(Video by Mike and Kathy Tuggy)
In a fitting setting for the the inaugural Ski to the Sun Marathon and Relay, hundreds of skiers emerged from a fog-blanketed morning dreamscape in Mazama, Washington as they cruised down the Methow Valley to brilliant sunshine and the finish at Sun Mountain Lodge. Kent Murdoch, who splits his time between Mazama and Fall City, Washington, took advantage of his familiarity with the final climb to lead the marathon field over the 41 km course, passing a fading Liz Stephen in the last kilometer, to finish in 2:09:30.7. Stephen, the recently retired three-time Olympian who hails from Park City, UT, lead the women’s field in 2:10:20.4.
(Murdoch passes Stephen less than a kilometer from the finish. Photo: Mitchellimage)
Rounding out the podium in the men’s division were Logan Wetzel of Bellingham, Washington in 2:09:56.2 and former NCAA All-American for the University of Denver and National Championship runner-up Mike Hinckley, who also resides in Bellingham, in 2:10:32.7. For the women, all three steps were filled with past Olympians as Methow locals Laura McCabe and Leslie Hall crossed the line in 2:10:43.3 and 2:25:43.0, respectively.
In the relay division, Chomper Bomper, a group of four junior skiers from the Methow Valley Nordic Team – Garrett Butts, Travis Grialou, Bodhi Kuzyk and Walker Hall – lead from the first kilometer to finish in 2:03:38.3, besting Shasey a duo of former national team biathlete Casey Smith and local mountain guide Michael Hutchins.
Despite fading at the end of the final climb – a 12 km stretch that stair-stepped its way from the floor of the Methow Valley up 1000 feet (300 meters) to the finish at 2,890 feet above sea level – Stephen glowed about the event, saying “we could not have hoped for a more beautiful day, more beautiful weather or more perfect tracks… I couldn’t be more excited to be here, especially with it being like a winter wonderland…. [The Methow has] been on my shortlist of places to [visit] for a long time. The race went off so smoothly… It was so fun and beautiful to ski through the trees and to end at such a perfect place like the Sun Mountain Lodge.”
(The finish area at Sun Mountain Lodge. Photo: Mitchellimage)
Throughout the entire field, the buzz at the finish line was much the same, as smiling competitor after smiling competitor exalted about the weather, the course and the conditions. Jim Kelly, a veteran of twenty-two American Birkebeiners – the largest cross country ski race in North America – agreed with Stephen, saying “it was awesome out there… it was like a Birkie!”
For many, the course, which showcased the variety of natural beauty in the Methow Valley, was a real highlight. Todd Eastman of Putney, VT and US Race Program Director for Madshus skis commented: “Stunning scenery, beautiful course and track, and an honest challenge.”
“I think it might be the best way to experience the Methow trail system and get to know the valley,” said Jenny Abraham of Boise, Idaho. “The trails are so beautiful meandering through the trees and along the river, and getting cheers from volunteers all along the course and seeing the relay teams at exchange zones was really fun.”
Her friend Larissa Swain from Leavenworth, Washington agreed, saying, “I loved how the low sun showed through the middle section, streaming across the snow. And it was so fun to have the course pop out of the woods near the river with the sun lighting up the whole valley! But,” s