HATCHER PASS — In the ninth annual Race to the Outhouse, skiers from the Mat-Su Valley and Anchorage got a taste of cross-country skiing race action early in the season.

Beginning where he left off last year, Gus Schumacher won the freestyle division with a 3.4-kilometer time of 10 minutes, 52 seconds. Schumacher won the world junior nordic championships last season and joined a group of college athletes traveling from Anchorage to ski in their first race of the season alongside high school skiers from Palmer and Colony

“We were just seeing how how we feel. It was really fun actually and this is a good race to start out the season because it’s just for fun,” Colony’s Sofija Spaic said.

A total of 66 skiers competed in the second official competitive cross-country ski race in the North America. The race date had been postponed one week due to icy conditions in Hatcher Pass. The first competitive cross country ski race was held in Canada on snow that had been saved from last spring and repurposed for sprint events, according to Ed Strabel.

“It kind of gets them fired on up,” Mark Strabel said.

Mark Strabel coaches at Colony High and helps with the Alaska Pacific University ski team. APU skier Garvee Tobin won the classic race with a time of 15:50. The challenging course from the parking lot at the top of Hatcher Pass to the outhouse drastically increases elevation, testing skiers who made the trek to the Talkeetna Mountains for the first race this year on United States soil.

University of Alaska Anchorage ski coach Marine Dusser noted that Hatcher Pass gives UAA skiers an advantage over their counterparts in contiguous states. Dusser and the UAA athletes have been traveling to train in Hatcher Pass twice a week on the only available groomed trails.

“I think it’s a big advantage for us to be able to do that and we’re lucky that Mat-Su is grooming every week,” Dusser said.

The Race to the Outhouse is a rare opportunity for high school athletes to compete against collegiate athletes in the same race. Palmer High School’s Thomas Merritt attempted to do just that.

“It kind of gave me a challenge to try to keep up with them and I did my best and just keep trying to achieve and push yourself,” Merritt said.

With a packed parking lot full of both nordic and alpine skiers, Hatcher Pass’ first ski event of the winter will certainly not be the last. Skeetawk Ski Area is set to open next year and Hatcher Pass Mountain Guides have obtained a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to begin offering snowcat rides in December. Until the snow that fell this weekend is groomed, Hatcher Pass remains the capitol of the cross country ski world.

“We have a bunch of european people, guys from Norway that ski really well, so it’s great to look up to and be like, I want to be part of that team it’s very professional,” Dusser said. “It’s also very good advertising for our team.”

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