Above, Buckwheat Donahue smiles as little Chloe Miller positions her crown after being called up to receive her Miss Buckwheat honors. Behind her is mom Mindy Ray Miller, and to her right are several former Miss Buckwheats. Andrew Cremata

Buckwheat blooms in its 22nd year

BSC Lovefest signals the beginning of spring flings


There’s something in the air. Call it spring – ushered in by the 22nd annual Buckwheat Ski Classic – a ritual of “temporary love,” as so eloquently put by the man himself, Buckwheat Donahue.
And there is much love of the temporary variety that goes into Skagway’s one and only ski race; volunteers from both sides of the border come together to make the event a success. This was the idea when the race started 22 years ago, or so it seemed.
Buckwheat, and his fellow ski enthusiasts decided to put together a ski classic. The official party line went something like this: “It is a chance to bring together the hands of Canadians and Americans for an event testing the skiing prowess of an international community.”
The coupling of two different countries sounds noble enough, but Skagway men of two decades passed may have been interested in couplings unrelated to skiing. It turns out that in the race’s days of infancy, there was a group of men who appreciated the subtle beauty of skiers in spandex.
Mostly of the female variety.
“It’s time for the truth to come out,” said Donahue. “We were trying to figure out how to get more women into town.”
Soon their efforts paid off and women from the other side of the pass made their way to Skagway for the fun and festivities. And as it turns out, whenever the eye wanders a little too close the border, something is conceived.
Now, 22-years later, the Buckwheat Ski Classic is a full-grown event. Children, participants, and volunteers have grown along with the race. If there’s one thing which really stands out after a day immersed in the spectacle of the Buckwheat, it’s all about family.
Yasha Saldi not only acquired a second family in the days leading up to the event, he even finished first in the 11-12 boys 5K race. Saldi said the time spent with the crew while building the aid station and fixing up ski trails left an impression on him, and expanded his vocabulary.
“I learned some new words,” said Saldi.
When asked how he liked being a volunteer Saldi said, “I didn’t volunteer, I just tried to help out. It was fun.”
Saldi said after the race he was certain he placed in the top three. “I know because there’s only three,” he said.
When asked what his favorite part of the Buckwheat was, he said, “Coming out here and working and hanging out and having fun. I had a lot of fun too.”
Saldi had one other comment to make after his time with the trail crew, one he said he heard from “simple Deano.”
“What happens on trail crew stays on trail crew,” said Saldi.
Dean Anderson, presumably a simple man, said he began working on the trail crew eight years ago. He said the growth of ski club owes much to Buckwheat, but he still holds a place in his heart for the race’s original purpose.
Sitting beneath a 60-foot long ice sculpture of a spawning salmon, Deano said his favorite part of the race was, “getting phone numbers from the ladies.”
Anderson added that while he had some success getting phone numbers over the years, “They were all wrong numbers.”
Even so, Anderson remains steadfast in his love for the race. “The whole thing is awesome. People just come together and it’s a hoot.”
Coming together hasn’t been a problem for Skagway couples in recent years. Jane Koepke from Whitehorse was well aware of Skagway’s so-called “baby boom,” and it was her seventh time entering the race. This year, however, there was one big difference.
Koepke was running the 10K race with less than three weeks until her own baby was due.
“It’s my first time doing this race sober,” said Koepke, who normally finds her way to aid station instead of the finish line.
“It’s just as fun – almost,” she said. “I will actually finish this year.”

“Simple Deano” gives a wink; and pregnant skier Jane Koepke strides without much labor, but in three weeks she’s due to have a baby. Andrew Cremata

Mike Korsmo has been a long-time participant, either as a volunteer or skier and sometimes both. This year, he took his family on the “tequila 10K.”
Korsmo’s daughter, Teslyn, was one of the original Miss Buckwheats, an honor bestowed yearly on a young local girl. This year, as she prepares for college, the race awarded her a $2,000 scholarship.
For the Korsmos, the race was a day to spend with family. Mike Korsmo sums up the race like this, “It brings knuckleheads from both sides of the border together.”
As the daylight began to dwindle, the last of the racers packed away their skis and portable blenders, and made haste for the festivities at the Eagles Hall in Skagway. Deering and Down, all the way from Memphis, played for a large group of race revelers after a fine meal divvied out by another bunch of veteran volunteers.
As the night wore on, and the dancing got a little more intimate, it was hard not to think back to the origins of the race. If you’re a Skagwegian with a birthday in December, you may owe more than you know to the Buckwheat Ski Classic.
With only hours until Sunday morning light would reveal hidden colored eggs left behind by the Easter bunny, another successful Buckwheat Ski Classic came to an end, as did the “temporary love” that went into making it.
If love in its purest form is born from the desire of men, then it’s no wonder the Buckwheat Ski Classic has bloomed into its current manifestation. Spring is a time of rebirth, a time for renewal, a time for the sprit to engage.
And no matter how the event was conceived - its growth, and the people who have always made it happen, have two decades of experience under their belts. Times have changed, but it’s quite possible 22 years from now a fresh generation will put skis to snow, stand on the awards stage, and take a little time to enjoy the simple pleasures of spandex.

Complete results from Buckwheat Ski Classic 2008 (pdf)

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