The Great Ski Race - Tahoe City to Truckee

The 2010 Great Ski Race will be held on Sunday, March 7th, starting at 9am from Tahoe XC, in Tahoe City, and ending at Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee.

Many years ago, when heavy snow cut Tahoe City off from the rest of the world, Tahoe City resident, Jack Starrett, delivered the mail on skis by climbing out of the Tahoe Basin over a 7,990 foot pass that lead to a long downhill run along Sawtooth Ridge to Truckee, 18 miles away.

Today, the route Starrett pioneered is commemorated each winter by Nordic skiers competing in The Great Ski Race. The annual competition is usually around the first week of March.

Major Event
In its 34th year (2010), The Great Ski Race has grown into the largest cross-country ski race in the West. Organized by Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, the 30-kilometer event often attracts over 1,100 skiers including some of the top racers in North America. The race begins at the Tahoe Cross Country lodge above the Highlands in Tahoe City; the race finishes at the Hilltop Lodge in Truckee.

Past winners include Olympians Lyle Nelson, Holly Beattie, and Nancy Fiddler; U.S. Master_s Champion Debbi Waldear; and collegiate racers Borre Fossli, Lars Ohren, and Adam Heaney. Dan Mainka, the 1987 and 1988 winner, holds the distinction of being a North Tahoe High School graduate.

For Amateurs, Too
However, you don't have to be a serious racer to compete. Those in good shape and of intermediate ability can test themselves. Although beginners aren't encouraged to enter because of the length and remoteness of the course, the slowest stragglers can still arrive in Truckee within 7 hours, making the event a fun, day tour. Past participants have included ten year old children to people in their 80s.

The Scene
The racecourse covers scenic terrain and spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. From the top of Starrett Pass, at 7,800 feet, are breath-stealing views of Mount Watson, Mount Pluto, Alpine Meadows, and Palisades Tahoe. Near the Truckee end, perhaps the favorite view is from the "Holy Smokes" ridge. From there racers have a downhill stretch to Hilltop Lodge that signals the finish of the race.

The First Race
The competition began in 1976 when 35 skiers got together to make the trek over a course with no set track. Surprisingly, even without skate skis, the race was won that year by Jan Bjorkheim in one hour and 44 minutes.

"There were a few of us who had made the trip as a ski tour," recalls Skip Reedy, a Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue founder and an originator of the race. "There weren_t any long races around at the time and it seemed like a natural."

Today, the racecourse is machine-groomed with skating lanes and double tracks on the entire 30 kilometers. Competitive in nature, the event is also colorful in character.

Fun & Antics
Once an over-eager racer jumped the gun at the start only to be confronted by Ken "Cowman" Shirk, a colorful North Shore character, Nordic enthusiast, and extreme athlete. Running from his hiding place in the trees and brandishing an ax, Shirk confronted the cheater by chopping his skis apart!

In 1981 Truckee carpenter, John Talco, arrived late to the start because he couldn't find his gloves. Wearing two left-handed mittens he still finished first.

In 1997 an agitated grouse shaken from his nest stood at the 25k mark and dive-bombed skiers pecking at their pole baskets.

During drought years, competitors were sometimes forced to take their skis off and run half-mile stretches because of lack of snow. At the 1999 event, Tahoe Nordic Seach and Rescue members were pulled from their own race to go on a search for a lost alpine skier on Donner Summit.

One year a couple of guys entered together on one pair of skis. Afterwards, the rumor is that they never spoke again.

Bruce Eisner used ski over from Truckee in the early morning, catch the start, and race back.

Drought years you'd find Billy Dutton, Norm Simmons, Paul Goldhammer and other volunteers shoveling for hours to ensure a course.

"Every year's a new challenge, something different," says Reedy, founder in 1972 of Tahoe Citys only Nordic resort.

Proceeds from the race help support the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization. Race funds generated are used primarily to purchase equipment and to support winter survival and avalanche education programs conducted by the Team.

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