Nome skiers win four Skimeister titles at WISA events
The Nome Ski and Biathlon Team showed unprecedented strength at this year’s Western Interior Ski-Biathlon Association event, sweeping all four Skimeister titles. Mallory Conger, Ben Cross, Clara Hansen and Tobin Hobbs all stood atop Saturday’s final podium, with Hansen’s victory coming in a tie-breaker against Galena’s Shelby Williams.
What Nome held in strength, Galena made up for in depth. The Hawks captured three of the four relay victories, while team titles were split evenly between Galena and Nome.
Famous for its long and storied cross-country ski history, White Mountain was the 2017 host-site for the most important ski race in rural Alaska, the invitation-only WISA championship. The three days of racing began on Thursday with the ski race, followed by Friday’s biathlon and Saturday’s relay. “The races went off without a hitch,” said race host Irving Ashenfelter. “The weather was the very best I’ve ever seen for a meet like this. Great kids, great meet, great camaraderie.”
On Thursday, the high-schoolers skied the Sweetheart Loop, a punishing 5-mile trail with almost 600 feet of elevation gain, while the junior high skiers completed the shorter Outside Loop. White Mountain course marshall Paul Lincoln, a former WISA Skimeister and US National Biathlon Team member, called Sweetheart Loop “comparable to Spencer Loop, one of the most challenging trails in Alaska.”
Friday’s biathlon competition followed a ski-shoot-ski-shoot-ski format, with each athlete taking a total of ten shots using a .22 rifle at 4.5-inch diameter targets from 50 yards. For each missed shot, the racer skied an extra loop around an 80-yard course.
The weekend of racing culminated with Saturday’s two-person relays, which also helped determine overall Team and Skimeister titles.
The races also provided selection criteria for ski, ski-biathlon, and snowshoe-biathlon slots at next year’s Arctic Winter Games, an international multi-sport competition for Arctic athletes.
The 2018 host site is Hay River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Nome’s Mallory Conger and Ben Cross received nods for the ski-biathlon spots, while Aaron Rose and Tobin Hobbs, also of Nome, were offered spots on the snowshoe-biathlon and skiing teams, respectively. A final Arctic Winter Games nomination went to Galena’s Carlee Merriner (skiing).
In WISA tradition, all 51 racers and nine coaches athletes introduced themselves to the group at the first day’s awards ceremony, naming their parents as well as where they are from. Martin Hadley and Eric Garner of Buckland garnered loud cheers as the very first racers from the Northwest Arctic to compete in the 30-year history of WISA. Keith Conger, WISA’s president, recognized the significance of Buckland’s participation. “This is the beginning of an avalanche,” Conger said. “We want to see racers from the Y-K, from Arctic Slope, more from the Northwest Arctic, we know there are some good skiers out there.”
Next year’s competition is tentatively scheduled for Fairbanks.
The Buckland Sissauŋi skiers found support through the NANANordic/Skiku Travel Scholarship Fund, a newly established award provided to skiers from rural Alaska for travel to events outside their village. Martin Hadley and Eric Garner learned to ski through NANANordic’s outreach programs, which have been operating in the Northwest Arctic region for six years. Outside of the Northwest Arctic region, including in Nome, the organization operates under the name Skiku.
The weekend was a homecoming as well for Hadley, whose grandmother was from White Mountain. On the final day, after the team relays, Martin took the time to visit her final resting place. Although he never met her, Martin said, “She would be proud.”