Biggest Alaskan biathlon race of 2017 held in White Mountain
Western Alaska might seem an unlikely spot to find one of the state’s most scenic nordic ski courses, but few cross-country ski locations rival the beauty and rigor of the White Mountain trail system. For three days last week, the small village on the Fish River was turned into a hotbed of ski racing activity as White Mountain hosted the 39th annual Bering Strait School District Ski and Biathlon Championships.
Accepting the challenges of the hilly White Mountain trails were over 70 Western Alaska athletes from 11 locations spanning the far corners of the region. The town’s hilltop landing strip became one of the Seward Peninsula’s busiest airports on Thursday, March 24 as teams from Shishmaref, Gambell, Savoonga, Teller, Brevig Mission, Nome, Koyuk, Unalakleet, Saint Michael and Stebbins were flown in to compete.
On Thursday, junior high students, who ranged from fifth through eighth grade, raced on a 3.5-kilometer course. Gold medals were earned by Nome’s Tobin Hobbs and Unalakleet’s Margo Daniels. The high schoolers used the renowned 7.9-kilometer Sweetheart Mountain Loop. Placing first were Ben Cross and Mallory Conger of Nome.
The race schedule featured a Friday biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. A total of 76 students competed, making the BSSD race the largest participatory biathlon event in Alaska this season. This topped the mark set at the Koyuk Invitational three weeks prior.
Competitors in all categories climbed the steep hill of the White Mountain biathlon course that started in the heart of town. Racers had little time to get their heart rates under control when they entered the six-point shooting range where they found .22 caliber rifles equipped with peep sights waiting for them. On each of the two trips around the 2.7-kilometer course, biathletes took five shots at 4.5-inch targets from 50 meters away. Junior high kids were allowed to use a rest. Missed shots resulted in short, but time-consuming penalty laps.
Cross, Conger and Hobbs all won their second races of the weekend by placing first in their respective age divisions. The victories also brought each of them the Skimeister Award, skiings’ equivalent of an MVP trophy.
The best biathlon race of the day occurred in the junior high girls division. Unalakleet’s Daniels, who beat Nome’s Clara Hansen by 22 seconds in Thursday’s freestyle race, led her rival to the range on the first lap. But, by carrying a 6 shots to 4 shooting advantage, Hansen exited the penalty loop with a lead after the second lap and was the first junior high girl across the finish line.
Each girl finished the competition with one gold and one silver medal, so the tie-breaker of total elapsed time was used to determine Skimeister. Hansen’s one minute, 17-second advantage over Daniels in the biathlon gave her a 55-second overall margin of victory for the award.
The list of athletes that “shot clean” during the race by hitting all 10 targets were Melody Bergamashi of White Mountain, Clarissa Nayokpuk of Shishmaref and Gunnar Pete of Stebbins.
After a Friday morning safety and laser-rifle clinic, participants headed to the range for biathlon practice. The results of that shooting session were used for a marksmanship competition.
Race officials Irving Ashenfelter and Paul Lincoln reported that Unalakleet high schooler Payton Commack was the first participant ever to record a perfect mark using the current scoring system. This system includes shooting five shots at 4.5-inch targets and five shots at 1.5-inch targets.
Joining Commack in earning marksmanship gold medals were Nome high schooler Bethany Daniel, Unalakleet junior high schooler Emmanuel Mittelholzer and Shishmaref junior high student Ida Weyiouanna.
The annual fun relay on the Fish River was conducted on Saturday morning. In this wild event, mixed-relay teams with 10 racers apiece were created combining members from various villages.
The top high school boys team trophy for the BSSD Championships went to Nome. They were followed by Unalakleet and Saint Michael. Only two girls teams qualified. The Nome girls were first and the Stebbins girls finished in second place.
The junior high boys division was the largest with 30 participants. The team standings were: 1. Unalakleet; 2. Nome; 3. Koyuk; 4. White Mountain; 5. Gambell; 6. Stebbins; 7. Saint Michael; 8. Brevig Mission.
The junior high girls were also led by Unalakleet. The standings were: 1. Unalakleet; 2. Koyuk; 3. Shishmaref; 4. Gambell; 5. Savoonga.
The Most Improved Skier Award, which is determined by comparing 2017 finish times to the 2016 times in both the ski and biathlon races, went to Unalakleet’s Colton Ivanoff and Lauryn Nanouk Jones. The coveted sportsmanship award was earned by Nome Ski and Biathlon.
The BSSD meet acts as a regional qualifier for the rural state ski and biathlon championships hosted by the Western Interior Ski Association, also known as WISA. Bering Strait School District athletes returning to White Mountain on March 30 for the WISA Championships will be Sikulik Johnson, Unalakleet; Payton Commack, Unalakleet; Vadim Yenan, Savoonga; Carter Commack, Unalakleet; John Soderstrom, Unalakleet; Denin Prentice, Koyuk; Colton Ivanoff, Unalakleet; Darrell Semaken, Unalakleet; Margo Daniels, Unalakleet; Lauryn Nanouk Jones, Unalakleet; Megan Henry, Koyuk; Virginia Nassuk, Koyuk; Annie Hoogendorn, Koyuk; Clare Jungers, Shishmaref; Jasmine Aningayou, Gambell and Sarah Nanouk Jones, Unalakleet. Skiers from the host site are automatic qualifiers.
Representing Nome Ski and Biathlon at the WISA meet will be Ben Cross, Aaron Rose, Mallory Conger, Emelyne Hobbs, Amber Gray, Tobin Hobbs, Tristan Hobbs and Clara Hanson.
Teams from Galena, Nenana and Buckland will join western Alaskan teams next week in White Mountain for the WISA meet.