One day every winter, one can spot a very uniquely dressed group of people convened near the shores of Lake Tahoe. From aerodynamic speed suits to outrageous costumes and everything in between, the starting line of the Great Ski Race is something to behold. The 37th annual Great Ski Race will take place this year Sunday with a 9 a.m. start from the Tahoe Cross-Country Center.
Deemed the largest cross country ski race west of the Mississippi, the Great Ski Race covers 30 kilometers with 1,200 feet of uphill and 1,800 of downhill between Tahoe City and Truckee.
The current record time is one hour, seven minutes, and the final contestant typically crosses the finish line within seven hours.
Truckee resident Mark Nadell has been doing the Great Ski Race since 1981. A Nordic coach for Alder Creek Middle School, Nadell has done the race in many different capacities over the years — as a serious competitor, costume-clad skier and as a dad skiing with his kids, starting when they were around 10 and 11 years old.
“My favorite races were the ones that I skied with my kids,” said Nadell. “I think the Great Ski Race is a great event for kids. I actually recommend it to all of the middle school skiers that I coach.”
The Great Ski Race represents a challenge for all Nordic skiers, as well as for downhill or backcountry skiers who want to try their hand at cross country skiing.
Participants say the race is as rewarding as it is challenging, and many Tahoe locals rave about the fun to be had at the finish line, where Truckee’s Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar hosts the after-party with live music and an assortment of prizes.
“The event draws skiers from around the country and around the world, from Olympic Nordic skiers and serious competitors to skiers who are racing to beat their buddy or to beat last year’s time,” said Doug Read, race director for the Great Ski Race. “There are also skiers who are just out there to enjoy a ski in the woods with a bunch of friends, great soup stations and a heck of a party at the end.”
The annual race serves as the main fundraising event for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team — a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization whose primary responsibility is locating and recovering lost skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, snowmobiles, hikers and climbers.
All funds raised are used to support the operations of the all-volunteer team throughout the year, as well as for winter survival and avalanche education programs sponsored and conducted by the team at local schools.
“The Great Ski Race is a really fun event, but it also serves an important purpose,” added Read, who is also a longtime TNSAR volunteer. “The funds raised every year at the Great Ski Race allow us to keep our program and our snow cats running. The funds allow us to keep bringing lost people home.”
Currently consisting of more than 100 volunteers, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was conceived in 1976 as a response to the death of a boy lost off the back side of one of the Lake Tahoe ski resorts during a blizzard.
At the time, there was no organized backcountry ski team to help search for the boy. Desperate phone calls to some local Nordic skiers produced a search party that eventually located the youth but only after it was too late.
This group of skiers, along with the boy’s father (who today still remains one of the Nordic team’s active members), learned there was an important void to be filled. Thus, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was born.
The team has matured considerably over the years, but the goals remain the same: to conduct fast, safe rescues and to educate the public about winter safety.
Collectively, the team has an extremely high level of medical, mountain and skiing skills with members including EMTs, emergency room nurses, firefighters, professional ski patrollers, paramedics and doctors.
The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has located more than 300 individuals to date, ultimately saving lives and bringing lost loved ones home whenever possible. Tahoe Nordic’s volunteer searchers are often called to search for lost men and women in the middle of the night and during major snow storms or other severe weather situations.
Registration for the 2013 Great Ski Race is open at http://thegreatskirace.com. Registration fees are $65 until Saturday, $100 race day and $25 for juniors 18 and younger. The entry fee includes a pre-race package, a commemorative T-shirt, refreshments and a hot lunch at the finish and a chance to win one of many great prizes.