Buckwheat Donahue lines up the troops at the 10K starting line.
The Buckwheat truly a Classic
Story and Photos except where noted by Andrew J. Cremata
Classic- 1) n. A major sporting event, for example, a horserace or golf tournament. 2) adj. generally considered to be of the highest quality or lasting value. Authoritative and perfect as a standard of its kind.
There is the sound of skis gliding along the snow. There is the feel of an exhilarating wind turning the cheeks red. There are cheers from the crowd encouraging passing racers. There is the quiet of a trail through the woods broken by the call of a crow nestled overhead.
It is the 18th edition of the annual Buckwheat Ski Classic, and it defines the word.
Everyone who comes to the Buckwheat has a reason for being there. For some it is the thrill of competition, the desire to be the best. For others it is a confirmation of personal goals, Can I finish the race? For many it is a chance to volunteer, to sacrifice personal time in becoming an integral piece of a complex puzzle. For others it is a day to relax, to be with friends and family and possibly raise glasses to toast a day away from the grind in one of the most beautiful settings the senses can reveal.
It is a day of racing, revelry and reward. It is a competition unique in that a man who will best his own personal time and ski to victory can stand side by side in the starting gate with someone who plans a prolonged rest at the aid station. Some will take pride in an award to hang over the mantelpiece while another takes pride in a DNF (did not finish) result.
It is a one of a kind classic.
The 10K skiers are off with the Coast Mountains as a backdrop.
Wendy Jickling, who hails from Whitehorse, planned and practiced to race in the womens 25K event. I was sick all week, she points out, so I couldnt do the 25K. I decided to tough it out and do the 10K.
For someone with a cold, a day in wind and snow may seem a little daunting, but not for Jickling. Her 10K effort awarded her a third place finish.
As the awards ceremony starts she has no idea whether she placed or not. When race founder and organizer Buckwheat Donahue calls her name she covers her mouth in shock. Proud friends asked her to pose with the race director, award in hand. It was a classic moment from a classic race.
The Yukon dominated in many events. Jickling came to the race with friends who know how to ski. Four young boys in their entourage entered various events.
Lee Hawkings and Mike Abbott are two of those lads who entered not only the boys 11 to 12 years-of-age event, but also entered the 10K mens event. Hawkings placed second with Abbott grabbing third in the boys event, and third in the mens event with Abbott taking second. And first in the 10K was claimed by another Yukon boy, Logan Potter.
10K champ Logan Potter is congratulated by Donahue, and Caelin McLean adjusts her headband. Jeff Brady
Jickling speaks proudly of the boys, They go to school together, they train together, and today they ski together. Tomorrow they are going back out, to ski for fun.
For some the Buckwheat began a few days before the start of any race. The aid station, designed by Peter Luchetti, was a tribute to the film Lord of the Rings, complete with a hobbit hole and structures carved in snow with such precision they resembled scale models.
Kip Wheeler, Cory Thole and Jered Henley arrived at the sitet on Thursday evening; setting up camp with plans to spend the next few days getting the aid station ready. They are three of many volunteers that contribute to making the Buckwheat a classic.
A welcome sight, the aid station, a snow castle in the pines themed after the "Lord of the Rings".
At the starting gate, Donahue is calling out minutes until the start of each race. Competitors line up in mass. Some are dressed in expensive racing gear, serious and focused. Others are simply donning cut off tee shirts and jeans, laughing and making jokes with one another. Donahue gives the signal and the mass heads up and away, over the first hill and out of sight. For many, the next stop will be the aid station.
The aid station is an oasis in a desert of snow and ice. Racers cruise up to waiting volunteers who offer oranges, chocolate, and beverages including water and Gatorade.
Gary Hanson greets a skier with some juice to keep her flowers blooming.
Gary Hanson has been doing this for a while. Hanson was there at one of the first Buckwheats, before it was a classic.
The race was from Log Cabin to Bennett and there was no aid station until they finished, he relates. I also volunteered to shuttle people back and forth but I had a tiny Nissan truck that only fit one passenger. The winner of the womens event seemed pretty bewildered by it all.
Hanson summarizes the changes, This last race was pretty tame. How has it changed since the first year? Now its totally organized.
Nola Cole, your sequined server, and Alex Johnson (left) compares wild hair with Whitehorse's Martin Guilbeault.
Elf queen Liz Ruff serves up orange slices.
Hanson, along with Nola Cole and Alex King, work hard to ensure that every passing racer gets exactly what they need. Some racers barely turn their eyes when receiving a cup from one of them, intent on staying focused. Others stop and strike up a conversation, content to be a part of the growing crowd at the aid station who are less serious about the race, satisfied just being outdoors with a group of friends.
Elizabeth Ruff, dressed as a princess, keeps the cups on Hansons trays filled. Ruff returned to Skagway on the previous Monday and has been busy with her volunteer efforts. She joined the crew for breakfast at the Presbyterian Church at 7a.m. before heading out to Log Cabin. She has been so busy she looks forward to only one thing, I can take a shower when its done.
