Women’s 50K winner Madeleine Williams skis away from the aid station without her kiss. AC

2005 Buckwheat brings out the best

In the modern age of sports, displays of unsportsmanlike conduct are commonplace. Professional basketball players throw punches at fans that hurl cups of beer from the stands. Professional baseball players address Congress to defend or deny their use of performance-enhancing steroids. Professional football players routinely find themselves staring out from behind bars for their violent “off-the-field” activities.
The Buckwheat Ski Classic is not a professional forum, nor is it a venue for show-boaters and prima donnas. It is, however, a family event where good sportsmanship shines like the sun reflecting off the snow-covered raceway. It is also a nurturing ground for Skagway’s competitive future, where its children are proving that the next generation of local skiers may fare better in the more grueling events of the race.
Blue skies prevailed at the scene of the day’s events, Log Cabin, in beautiful British Columbia. This year’s entries included competitors from Whitehorse, Marsh Lake, Anchorage, Juneau, Douglas, Wasilla, Atlin, Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, Haines, Washington, Northwest Territories, Talkeetna, and Skagway.
A smaller field of competitors than normal took to the raceway this year, probably due to the races coinciding with the Easter holiday. Still, the nearly 200 present had smiles on their faces as the day unfolded.

Stories from the racers
Former U.S. Olympian Adam Verrier of Anchorage won the men’s 50K for the third time, breaking away from a tight pack with Whitehorse skiers Stephen Waterreus, Graham Nishikawa, and Nathan Doering after the halfway point.
How that pack behaved became the story of the race.
An intensely competitive group, upon learning from Doering that he had left his water bottle behind at the start, the other three waited for Doering to get his water bottle and catch up so he would not lose his position.
Then, later, when Verrier fell, they all let him catch up.
“These things happen at a race like this,” Donahue told the awards crowd later. “Way to go for being good people.”

The lead pack of Stephen Waterreus, Graham Mishikawa, Adam Verrier, and Nathan Doering tuck and glide through a meadow. AC

Skagway’s Amber Bethe took first place in the coveted women’s snowshoe, race even though she didn’t quite know where to go. She said she lost the trail four times.
At one point, she reached a small cliff where she assumed it was necessary to jump but didn’t know which way was the right way.
“I called over to the aid station, but they couldn’t hear me,” she said.
Another racer, Amy Volz of Juneau, eventually showed her the right way to go.
It’s stories like this that make you realize who the real professionals are.

Stories from the aid station.
The atmosphere at the aid station is always a lighthearted one. It is a place for the serious racer to grab a quick sip of water before persevering on. Some will not even pause for a moment to savor a break.
One racer going at full speed fumbles a hand-off from volunteer Alex King and passively shrugs his shoulders while his liquid refreshment spills and turns the snow “Gatorade orange.”
For the casual enthusiast it is a potential race ending, whistle wetting, warming up and kicking back station. Those sucked in by its creature comforts proudly earn a DNF on their race report.
Volunteer Jeremy Simmons resembles a Scottish highlands version of Jesse James. Dressed in his traditional ski race kilt adorned with two holsters on either side of his waist filled not with guns, but with two bottles of a more adult brand “energy drink,” he fires booze-bullets designed to warm more than just the hearts of red-faced racers.
Competitors file in with regularity from the south, meeting volunteer Don Corwin who offers them a piece of chocolate or a slice of orange. His radio belts out a mellow tune and some of the racers tap their skis to the rhythm while they enjoy a little rest.
Some racers sit, carrying on quiet conversations while others, including volunteer Ken Graham, throw a football around with Duppy Ticarro. Trying to catch it in the shin-deep snow is not an easy task, especially with a cold beverage in your hand.
All of the aid station antics take place under a marvelous snow sculpture, designed by Skagway’s own Peter Lucchetti with the assistance of future hall-of-fame snow-league quarterback Graham. It is a 15-foot-high Sphinx, almost identical to its Cairo cousin, but accessorized with snow goggles, a sun visor, and earphones connected to an I-Pod.
Climbing into a hole at its base reveals a hidden ladder where one can scale the interior of the structure, arrive at its top, and slide down a slippery tunnel exiting through a hole at the back of the figure affectionately dubbed the sphinxter.
Bedazzled observers are encouraged to slide down face-first, which leads to a mug full of snow and becoming the butt of the joke.
To the north of the aid station, one of the steeper hills in the cross-country race provides guilty-pleasures for observers, and awkward moments for some racers. More sure-footed competitors scream gleefully as they handle the slope with expert precision and finesse. While the racers who cannot “find the edge” go tumbling thorough the soft snow at the base of the hill. Most just brush off the snow and keep going; others stop at the aid station for a shoot-out with Simmons.
One mother and son team stop at the station for some refreshments, it is a pleasant reminder that this event has always catered to fun and families. The duo completes their stop and head off into the woods toward the finish line.
Even 50K women’s winner Madeleine Williams, a member of the junior Canadian national team, stopped long enough for an aid station story.
She was told by one of the aid station crew that if she pitched her cup into the garbage can, she’d earn a kiss.
“I hit it, but he left to help someone else,” she said after pocketing the $500 first prize. “I didn’t get my kiss. I’ll be looking for him tonight.”

