my journal


  chronology of a dream

  the list

  reader polls

  training data



  a piece of my mind

  about this site

  rollerski series

comments, problems
  or suggestions:

  send me an email

  advanced search
Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

April 6 - The Oosik Classic
My apologies, the following journal entry already appeared as an article on But don't worry, I have edited it a bit and added a few special bonus clips, just for you guys.

There are many races that skiers take very seriously. They set goals months in advance, train all year, and peak at just the right time for maximum performance. The ultimate goal might be to win their age-group, or beat last year's time, or beat their training partner. People might say they do the race because it is a lot of fun, but ultimately it is only really fun if they do well. It is all about the thrill of competition.

The Oosik Classic is not one of those races.

The Oosik Classic is all about fun. Sure there is a ski race, but the race is really just an excuse for an end-of-the-season party. The weekend of events is such a great time that it is impossible for anyone to get too worked up about the race. After all, how seriously can you take a race called the Oosik? (If you don't know what an Oosik is, suffice it to say that it is a unique part of the Walrus anatomy. And it is not the tusk.) Apparently one of the lodge owners near the race location had an Oosik lying around and volunteered to donate as the Trophy for the race. That's how the race got its name. Why someone would just have an Oosik lying around is unclear to me. Don't ask, don't tell.

Majestic Valley Lodge
Being relatively new to Alaska, I first heard about the Oosik in early February of this year. This was right about the time that the minimal snow coverage here in Anchorage decided to float down river into the ocean and leave us skiers staring at bare ground and trying futilely to hang on to our sanity. I was in the Alaska Pacific University weight room with a number of APU Masters Skiers when someone mentioned that they had heard that the skiing was great up at Majestic Valley. My ears immediately pricked up and I quickly asked where Majestic Valley was. It was explained to me that Majestic was about 2 hours from Anchorage and that Adam Verrier organizes a great race there at the end of the season. I was told that despite the miserable winter in Anchorage, Majestic had good skiing and that the Oosik race was one race on the local schedule that would probably not be cancelled.

You can read in the March Journal about my first trip to Majestic.

The Majestic Valley Lodge (in back), with Glacier Hall (red building) in foreground

The Majestic Valley Lodge is located about an hour outside Palmer, Alaska at mile 115 on the Glen Highway, nestled between the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. The beautiful lodge, built in 2001, is home to the dining area, while guests stay in Glacier Hall or one of the private cabins, Grizzly or Coyote. All of the buildings look south towards an amazing view of the Chugach mountains. I was only two hours from Anchorage, but it is in another world.

The view from Majestic Valley Lodge (the lodge is the main building in the foreground). Click picture for an enlarged view.

For the Oosik, we drove up to Majestic Valley Lodge on Friday evening. We checked in, and were directed to our room in Glacier Hall. Normally, you need to book a room for the Oosik months in advance (there are only about 10 rooms). But I was lucky enough to use a couple of connections to get a room, mostly thanks to Adam. My dad was Adam Verrier's ski coach for a year or two in high school. Some of my first memories of seeing ski races were when my dad would take me along with his high school team to watch their races. I don't know how old I was, but at that time Adam was the dominant skier in northern New Hampshire. Anyway, back to the Oosik.

The rooms in Glacier are not fancy, but each has a full-size bed and a twin bed, its own bathroom and the view out our south-facing window was just breath-taking. The simplicity of the accommodations helps focus your attention on the spectacular surroundings. Glacier has a shared common room, with couches, lots of games, books and magazines, as well as a coffee maker and a microwave, which we used to heat up our pre-race Pasta meal. After dinner, I read a book as I watched the sun set over the mountains, before heading off to bed.

The Oosik
Race Organizer Adam Verrier has organized this end-of-the-year race for the past three seasons. Adam's vision for this race has always been to make it an fun get-together event rather than a race. As he said to the Anchorage Daily News, "No matter what the snow conditions, we should always have the Oosik Classic Ski Race. And if there's no snow here at all, we should go for a hike in the woods and call it the Oosik Classic."

