Skiers find snow, fast times in valley

The Mariner ski team took to the snow at the Colony Invite at Government Peak ski trails in Palmer last weekend, racing at their first competitive event in six weeks. The team, which has been forced to muster grit, resilience and an unrelenting positive attitude this season in order to combat the measly snow fall, was elated to be back competing in their sport. 

“Their morale is unquenchable,” said Gus Beck, the Mariners’ assistant coach.

“They kept telling me, ‘I feel like I haven’t skied all year, but it’s great to be on snow.’”

The team competed against more than 150 skiers from eight Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Valley schools in a 5km classic race on Friday, as well as a 5km skate race for the girls and 7.5km skate race for the boys on Saturday. 

The temperatures hovered in the mid-teens throughout the weekend, keeping the snow crisp. The trails had been dusted with new snow on Friday and were freshly groomed, making all but the inside corners ideal for traction. 

Freshman Sarah Wolf was again at the head of the Lady Mariner pack, placing 12th in the 5k classic race Friday with a time of 18:57.2. Senior Aspen Daigle came in five seconds behind her, placing 14th in the classic race.

On Saturday, Daigle led for the Mariners in the 5k skate race with a time of 16:24.6, which landed her eighth-place for that race, and put her on the podium with a ninth-place finish overall. The Mariner girls placed fifth overall.

The Mariner boys were led by freshman Jacob Davis who placed 19th overall with a combined time of 40:17.14. Sophomore Tadhg Scholz finished in just more than three minutes behind him in 27th place overall, and sophomore Hoxie Parks finished 29th overall. 

Despite the easy conditions and good racing, the skiers were once again asked to show their mettle when their bus broke down early Saturday morning, causing a pre-race scramble to shuttle athletes to their event in a few personal cars. At the end of the day the bus was still not in working condition, so the skiers squeezed in with the SoHi team for a ride home as far as Soldotna. 

Through it all, the skiers continued to exude good will. 

“The Mariners went all out cheering for their teammates, even in the single digit temperatures, until the last skier crossed the finish line,” Assistant Coach Alison O’Hara said in an email.

“It’s been a tough year with minimal training on snow, but the team was thrilled just to be on skis again,” she said.

The Mariners intend to train on the snow-dusted ice of the Homer Reservoir this week until a thicker base falls on the ski trails.

The Seward Invite, which was scheduled for this weekend, has been canceled. However, as always, the Mariners are on the prowl for impromptu racing opportunities. 

Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.