MOUNT BACHELOR — It was every man’s — and every woman’s — race at the Desert Orthopedics Great Nordeen Saturday.
Roughly 300 competitors, from former Olympians to first-time cross-country ski racers, took on the challenge of the unique long-distance event. Two course distances were offered, 15 and 36 kilometers, both mostly downhill starting at Mt. Bachelor ski area’s Sunrise Lodge and finishing at Wanoga Sno-park off Century Drive.
“This is my first race and fifth time on skate skis, so it was kind of an adventure,” said Bend’s Darlene Becker, 33, who raced in the 15K, finishing 15th among the women.
On the other end of the spectrum was two-time Olympian Lars Flora, who probably skis as much as he walks. “I grew up racing at Bachelor,” he said.
Flora won the 36K race, finishing in 1 hour, 29 minutes, 11 seconds. The 30-year-old said he divides his time between Anchorage, Alaska, and Bend.
Reaching the finish line in 1:38.12, Bend’s Evelyn Dong, 22, was the top women’s finisher (sixth place overall) in the 36K race.
“It was really cool to go out and ski some new trails. You get used to skiing the same ones,” said Dong, an XC Oregon (a bend-based elite cross-country ski team) skier who is headed to the Alberta World Cup Cross Country championships next week.
Dong said she was originally planning to take it easy Saturday, considering the upcoming world meet. But it didn’t turn out that way.
“I have a hard time taking it easy once I get my race suit on,” she said, laughing.
The race took place in the Deschutes National Forest on snowmobile trails and Forest Service roads. These trails are groomed for skiers only once a year — for the Great Nordeen. Competitors Saturday enjoyed a mostly downhill course, with some sharp “S” turns and narrow passages. Spots of sunshine shone through the lightly falling snow, brightening the sweaty, cherry-cheeked faces of skiers as they huffed and puffed to the finish.
“It’s a great course,” noted Flora. “It’s different than most of the courses we (elite racers) ski. There was a lot of rolling downhill. … Anytime you ski a 36K (more than 22 miles), it’s tough.”
XC Oregon’s Marshall Greene, 26, and Kristina Strandberg, 32, both registered strong second-place finishes overall in their respective gender categories in the 36K. Greene clocked in at 1:32.58 and Strandberg at 1:42.20.
Marshall said he lost sight of Flora at 12 kilometers.
“He’s definitely a good skier,” said Marshall of the winner.
At age 32, Strandberg was the first female masters (age 30 and older) competitor to finish the race. Another former Olympian, Carl Swenson, proved he’s still got it at 37, finishing first for the masters men and third overall (1:33.10).
The 15-kilometer race was a quick gig for some skiers. In the high school race, Pat Madden (33:13), Riley Shannon (33:14) and Tom Smith (33:48) took the top three places respectively. The three Summit High School skiers all agreed that it was a fair test.
“It was a good 15K — not hard,” said Shannon.
Summit skiers finished 1-2 in the girls division: Isabel Smith in first (40:08), and Darragh Hildreth in second (42:43). Molly Blust of Sisters High finished third, in a time of 43:18.
In the citizens’ 15K, Kelly Crowther of Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation was the top male finisher (34:44). Not far behind him was top female racer Martina Stonawska, who clocked in at 38:08. Stonawska is a foreign-exchange student from the Czech Republic who is visiting Bend for the year and is currently skiing for MBSEF.
Among other racers at the Great Nordeen, many were just happy to finish. Like Bend’s Pat Rosser, 60, who broke his pole at 30 kilometers. He said he skied the last six kilometers with one pole.
“A bear attacked me,” Rosser joked. “No, I fell, and it (the pole) broke when I fell. It’s very hard to ski uphill with one pole; it slowed me way down. Thank God the finish line came up.”
Rosser was not the only competitor to sprawl across the trail. Many skiers had stories of woe to share at the finish.
“They were dropping like flies for a while,” shared John Howcroft, 60, of Bend. Howcroft came in 30th out of 106 male racers in the longer race.
Many participants were able to recall Emil Nordeen, the legendary nordic skier for whom the Great Nordeen race was named. And while that wasn’t on the top of most minds, many remembered the past for at least a brief moment.
“It’s cool that there’s some history (in the race’s name),” said Howcroft, “some heritage.”