Kids take off in the 5K race at noon during the Buckwheat Ski Classic. JB

Skagway’s youth shine.
This years race saw 130 competitors in the field of the three major adult events finish the race. Seven of those were Skagway racers (5 percent), none of which finished in the top three of any of those races.
By contrast in the children’s categories, of the 27 who finished, 16 were Skagway’s own (59 percent). Of those there were two first place finishers (Sidney Brown and Danny Moore), two-second place finishers (Thomas Etue and Kaitlyn Surdyk) and three third place finishers (Delani Moe, Ehan Moe, and Amanda Jensen).
“We are on a 10-year plan,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy at the awards festivities. “We are going to take you (Yukon skiers) to school.”
The kids are starting to get used to handling questions from the media.
“I had a smooth race,” Brown said modestly after taking the 10 and under girls race.
Moore won first place in the boys 10 and under group, complimenting his third place finish in 2004.
Etue finished just ahead of Surdyk in the 5K event among 11-12 year olds.
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“It was my best ski ever,” Etue said.
Surdyk was ahead of him until right near the end, and collapsed after finishing.
“I’m dizzy,” she said, but was still able to loft a snow ball at Etue. “You had to get in my way. I could have beat you!”
Jensen, who finished third this year and last was all smiles and giggles talking about her race. “It was fun,” she said.
Jensen is looking forward to next year’s race, and when asked if someday she may take home a prize in the 25K or 50K events she prudently responded, “Maybe.”
Devin Fairbanks raced in his first Buckwheat Ski Classic and just returned from Girdwood with some other Skagway kids where they got yet another chance to practice their skiing skills.
“It was actually my third race,” said Fairbanks, who raced in the Marsh Lake and Whitehorse loppets before the Buckwheat. “Next year I’m hoping to do better.”
Fairbanks trained by going up every weekend with his proud dad, Tim, who sees potential in Skagway’s future ski competitors. “The instructors (in Girdwood) were impressed by how short the kids’ times were,” Tim said. “Kaitlyn Surdyk took first in the slalom.”
Aviera Vogel is an athlete. “In the winter I play basketball,” she said. “In the summer I play baseball.”
In the Buckwheat she held her own in the competitive field even though she “kept falling down a lot.”
The 2005 Buckwheat Ski Classic proves that there is still joy and friendship in competition and sport. It is a signature event for our little Alaska town, and confirms the notion that good sportsmanship prevails when people put each other first.


• PHOTO PAGE 1 - Andrew Cremata

• PHOTO PAGE 2 - Jeff Brady