The philosophy behind the Oosik is very similar to big ski marathons in Scandinavia, where crowds of people camp out on the side of the trail and drink beer and build bonfires while the racers go by. The only difference with the Oosik is that the racers themselves camp by the trail and drink beer around the bonfire, after the race is over. The Oosik has a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel to it. From what I have heard and seen, there are always last minute course changes, sketchy sections of what might loosely be called 'trail', and sometimes conflicting trail markers. All of which keeps the competition from getting too serious, but which also belies the amount of effort Adam puts into organizing this race. This year the Oosik had about 100 racers. This was down from 150 last year, but still an impressive showing considering that many people haven't been able to ski much this winter.

Yes, this was part of the race course

Like most european races, the Oosik starts a little later in the day. The Oosik started at noon, which was just about right on this cool, but sunny spring day. As everyone tested wax prior to the race, the snow was staying nice and cold, even though the sun was shining brightly. Extra blue was kicking great in the rock-hard tracks. We knew that sooner or later, the snow would warm up, but how much? Should we risk putting on a warmer (ie slower) wax? Most people did not. But as it turned out the snow started to warm up just as the race started.

Oosik Race Start

The first 15K was on very challenging trails at Sheep Mountain. From the start, we skied through a gravel pit, and right up out of the gravel pit on a very steep incline. We kept climbing on a narrow trail through the woods to the top of the Sheep Mountain trails. From here there was a screaming 2K of downhills, with tight turns, high speeds, and just enough panic to let us all know that we were in for an interesting day. Welcome to the Oosik! Soon after, we had to pass over a frozen waterfall of ice which had covered a section of the course. Yep, definitely the Oosik. Some skiers tried to go around it, but I just did my best to get up enough speed to cruise straight across it - with no sudden movements - before gravity pulled my downhill and into the bushes. I made it across standing up, but barely. At this point I was trying desperately to hang on to the lead group of skiers. My kick was was not working very well and I could not get into rhythm, but I kept them in sight.

After 15K we came flying back down into the gravel pit, up through some more bushes (Oosik!) and onto a long gradual uphill, about 5-6K, on the Old Glenn Highway. Despite the fact that we were climbing for so long, this was a great part of the course. Amazing views, and the even grade meant that I could finally get my wax to work and get into a rhythm. As I started up the hill, I saw Frode Lillefjell, who had been in the lead pack ahead of me, pull off and start applying klister to his skis. My kick was not great, but I saw no reason to stop and re wax. A few minutes later, Frode caught up to me. His skis were kicking great, but they were a bit slow. The 25K racers had started 30 minutes after us and had headed directly for this uphill, so we were able to feel good about ourselves by passing some of the slower 25K racers as we climbed. Frode and I stayed together for the rest of the uphill. I managed to get a little ahead on the downhill, but he quickly closed in at the bottom.

At this point in the race, we had to cross the highway to ski the Majestic Valley trails. Originally, this crossing was supposed to take place through a tunnel under the road. Adam and Trond Flagstad had shoveled this tunnel with snow the previous weekend and dubbed it the Oosik Express, because of the downhill that would shoot you into the tunnel. Adam seemed confident that this route was safe and that it was 'a go'. But a few skiers who showed up early on Friday, and were well aware of the Oosik's reputation, decided to check out the tunnel for themselves. Upon inspection, these skiers immediately became concerned because of its steep and icy entrance and exit, as well as the boulders lining each side. Hey, that's the Oosik! Adam reassured them that it was fine, but he then decided that he should test it himself, just in case. He grabbed his skis (metal-edged no less) and headed to the tunnel. The first time through, he crashed. The second time, he made it. Upon further review, Adam decided that a 50% success rate for a former Olympian was not an acceptable safety level. So the tunnel was overruled, we had to take our skis off and run across the road.

