Since Olympic Nordic skier and Alaska mountain-running royalty Bill Spencer won the inaugural race up Bird Ridge in 1989, that three-plus-mile ascent that rises 3,400 feet has been owned by skiers.
Sunday’s result: Same as it (usually) ever was.
Anchorage’s Thomas O’Harra, who skis for Alaska Pacific University’s Nordic Ski Center, seized his first title on the trail that affords spectacular views of Turnagain Arm. Of course, runners have their backs to the Arm on the ascent. The scenery in the uphill-only race is a perk during the descent to the starting area in a parking lot hard by the Seward Highway.
O’Harra, third a year ago behind Nordic stalwarts David Norris (wins in 2016, 2018 and 2021) and Scott Patterson (2017 winner), made the march in 39 minutes, 23 seconds, an improvement of 35 seconds over last year.
On the women’s side, Klaire Rhodes of Anchorage, like O’Harra, delivered her first win on Bird Ridge, hustling from third place halfway up the climb to clock 46:53 and slash 2:07 off her fifth-place finish last year.
The race is named in honor of Bob Spurr, a UAA professor and terrific age-group athlete who died in a mountain climbing accident in Colorado in 1995.
O’Harra joins a list of men’s champions that reads like an Alaska ski Hall of Fame. Past race winners include Norris, Patterson, Spencer, Todd Boonstra, Rob Whitney, Tobias Schwoerer, Frode Lillefjell, Trond Flagstad and Eric Bjornsen.
Past women’s winners include Olympic skiers Holly Brooks (four times), Jessica Yeaton, Rosie Frankowski and Sophia Laukli.
Lars Arneson of Anchorage earned runner-up in 39:52, moving up two spots from his 2021 finish. Galen Hecht of Anchorage finished third in 41:13, APU skier Michael Earnhart of Eagle River took fourth in 41:41 and U.S. Olympian Gus Schumacher of Anchorage came fifth in 41:54.
O’Harra’s victory earned him a bib, should he choose to compete, in the annual Mount Marathon race – the Super Bowl of Alaska mountain running – in Seward on the Fourth of July.
Rhodes’ victory was another indication of her supreme fitness, and her remarkable range. She started 2022 with a victory in the 50-kilometer (31-mile) Hoka Bandera Endurance Trail Race in Texas, and now has conquered a race one-third that distance.
Meg Inokuma of Palmer finished second among women in 47:15 to break the 40-49 age-group record of 47:18 by mountain-running legend Nancy Pease, who delivered that time in 2002. Any time you are mentioned in the same sentence as Nancy Pease, you have arrived.
All Pease managed in her career was to conquer Mount Marathon six times and have her women’s record last 25 years. She also won the Crow Pass Crossing nine times and her 1990 record remains the women’s standard. Oh, and Pease still owns the top three women’s times in Bird Ridge history. So, Meg Inokuma – wow.
Former Seward High standout Ruby Lindquist, the 2021 runner-up at Mount Marathon and a distance ace at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, finished third in 49:04. Hannah Lafleur of Seward, who has won the last two Mount Marathons, took fourth in 49:27. Former Palmer High athlete Sophie Wright, a middle-distance runner at Western Washington University rounded out the top five in 50:05.
Meanwhile, several Alaskans have spent the last few days competing in races at the Broken Arrow Sky Race in Olympic Valley, Calif.
Ali Papillon, 17, the defending Mount Marathon junior boys champ who lives in Boulder, Colo., and summers in Alaska, took 18th overall in Sunday’s 26-K event in 2:05:32. That race features 5,000 feet of elevation gain and an equal amount of descent.
Ali’s older brother, Bodhi Gross, 21, was 29th overall, and 23rd among men, in 2:08:09. Ryan Beckett, 37, of Anchorage, finished 60th overall and 50th among men, in 2:25.07. Christopher Kirk, 24, of Eagle River, was 68th overall and 55th among men, in 2:31:01.
Anchorage’s Taylor Deal, 28, finished 30th among women, and 117th overall, in 2:51:52.
Leigh Moffett, 26, of Anchorage, was the top Alaska finisher in Saturday’s 52-K beast, which included 10,000 feet of gain and loss. She clocked 6:51:40 to finish 20th among women and 121st overall. Kirk led Alaska’s men in 6:03:27 to take 40th among men and 60th overall.
In Friday’s VK (vertical kilometer), UAA skier J.C. Schoonmaker finished 39th among men in 54:05 and Kirk finished 40th among men in 54:14.