By STEFAN MILKOWSKI
HOODOO MOUNTAINS--There was a small glitch in the plans when the SnowCat being used to groom the GCI Arctic Man Ski & Sno-Go Classic course broke down, according to race organizer Howie Thies, who resorted to using a tow-behind groomer to work on the trail.
But the part needed to fix it, ordered Thursday, arrived Friday from Reno, Nev., and now the SnowCat is back in commission and the course will be ready for today's race, which is set for 1 p.m.
"The snow is great," Thies said. "We're in great shape."
As of 6 p.m. Friday night, only 18 people had signed up for the 21st running of the race dubbed the "Ultimate Adrenaline Rush," he said. Nine men and three women signed up to ski the race, three men and three women entered as snowboarders, and Thies was talking with a few more about joining at the last minute.
They'll race for a total purse of $26,500. The money isn't quite enough to draw a big crowd, according to Thies.
"We're light on competitors," he said. "That's a little frustrating."
But there are some big names and a good number of previous champions.
Rosey Fletcher, an Olympic snowboarder who took the bronze in Italy this year, will race with snowmachiner Julie Thul, and World Cup skier Scott Macartney will team with Tyson Johnson.
Ryan McDonald, a member of the U.S. National Snowboard Team, will race with Sacha Gros. Eric Heil and Len Story, four-time defending champions, will be back to defend their title. Petr Kakes and John Martin will return, as well.
Mike Moe, Aurora de Maulmont, Julie Pierre-LeClerc and Gina Daniels will also be racing.
Last year's race made it into a Warren Miller extreme skiing video, but Thies said the publicity might have been directed at the wrong audience. The race caters more to the snowmachine crowd than the extreme skiing crowd, he said.
So this year, Thies has arranged to film the race with his own crew for a movie to be targeted to snowmachiners. They've got a helicopter on hand and plan to film all of today's events, including the Snow- and Hill-Cross races put on by the Alaska Motor Mushers Club.
The race begins on top of a 5,800-foot mountain. Skiers and snowboarders plunge 1,700 vertical feet over 1.75 miles, then catch a tow from a teammate on a snowmachine, who pulls them 2.25 miles across a flat and up 1,200 vertical feet at speeds approaching 90 mph. Finally, the skier drops another 1,200 feet over 1.75 miles.
Leaders finish in just over 4 minutes.
Thies' son John, 17, was out skiing the course Friday. He said it was kind of bumpy, which is bad because it can send racers flying.
"When you get in the air, you have no control," John Thies said.
He uses 240-centimeter skis designed for ski jumping.
"The only problem with them is you can't turn and you can't stop," he said.
He's been a forerunner for the race since 1999, when he was 10, and he'll do it again this year. He skis ahead of the racers to test the course and check for tricky spots. He's not allowed to race because he's not 18 yet.
"It's a safety issue," said his mom, Andrea Thies.
But that doesn't mean he's not pushing himself. Last year, his goal was to beat five minutes, he said. With Gabe Rich pulling him, he finished in 4:42. This year, he's hoping to break 4:30.
Some day he hopes to win the Arctic Man.
Whats going on around the state
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