Every year, Anchorage hosts the largest women's ski race in North America, The Ski for Women. This is held on Super Bowl Sunday and raises money for domestic violence prevention. This is the 18th year.
I can proudly say that I took part in the very first of this annual event back in 1986.
In 1986 it was a partners ski race with teams made up of mother-daughter, sisters, and friends. My sister and I did quite well in these early races. Picking the right completion is a good part of winning so we competed in the classic ski race and came in third at least once.
Cross-country skiing, also called Nordic skiing, has two categories of techniques, classic and freestyle. For centuries, skiing was done on lose snow or on narrow trials. In such conditions, skiers use a back and forth motion. During competition this is more like running, with the skier landing on a moving ski. The instant when the ski comes to a stop slows the skier's speed. With the addition of poles a skier is in effect quadruped. I believe if skiers were horses this gate would be a trot.
In the mid-eighties, equipment and trail grooming improved and skiers developed skate technique. Freed of the narrow trails, skiers imitated ice-skaters and developed a faster technique, one where the skis never come to a full stop. As a gate pattern this is closer to a gallop. The skier steps from a moving ski.
Cross-country skiing now has two styles of races. In freestyle races, any technique is allowed. In classic races, skating is prohibited. My sister and I have been skiing a long time so we were good at the classic technique.
Besides, the fastest skiers tend to enter the freestyle race.
The Ski for Women has evolved from a race to a costume parade on skis as well as a race. I'd like to think I started the tradition of costumes. In the first race I wore purple beads and had fabric flowers on my hat.
Skiers now form large teams with members dressed up according to a theme, many of the costumes elaborately planned and executed. My niece, who was in utero during those early races, is now dressing up and competing in cross-country skiing on her own.
I still enter the classic ski race. Skiing with thousands of women in costume can be chaotic with falls, tangled dresses and tangled skies. The classic race is a bit calmer and then I can watch the wildness of the freestyle race after I've finished.