Frode quickly pulled away from me after we cross the road, on the first uphill on the Majestic trails. The last exciting part of the race was a very steep and very fast downhill with about 5K to go. It was long enough that you got a good bit of steam going. Then at the bottom, the trail was just uneven enough, with just the right amount of turn and bumps, to throw any overly aggressive skier hurtling on his stomach or butt toward the snowbanks. Oosik. Both Lars Flora and Frode Lillefjell apparently took spills here. I was able to safely navigate the hill, but only because a skier from the 25K was going down the hill ahead of me in a wide snowplow and I had to slow down until the trail was wide enough to pass.

From here is was smooth sailing to the finish line. I finished 6th - slightly behind the top five, but well ahead of the rest of the pack. Trond Flagstad proved once again that he is the Oosik Master by winning for the third time. Lars Flora used his sprinting speed to edge out UAF skier Peter Barton for second. In the women's race UAF standout Sigrid Aas was the winner, with APU's Erin Quinn-Hurst in second, while Nicole DeYoung was third.

1) Trond Flagstad 1:44:25; 2) Lars Flora 1:48:07; 3) Peter Barton 1:48:08; 4) Zach Violett 1:48:26; 5) Frode Lillefjell 1:49:49; 6) Cory Smith 1:50:39; 7) Trond Bjorn-Jensen 1:56:22; 8) Benji Uffenbeck 1:59:00; 9) Colin Quinn-Hurst 2:06:04; 10) Scott Hauser 2:08:50;

In the 25K race, the women's top three were Sara Hansen, Becky Hauser, and Hege Hjelmeland. In the mens 25K, it was Patrick Gilroy taking the win ahead of Mark Brady and Kerry Klauder.

My girlfriend Linda also raced - only her third xc ski race ever (she's quickly becoming a convert). The 25K was the furthest she has ever skied, but she performed extremely well on this slightly treacherous course.

By now it was about 3:00 pm. The race may have been over for most people, but the fun was just beginning. The Majestic Valley Lodge prepared a terrific post-race barbeque of Bratwurst, potato salad, cookies and more, which we washed down with a donated keg of Midnight Sun's Oosik Amber (fittingly enough). The sun was shining outside, but the temperatures were still a little cool for springtime, so most of us hung out in the beautiful lodge while we digested our meals and socialized with our fellow skiers. Awards were presented to the top three in each race, and there were lots of generous raffle prizes as well. Following the awards, usually there is a band that kicks the party into high gear. This year, since the race was questionable due to snow conditions, Adam did not book a band. So the party dispersed temporarily. Some people headed home. Those of us who stayed to enjoy the lodge and the surroundings for another night either napped, relaxed our weary bones in Majestic's sauna, or took the party elsewhere.

Later in the evening, after everyone had a chance to relax and regroup, the festivities were ignited again by the bonfire. A crowd of about 30-40 hearty skiers sat huddled around a bonfire sharing stories and drinks, while watching a modest display of Northern Lights. There were even a few full-moons out - but thankfully the boys who streaked out of the sauna and around the bonfire quickly returned where they came from. The fire finally started to dwindle down in the wee-hours of the morning. At this point, I made my way back to our cozy room in Glacier Hall to finally collapse from a long day.

The Day After
The morning after the race we were all in the mood for a leisurely and hearty breakfast. I had heard great things about the meals at Majestic Valley, but because of our race schedule and the barbecue yesterday, I had yet to eat a meal in their dining room. But Sunday's breakfast more than made up for any meals I missed. The lodge prepared a mouthwatering meal of omelets, home fries, grapefruit, and deliciously sinful cinnamon buns. Life is good.

