By ANDREW J. CREMATA
When the Buckwheat Ski Classic was in its infancy the challenge of the race itself paled in comparison to the challenges that faced those whose job it was to prepare the trails. On one particular day Mike Korsmo, Larry Gullingsrud, Bob Boorman, and event founder Buckwheat Donahue were grooming trails to the east of the Log Cabin area when the wind started to blow unmercifully.
In the driving snow, the four men circled one another trying to make out each others words amidst the howling wind. With darkness only an hour away and visibility nonexistent, one member of the group pulled out a topographical map to see if they could establish their whereabouts and maybe find the direction back to the road. The effort proved to be futile.
Donahue, thinking it might be a good time to let instinct prevail, asked the crew to point in the direction they thought they should go. Three fingers instantaneously pointed out into the void. Unfortunately they all indicated a completely different direction. The men huddled together and decided to head toward the only logical bearing, the one that no one pointed in the direction of.
Mere moments after their course had been decided the group inadvertently ran right over the road, which was covered with snow, and ran headlong into an embankment of snow on the other side. With their position established, they made it back to their cars with ease.
The Buckwheat Ski Classic, and the ski trails around the Log Cabin area have come a long way since those early days. Hard work by many in Skagway and Whitehorse has helped the dreams of the early pioneers of the effort come to fruition in the 18 years since its inception.
The goal since the second year is to make an area where anyone who wants to go skiing can, relates Donahue. Now it is that.
Event organizers dreamed of a day when a 50-km. trail system would be in place with a bunch of inside loops.
Donahue continues, The last couple of years the trail crew has been expanding. There are 30 kms. of trail now. One day we hope to get all the way up to the bluff overlooking Bennett station.
Some of the new signs on the Log Cabin trails have been named for trail breakers , such as the Saldi In and Out. A map of the Log Cabin area recently was developed using waypoints established by Meg Hahr of the National Park Service. Trail maps are available in Skagway and Whitehorse outdoor shops and at the local Visitor Center. AC
The expanding and grooming of the trails are not the only improvements that have recently been made. Korsmo, who has been involved with the project since its second year, explains, The whole trail system now has names and distances clearly marked. The trail system is now mapped thanks to the effort of Jeremy Simmons and Meg Hahr of the Park Service. They made last years signs. Mark Saldi did the new signs this year.
This is an important aspect of the trail system.
Korsmo continues, The Boorman loop goes out quite a ways and people have gotten lost. Now it is well-marked with signs and you know how far it is to get back to the parking lot.
The trail system started evolving thanks to the efforts of Father Mouchet who made the original trail. Now in his 80s, Mouchet recently donated some trail making equipment, allowing volunteers to greatly expand on his work.
The volunteers are many.
Donahue points out, There are hundreds who deserve a pat on the back. This is only possible because of Skagwegian efforts and organizational skills. This is why we have so much done. The town should consider themselves lucky to have these people.
Who are these people? Recent efforts on the trail blazing include Stuart Brown, Matt OBoyle, Mark Saldi and Mayor Tim Bourcey.
Will Godbey has done a little bit of everything, says Donahue. He is always willing to do the hard work, the shoveling work which no one else has the desire to do.
Korsmo adds, A week prior to the event, two gentlemen, Tom and Jerry from Whitehorse, come down with pro trail making equipment and put the finishing touches on the trail system.
Other longtime contributors include Denise Caposey, Nola Cole, Gary Hanson and Dennis Bousson.
The trail system has become more than just a one-time-a-year affair. The Buckwheat has been a catalyst for bigger and better things. The last six years have seen the developing of the trails beginning as soon as snow hits the ground. Before that time, volunteers would only begin the grooming process a couple of weeks before the Ski Classic.
Now the trails are available to everyone for the entire ski season.
Korsmo says with a smile, We built a ski park up there. Here we are, a bunch of Skagway guys putting in a trail system in Canada. And they love it!
Children in Skagway also enjoy the trails.
Donahue tells the story, Damian Sedney, who worked for the Park Service, got the Ski Club going. For the first 10 years of the Buckwheat, we would be lucky to have 10 kids participate. Damian made it 35 kids one season. Denise Caposey picked up the slack when he left.
Some extra thought and planning went into the designing of the kids loop. Extra downhill sections were included to add a little more fun. While traveling along the loop in the Ski Clubs snow machine, on a particularly steep downhill section, Buckwheat smiles and says, Kids love the downhill.
Kids arent the only ones who like the downhill.
Korsmo points out, Most of us are downhill skiers, that accounts for some of the hills. I like working on the trails but Id rather ski downhill.
Korsmo pauses for a moment, then continues, But when it comes to the Buckwheat, well, its the highlight of my winter. Its one of the best cross border events. At the Buckwheat there are no downs, only ups. Its awesome!
Fifteen years ago on another blustery day, Buckwheat and the trail crew headed out over Lake Tutshi on their snowmobiles to do a little trail grooming. Buckwheat was going a little too slow and fell through the ice in a shallow area of the lake. His friends helped him up and they pulled the snow machine out of the water. For the next hour they took the water-soaked engine apart, dried it out, and rebuilt it on the spot. They soon returned out over the ice, continuing with the days work.
Buckwheat continues, We used to get stuck a lot. It doesnt happen very much any more. Now everyone is lot more familiar with the area.
Things have certainly changed a lot over the last 18 years. Buckwheat, having now met many of his early goals, outlines his new outlook for the Ski Classic: The goals in the past have been for the designing of the trails, to promote cross-country skiing and get the school and the city involved. The goal we now have is to maintain this standard of excellence.
He adds with a chuckle, Even Im a skier now.