Cole, in a sequined dress meant to resemble a suit of chain armor, fires up a propane grill in the pit, a dugout area where racers pass mere meters away, yet seems kilometers detached. Hands reach in for grilled tri-tip and sausages on bread with mustard. The snow is coming down hard and appetites are getting big as the smell wafts over the crowd. King doesnt stop for a minute; he busily hands out refreshments to passing racers, ensuring they dont miss a stride.
The grill crew readies brats and tri-tip for those who linger, including trail crew members Hightower and Kip.
At the finish line racers raise their arms in triumph as the crowd offers cheers and applause. One mens competitor, adorned with a bushy purple wig, pumps his fists with a look of relief as he ends the race. He gestures confidently to the waving crowd, and losing his balance, abruptly falls down sideways onto the snow. The cheers turn to laughs.
While Yukon racers dominated the mens and womens categories, Skagway children ensured it would not be a sweep for Canada. Skagway resident Danny Moore won his first skiing award for placing third in the boys 10 and under event.
I practiced a lot, Moore said, I went with the ski club every Saturday. Moore plays basketball with the school and knows the importance of strategy: I kept drinking water through the race so I wouldnt get dehydrated.
Amanda Jenson placed third in the 11 and 12-year-old girls category, an event that Skagway swept. She conveys her secret to success, I went with the ski club and I did two races before the Buckwheat. One, the NorthwestTel Loppet, is a 7.5K race, which she finished in 58 minutes.
It wasnt easy for Jenson. I fell in the beginning, she says while giggling. I fell twice. I got back up though. Jenson plans on racing again next year.
In the meantime she must find a place to display her trophy alongside others she has won at the Soccer Shoot and for basketball. She points out, I have a little shelf.
Teacher Mary McCaffrey follows student Kristen Moore into the 10K finish line. JB
At the awards banquet held at the Fraternal Order of Eagles, racers and volunteers were treated to fish chowder, chili and a host of delicious deserts catered by Haven Cafe.
Immediately following the banquet the awards ceremony commenced with standing room only in the theatre. Donahue wasted no time in praising the ongoing efforts of the trail crew.
After asking for all involved to stand, a raucous round of applause ignites the room. Donahue offers praise by saying, This crew worked for weeks and months. This is all a volunteer effort. The trail system is almost 40K now, and without these guys it doesnt happen.
He then lets out this trademark howl.
Donahue also offers high praise to others who contributed to make the race a classic. He continues, Today the Canadian Ski Patrol helped in numerous ways. They handled themselves with calm and skill. Thanks!
Donahue commended the efforts of ski club member Denise Caposey and her work with the children, and he thanked Luchetti for his artistic direction with the aid station.
Saving his highest praise for longtime contributor Wendy Anderson, he says, She is a big help. She has saved the race numerous years.
Flashes fired furiously as proud parents snapped photos of their kids receiving awards. Buckwheat threw tennis balls into the audience. Those who caught them won prizes including train trips on the White Pass & Yukon Route and, for one lucky winner, a new pair of skis.
Snowshoers Pete Luchetti, Ken Graham and Philip Clark leave the castle, and Jeremy Simons gets some wind in his kilts.
Phillip Clark, after receiving his first place award in the mens snowshoe event, held up his trophy in the air and shouted to the crowd, This one goes to the academy!
Sadie Murphy was honored with the highly coveted position of Miss Buckwheat. Held by her proud dad Robert while a sash was being pinned to her pink dress, she shared the stage with a group of girls who held the esteemed title in years past.
Proud papa Robert Murphy holds Sadie, this year's Miss Buckwheat.
In one more solemn moment of the ceremony, Mark Van Houten was awarded the Des Duncan tribute award for those who go out of the way to make the Buckwheat a classic. Duncan passed away while suffering a heart attack at the race nine years previous, but is remembered with great admiration. The award is in his honor. Many eyes in the audience welled up with tears as Buckwheat handed out the award pointing out that Duncans number, 151, is now retired.
The celebration continued into the night with music and dancing in salutation of the events success.
The Buckwheat Ski Classic continues to grow, drawing people from all over the country. For many it is becoming a classic tradition.
Earlier in the day, in the pit at the aid station, Tom and Michelle Cornwell beamed about their experience at the race. The Cornwells hail from Eatonville, Wash. and were participating in the event for the second straight year.
Tom tells the story, I am a pilot for Alaska Air, but I couldnít get a flight to get up here. We decided to take the ferry because we didnt want to miss the race.
He continues, I was in a battle with cancer last year. I was going through chemotherapy and I wasnt able to finish. We got a little sidetracked at the aid station and I didnt remember much from the race.
Tom managed to overcome his cancer and both he and his wife seemed ecstatic in the high wind and driving snow just being able to take part in the classic event.
Tom and Michelle Cornwell relax at the aid station.
Michelle, who trains seeing eye dogs back home chimed in with a chuckle and said, We may not finish again. Thats OK though, he was bald last year and that made him a little faster.