson, a skirjorer for only two years so far raced the shortest loop, 1 mile, with her yellow lab, Rangle. Charlton took careful time informing Johnson of the green signs marking the loop because Johnson was racing on her own.

“It was really fun,” Johson said with a grin after the race. “One time Rangle went right instead of left and I had to turn him around, but he was great for the rest of the time.”

Johnson’s father explained that skijoring was a sport very close to their family because Gentry’s mother Jamie Johnson was #3 on the U.S. National Skijor Team. A family from Salcha, Gentry and her three other sisters have been cross country skiing since they could walk, and skijoring naturally went along with that. Although she is only 10, Johnson says she wishes to continue in her mother’s footsteps.

The Skijor World Championships, featuring the U.S. National team, will be taking place in Salcha later this spring. Charlton said there will be a second open community skijor race that will take place on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Birch Hill Cross Country ski area off the Steese Highway.

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