After stuffing myself at breakfast and feeling sore from yesterday's race, I hardly felt like skiing. But I was determined to convince Linda to join me for one more ski before leaving. I had a hidden agenda for this day. We had enjoyed a wonderful weekend ski getaway and I wanted to cap it off with a bang. We skied easily out to a spectacular viewpoint (see view picture above), where I dropped into a telemark turn position and asked Linda to marry me. Thankfully she said yes! Truth be told, I had been trying to find a way to propose for months now, but her schedule and the poor weather had made it impossible to get away for the weekend, and have just the right 'moment.' I finally had a chance for that moment and it was everything I hoped for. So yes ladies, I am off the market. We are both very excited.

It was a very poor winter in Anchorage. But for two magnificent days at the Oosik Classic, that seemed very far away. Thanks to Adam Verrier and Majestic Valley Lodge (and countless sponsors and volunteers!), we were all able to wrap up the season on a very positive note - and make it a very memorable weekend in my life!

For another account of the Oosik, check out the article in the Anchorage Daily News: You Can't Be Serious

For more info on the Oosik, go here.

For more information on a vacation at Majestic Valley Lodge, click here.

April 20- Cory's Excellent Adventure
As you well know if you are reading this, winter here in Alaska was miserable and I suffered a lot. No snow, no races, no adventure. It was very hard to find interesting stuff to write about without good skiing or races taking place. So I apologize for the subpart writing on this website this winter - and I am going to make it up to you!

Since I had no great adventures to write about this winter, I am going to make sure that the spring in filled with them. After all, I have to keep the readers entertained.

It is spring, and to clear my mind of all the misery of this winter, I am embarking on an adventure.

Here is the Master Plan for Cory's Excellent Adventure.

Three weeks, four states, three big trips.

May 5-9: Trip 1 - Backpacking Resurrection Pass, Alaska. Linda and I and two others are going to do a hut to hut backpacking trip along the 35 mile Resurrection Pass trail on the Kenai Peninsula. This will be very scenic and fairly remote, but it shouldn't be that strenuous - more of a warm up for the other events. Not yet sure if this one will happen - might be too much snow on the trail. But maybe we can ski it?

May 11: Fly to New Hampshire

May 16-20: Trip 2 - The Appalachian Extreme. This adventure race is 3-4 days of non-stop navigating, paddling (flatwater & moving water canoeing), mountain biking, rappelling, and trekking through the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire. I have wanted to get into Adventure racing for a while now, but never could find both a) the money (Entry fees can be thousands of dollars - and you thought the Birkie was expensive!) and b)willing teammates. But recently I was approached by a team who lost a member due to injury and needs someone to step in at the last minute. It is an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
Race Website

May 23: Fly to Utah

May 24: Trip 3 - White Rim 100 Mountain Bike ride. Ever since I moved to Utah in 1996, my roommates and I talked about about doing the 100 mile White Rim trail in one day. It is hard, but many people have done it and we wanted to add our names to the list. We never got around to while I lived there, but this spring we're doing it. Its time to put this baby to bed. Plus I really need a Moab fix. That is one of the only places I really miss living in Alaska - the desert of Southern Utah.

May 26: Fly back to Alaska.

Yes, it will be a very interesting month of May. So stay tuned. There is no turning back now, the tickets are booked. Let the fun begin! The things I do for you people.

Monday April 21
So I was thinking as I was out training today- I should document my current training regimen. "How to prepare for an adventure race in three weeks." Not for the weak at heart.

It's been a while since I've had a real story to tell you guys, and this seems like a good one to document in detail. I am focusing my training on the adventure race. The Alaskan hike should be pretty easy, and the Moab ride is just a personal fun thing, not a race.

I will provide daily updates of my training to let you see what it is like to try to prepare for a three-to-four day, non-stop, event in three weeks. Okay, truth be told, I am not starting from scratch. I didn't ski race much this winter , but I am in good general aerobic shape. What I need to focus on in my training is two-fold: 1)Get in specific shape for each of the disciplines and 2) Make sure my body is ready to handle the beating after a winter of non-impact sports.

