Go Thatta Way!

Race Master Buckwheat Donahue directs skiers to their course at the running of the 15th Buckwheat Ski Classic on March 24 at Log Cabin, B.C. Dimitra Lavrakas

15th Buckwheat Ski Classic bitter but eventful

It was cold, just plus-5 degrees Fahrenheit. Nobody knows what the wind chill was. But for participants in the 15th Buckwheat Ski Classic, the cold meant a consistent snow cover. And frozen facial hair.
“Wow, there’s a pearl in here,” Peter Lucchetti said, as he squirreled around in his beard to grab a big chunk of ice.
After the 5K snowshoe race, an incredulous Lucchetti, muttered at the finish line, “the girl beat me again, the girl beat me again.”
With less ice and more satisfaction, winner Ken Graham chanted, “I beat the girl, I beat the girl.”
The “girl,” Whitehorse’s Donna Jones came in a slim second to Graham in the snowshoe race. Her time was 0:41:41, to Graham’s 0:39:04, and Lucchetti’s 0:42:20.
Like last year, she sported sneakers strapped to her small, running snowshoes, and like last year, she wasn’t even winded when she came in. The guys hated that.
Year-to-year rivalries are a part of the Buckwheat. It becomes a personal challenge to not only beat your previous time, but out-perform the person who beat you the year before.
As with previous Buckwheats there were what has become perennial placers. Like Skagway’s Peter Jepsen, who took the 10K with a time of 41:00.
“It’s so cool, I’m so proud of you,” said Jepsen’s wife Glory at the finish line.
Second place went to Whitehorse’s Sandy Johnston, with 49:07. Then two Skagwayans took third and fourth – Craig Jennison, 56:21 and Robert Murphy, 56:37.
All of this caused race chief Buckwheat Donahue to fling his arms in the air and scream, “A Skagway person won something!”
Whitehorse racers have dominated many of the races in previous years.
Murphy has become known for his spectacular mishaps while racing. From the spinning fall as he passed the finish line two years ago, to last year’s barf as he approached the finish line, he seems doomed to some mishap.
This time it occurred out of sight of the main crowd.
As he was descending the monster curve known as the “Korsmo Corkscrew,” he said he was thinking to himself, “I gotta straighten my skis out. I heard someone say, ‘he’s going to bite it.’ Then I fell.”
He did a couple of 360s, he said.
“I bit it, and Craig caught up to me. He went down on his butt,” said Murphy.
Still, for not even skiing once this year, he did pretty darn well.
Only Nan Saldi placed high in the women’s 10K, in fourth with 1:09:34. Whitehorse women took the top three.
With former U.S. Olympian Adam Verrier out of the picture this year, Whitehorse racer Stephen Wattereus recaptured the men’s 40K in 2:16:08, followed by Whitehorser Jim Slater, 2:41:25, and Juneauite Bart Watson, 2:48:36.
In the women’s 40K, all five entrants were from Whitehorse. Andrea Rogers’ winning time was 2:44:37.
For the second year, Leah Moore of Skagway took third in the boys and girls 11-12, 5K with a time of 39:21. Tylor Forrester came in fourth with 49:16.
In the kids’ under 10, 5K race, Skagway racers came in at the bottom of the pack. Emily Herbig clocked 0:37:14; Annie Brady, 0:39:41; Christopher Burnham, 0:46:51; Quinn Weber, 0:56:29; and Devin Fairbanks, 0:57:24.
That night at the Eagles Hall, Donahue announced the computer had eaten the disc with the official race times and that it would take several days to retrieve it.
“But we think we have the right winners,” he said.

Donahue presents the Des Duncan Award to Mike Korsmo.

In presenting the Des Duncan Sportsmanship Award, Donahue said a picture of Duncan hung in a place of honor in the Eagles bar – next to the men’s bathroom.
Duncan died of a heart attack in 1995 while racing in the Buckwheat, and his family started the award to honor his spirit.
Mike Korsmo, chief of the course, was this year’s recipient.
“I love the Buckwheat,” he said, “it’s the best time of the year.”
With this race, there is usually some glitch somewhere. And there are always surprises.
This year, the trophy makers didn’t send the third-place trophies
Donahue threw aluminum foil balls out into the audience for prizes donated by WP&YR and The Mountain Shop, and the kids in the front row became a tangle of arms and legs as they tried to catch one.
Suddenly, there was the sound of bagpipes, and three Yukon pipers piped “My Bonnie Lassie” down one aisle, past the stage, up another aisle and out again.
“Why can’t they do a longer song,” said Donahue. “Well, maybe next year.”
He then called for Kaitlyn Surdyk to come up to the stage. Surdyk skied the women’s 10 K, coming in 15th of a field of 31, with Madeleine Nyhagen in 30th and Tess Korsmo, 31st.

Miss Buckwheat 2001: birthday girl Kaitlyn Surdyk. Dimitra Lavrakas

“Her birthday is in a couple of days, so let’s sing happy birthday to her,” said Donahue. And that the audience did. When it was over, Surdyk went to go sit down, but Donahue told her to stay. He then called up the former Miss Buckwheats – the race’s official Vestal Virgins little girls who reign for a year and get to ride on the race’s float in the Fourth of July parade.
There is a frenzy the day of the race as little girls buttonhole anyone they think may have information on who the winner will be. No one guessed who it would be.
When the crown was placed on her head, Surdyk was dumbfounded. The crowd went wild.