Relay rambling toward the 'Skagway Crown'

Trail Turtle Jeremy Butzlaf leads the first pack of runners up the hill with the Sawtooth Range as a backdrop. JB

Train or not train, it's all the same to Skagway runners

For the first time in as many years as anyone could remember, the day slated for the start of the 21st annual Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay dawned clear, beautiful, and unseasonably warm in Skagway. And as the town began to fill with the neon colors and tight Spandex of the running tribe converging for their yearly contest, three teams from Skagway were ramping up to see who had the right to claim this year’s Skagway Crown.
To the competitors (and I don’t use this term lightly) from Whitehorse and Juneau and Elsewhere who alight in this town for this one fast and furious night every September, the idea of a Skagway Crown must seem rather obtuse, obsessed as they are with “pace times” and “teams to beat” or “to look out for,” and those ever-elusive “record times.” But those of us who call Skagway home know that it’s the style in which one races, the style with which one lives, that we all admire most. In the words of Beth Winslow, captain of Team S.N.A.F.U., “It’s not about how fast you are or how well you place, it’s about how much fun you have.” (But need I remind you that these people’s idea of fun is to run, walk, hobble, or crawl in mortal anguish the 118 miles to Whitehorse through whatever miserable weather Mother Nature might care to throw at them.)

Hon. Turtle Tim Bourcy waits for his teammate to comne through the first checkpoint at about Mile 9 on the Klondike Highway. Bourcy started his leg in the light but would finish in the dark. DL

As any athlete knows, the preparation for a race is almost more important than the race itself, and in the competition for the Skagway Crown, there were no slouches amongst the three Skagway teams. In finest Skagway fashion, Tim Fairbanks, when asked of his team’s, the Trail Turtles, training regimen, could only name three runners that had even trained at all. Lofty goals as these are hard to attain, and Team S.N.A.F.U. fell well short with eight out of ten runners having trained, but they gained style points for preparation by being, for the second year in a row, the last team to register for the race.
When Jeremy Simmons, captain of the WP&YR Highballers was asked of his team’s training goals a week before the race, he was heard to mumble, “Oh, crap, that’s this weekend, isn’t it?”

Not running in the race but there to see friends off, left to right, Michelle Calver, Cindy O’Daniel, and Dawn Brown talk with former Skagwayan Tim Alderson about his latest sports exploit. DL

But back to the race, where, with the race clock ticking down to six o’clock, the rain clouds gathering towards the north, and White Pass steam engine #73, after a two-year hiatus, preparing to whistle the relay to a start, Denise Sager of Team S.N.A.F.U. and Jeremy Butzlaf of the Trail Turtles toed the line for the start. Amidst the whistling and the howling of the start, these runners gave it their all, speeding past the masses of observers lining Broadway, but in a matter of miles, it was Butzlaf alone at the head of the pack, running into the night. It would be another hour-and-a-half before the Highballers had their opportunity to make chase. And what a thrilling race it was as these two teams jockeyed for position. Cindy Gaddis of S.N.A.F.U. passed Tim Fairbanks during leg three, but Pete Lucchetti of the Turtles regained their lead shortly thereafter in leg four, as the Turtles, perennial underdogs, found that this year they were a totally new team and discovered a totally new way of running.

Trail Turtles team members Julene Fairbanks, Jim Chioffe, Pete Lucchetti, Tim Fairbanks, and Corey Thole wait at the first checkpoint for a Skagway runner to come in. Thole, who works for Packer Expeditions, was also chosen Tuesday as Princess Cruise’s Skagway Guide of the Year, sharing the honor with Dave Marvin for Chilkat Guides. DL

This order of things stayed the same until leg 6 when the S.N.A.F.U. finally overtook the Turtles for good, and the Highballers, having made up time through the night with the help of Mom and Dad Seale, passed the Turtles as well and set their sights on S.N.A.F.U.
When the dust finally cleared and all teams had crossed the finish line, each Skagway team had much to be proud of. The WP&YR Highballers, seven-year veterans, are alarmingly, after three straight years, still the Skagway “team to beat,” with a time of 16:37:18. Team SNAFU, though, was breathing down their necks this year with a time of 17:28:04, and were the 14th team across the finish line in this, their fourth year despite a minor snafu during legs 9 and 10, (Rod Fairbanks can explain this if you are interested) But when it comes to the Skagway Crown, the Trail Turtles with only three years under their belts may have arguably taken it, despite their 18:38:18 time, for reasons which by conscience I am not at liberty to divulge in their entirety. But suffice it to say that when a team can’t even get their own runners back into their own country after a race, when they spend the race chasing after a fig leaf, and when their MVP is their Athletic Supporter (thanks HT), they have surely earned our respect and praise. But the real reason for their success in this year’s Skagway Crown comes down to one word – XtraTuffs.

Team S.N.A.F.U. captain Beth Winslow gives teammate Denise Sager a drink to help her up the big hill. JB

Also-Rans – current and former Skagwayans on other teams: Terry Miller, Nahanni Rapid Runners, leg 5; Kevin Hansen, Screaming Yellowjackets, leg 8; Jean Mason, Hard Women are Good to Find, leg 10; and Tim Alderson, Big City Folk, leg 10.
Individual times were not up on the Sport Yukon website by our deadline at mid-week. Check back there later at

Ross Armstrong is the pen name for a Skagway runner who mostly dresses in black.