I've gone out a few times so far this spring, but most of my exercise has been skiing. Now, it is time to start hitting the pavement and dry trails.

I started my "official" training yesterday with a bike ride. All the trails around here are still muddy, so I did a loop around the city on a paved bike path. Not strenuous, but I was pleasantly surprised that I rode for three hours with minimal discomfort. A good start. (Right now, my teammates are probably thinking "We're screwed." But I've got plenty of time - three weeks!)

Today, I went for a run. I used to be able to throw on the the running shoes in the spring and immediately head out for a two hour run. Not any more. My legs are getting creaky in my old age (28 for anyone who's counting) and now I have to start out small and work up, or risk injury. I've been out a couple times already, so I figured I was ready for a test: an hour and twenty minutes all on pavement. I hardly ever run on pavement, but with limited dry trails around Anchorage right now, it seemed like a good way to see how the legs would hold up.

The run was fine. I felt slow, but I always feel slow on pavement - I like being on narrow trails where the trees whizzing by makes me feel fast. My knees where a little sore when I finished, but not bad. Another step up the ladder.

Tuesday April 22
Still feeling good on day three, I decided to go for another bike ride, but add some vertical gain. There is a dirt road that starts near my house and goes up to an area called Stuckagain Heights. MY guess is that it is about a 1000 foot elevation gain to the top, over a few miles. Not huge, but a good stepping stone. I biked from my house to the top and I felt good so explored all the side roads as well. The whole workout was about 1:20. My legs were sore when I got home, but in a very good way.

Wed April 23
Today I was thinking that this training thing was going to be a breeze. Already on day four and still feeling great. I decided to go for a run on the the COstal Trail today. Again, a paved trail, but I the legs were feeling good. I ran ten miles at an easy pace. When I had two miles left, I felt strong so I decided to see if I could remember what a 7 minute mile felt like - not too fast, but fast enough to get me moving. I hadn't looked at my watch all day and hadn't run a timed mile in ages, but I started my stopwatch, picked a pace, and vowed to stay with it for a mile (they have mile markers on the trail) and se how close I could come to a 7:00 minute mile. My time: 6:55. It is amazing feeling when you know your body that well.

Thurs April 24
Originally I had thought that I would take two days off in this first week. After all, I am not trying to get in better shape, I am trying to get my body accustomed to different activities, and it is important to let the body rebuild as you tear it down. After the first few days went so well, I was thinking of not taking a rest day- until I woke up this morning. My knees were very sore from running yesterday. I decided reluctantly that it was time for a day off. Maybe this won't be so easy.

Fri April 25
I have been trying to figure out how to train for the paddling part of the race. All the lakes around here are still frozen. Perhaps I could get down to Seward or Whittier and rent a sea kayak, but not until the weekend at the earliest. I figured that double poling uses many of the same muscles (arms, back, stomach) so if I did some double pole training, then got on the water next week, I'd be okay.

So today, for the first time ever, I went rollerskiing in April. Well, that's not entirely true. A few years ago we did a rollerskiing photo shoot in April, but that doesn't really count. This was the earliest in the training year that I have ever done rollerski training. My previous record was May 1, about 5 years ago when Torbjorn made us do do a rollerski time trial on May 1. ouch.

This time was much less painful. I picked a nice gently rolling bike path and double poled for two hours and 20 miles. I knew my arms were still in pretty good shape from the winter, but even so I was pleasantly surprised to feel strong right up until the end. Now as long as that transfers to paddling I'll be doing just fine.

The other part of this race that I am completely inexperienced in is rappelling. I have never done any rock climbing, but I need to be certified in repelling before i can compete. So today, I stopped in at the local mountaineering/ski store AMH, and convinced the resident guru to give me some lessons next week.

