Nordic skiers prepare for their rite of spring |

Nordic skiers prepare for their rite of spring

Steve Yingling

Fear not, Nordic skiers, the 28th annual Echo to Kirkwood Race and Tour is going off as scheduled Saturday morning.

Two weeks of snow meltoff, however, will adjust the race’s starting point at the snow park at Echo Summit.

“We will have to move the course a bit in order to get down in the snow. The change isn’t going to be enough to get people turned around, and it won’t change the length of the course,” said Jeff Weaver, an El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol patroller and the race’s public relations officer.

Weaver expects 300 skiers and snowshoers for the well-marked 13-mile race that ends at the Kirkwood Cross Country Center.

“It’s one of those events you don’t want to miss,” said Debbi Waldear, who won the women’s division and was second overall last year. “It’s kind of the rite of passage for spring and it could be one of the last great skiing days of the spring.”

If people wish to enter at the last minute, they should be aware that the shuttle service at the finish line already is full. They must provide their own transportation to their vehicles at Echo Summit.

Day-of-the race registration runs from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the snow park. Late entrants should arrive early to be briefed on race details, according to Weaver. Racing and touring begins at 10 a.m.

Entrants can expect a demanding climb for the first half of the race, and descents over the final half of the course.

“For the first mile and a half there’s a 2,000-foot climb, but once the course tops out it’s fairly easy touring,” Weaver said.

For Waldear, the variety of terrain is one of the most appealing qualities of the race.

“I come back all the time because it’s so unique,” said Waldear, who is making her 21st appearance in the event. “It’s different than all the other races where you go around circles and follow trails. This one has a lot of diversity.

“In the beginning, it’s definitely much like backcountry skiing, then it mellows out and the last part is on machine-groomed trails.”

The eight-time gold medalist at the World Masters Nordic Championships recently spent three days backcountry skiing in the Sawtooth Mountains near Bridgeport, Calif. Consequently, the climbing portion of the course should come easy to her, and she expects a fast course.

“There is plenty of snow on the course and there should be good spring conditions,” said the Kirkwood Cross County Center director. “The snow should be hard and good for climbing up the hill and it should soften up as we come down the hill. For the people who are doing it more as a tour, if they’re not finished by 1 or 2 p.m., it’s going to get really soft and slow.”

In case of injuries, which have happened occasionally in past races, the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol is prepared for emergency situations. In addition to Nordic ski patrollers and first-aid personnel, representatives of the El Dorado and Amador county search and rescue teams will be on hand as well as volunteers on snowmobiles, skis and snowcats.

Despite the strenuous energy level of the course, Weaver expects a variety of ability levels to partake.

“There are those who might want to go out and have a nice day and those who are competitive and want to win this race,” Weaver said.

Men’s and women’s divisions include 19 and under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60 and up.

Weaver stresses that first-time participants need to wear proper clothing and bring a light pack of essential backcountry items, including a map, compass, fire starter, water, sunscreen and liquid wax. Waldear adds that it’s important to bring a windbreaker for the chill and wind that usually greets the participants on the ridge tops. She wears a ski suit and brings lots of water.

“There are three different aid stations that have a lot of food and supplements,” she said.

Echo to Kirkwood has all the ingredients for a fun day.

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