Sat April 26
The achy feeling in my legs from the run on Wednesday lingered longer than I hoped, but I was feeling good enough to go for a hike today. I put on a 12 pound pack (in the race it will be more like 20 I think) and Linda and I went for a three hour hike up McHugh Creek trail. It was beautifully scenic, and while we didn't make it to McHugh Lake at the top in our three hours, we still had some nice views and my legs really seemed to enjoy the hiking- they felt better when we got back than they did before we started.

View towards McHugh Lake

View of Turnagain Arm from McHugh Creek Trail

Sun April 27
The trails are getting drier now, and I am itching to to get in some 'real' running. I went to Kincaid Park today and ran the Andrew Lekisch trail. This is my favorite ski trail in town, but I think it is now my favorite running trail as well. It is so much fun to run, with its ups and downs, and twists and turns. I didn't plan on running for very long - I wanted to see how I felt after my first run with some real climbing in it. But I felt good so I continued around some more of the Kincaid trails before calling it quits after about 1:40. Saw 5 moose, which is about par for the course in Kincaid.

So after week one, training is on track. But now the real tests begin. Week one was "ease-into-it-and-don't-get-injured week". Now we start the real training.

Mon April 28
This morning while getting up from my desk to get a bite to eat, my right calf muscle felt unusually tight. This concerned me because the last time it felt like this was two years ag, after a very steep run too early in the training year. That run left me with a minor case of tendonitis that took about three weeks to shake. The hills in yesterday's run had felt good, but had I overdone it? I took a day off to see if the feeling would go away.

Tues April 29
My calf was still tight today, but I really needed to train. I figured a bike ride wouldn't strain my calf too much. In spite of the injury, I decided it was time for a real test. I needed to see how much I could handle at this point. I rode from my house to the top of the highest road I could find - the dirt road to Glen Alps trailhead. From my house, I estimated that it was about 2000 feet of vertical gain. The climb was grueling and early on my legs suffered, but then I got into a steady rhythmn and just kept turning over the pedals. I made it to the top feeling much better than I expected too. This was good. I have a feeling that this adventure race is going to be all about finding a rythmn and maintaining it. Total ride time was about 2:15.

Wed April 30
I wanted to go running today, but the calf is still tight. This might be a bigger problem than I thought. Instead, I worked out a compromise. I went rollerskiing to work on upperbody strength again, and then followed that workout with a short hike/run to test the leg. After a bit of experimenting, I found that if I used a diagonal stride motion with my arms and kept my legs still, it felt similar to a kayaking motion. I startedto overexaggerate tehe side-to-side rotaion of the upper body to work the stomach more. This felt like very good training for paddling. After two hours on the Costal Trail, I made my way back to Kincaid Park, where I changed from ski boots to running shoes and hit the trails. After about 20 minutes, the leg started to tighten again. I had planned to run for an hour, but I cut it short to 40 minutes.

Tonight was my climbing lesson. Climbing is something I have always been interested in. After all, if you live an active outdoor lifestyle, chances are you are going to be haning around with some climbers. Most of my friends climb, but I have just never taken the time to learn. I am hopeful that this race will give me the kickstart I need to start learning. But for now, I am just repelling.

My instructor, Nick, and his wife have taken me to a small spot called Boy Scout rock. After showing me how to get set-up and clipped in, Nick has me practice feeding the rope and starting and stopping on flat ground. After a few minutes, he decided I was ready to try the 20 foot drop. My first trip down was slow and jerky, but I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. This was not hard. I made about 10 trips down the rock and that was it. In about an hour, Nick seemed convinced that I knew the minimum that I needed for the race. I was a bit concerned because in the race the cliff would be 150 feet or so, and I had only done 20. But Nick assured me that the motions are exactly the same, the trip just lasts longer.

Climbing had been the major obstacle for me when I was decided whether to do the adventure race or not. But now I had overcome that hurdle. The only thing left to worry about is training.

So far I have been happy with my training. I have put it some good workouts. But I know I really need to step it up now if I am going to be ready. Another day or two to let the leg rest, then I feel I need to get going.


© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.