The Betty Woolsey Classic is usually seen as a small community race, with not too much effort required to put the race on at Trail Creek Nordic Center the day after Christmas.
Not so much this year, as 102 cross-country skiers signed up to compete at distances ranging from the half-kilometer to 10 kilometers. Last year the race drew about 70 skiers.
“We normally don’t even put out a call for volunteers for this event because it’s so small,” Will Wicherski said. Wicherski took over the Jackson Hole Ski Club’s Nordic Program director position back in September. Saturday was his first time running the whole show. “Everybody got to race and got timed and seemed happy, so that’s good.”
Saturday morning at Trail Creek was brisk, with steady snowfall and light wind. It made for some noticeably slower times in the more competitive distances, with former Ski Club skier Elijah Weenig returning to win the men’s 10-km in 36:10, compared to last year’s winning time of 29:45 by Cirque Gammelin.
The women’s 10-km was won by Mariah Bredal in 40:31, the men’s 5-km went to Mac Wirth in 19:10 and the women’s 5-km went to Aurora Stiles in 19:57.
But the wins and times were not the central focus, as the Betty Woolsey Classic serves as a celebration of the sport and the families that take part more than anything. It was evident by the turnout, and it’s felt across the club as well.
As cross-country skis become harder to find around the valley, with the sport seeing an uptick due to COVID-19 restrictions, the club is also reporting a firm rise in participation this year. Wicherski said there are over 170 kids signed up with the Ski Club Nordic program.
“We’ve seen a huge growth, which is great,” he said. “This is definitely on the spectrum of activities that’s one of the safer ones you can do these days.”
What was emphasized most by Wicherski on Saturday was the display of skiers of all ages. Ski Club hall of famer Pete Karns competed in the 3-km, and his grandsons Henry, Peter and Christopher all took to the half-kilometer. Mason Wheeler, a standout with the club and high school team, placed second in the 10-km, while his father, Albert Wheeler, took to the 5-km. Likewise for the Concannons: Des, Peter and Tom, and so many more.
That, Wicherski said, was the highlight of forging ahead with the race.
“It’s just really fun to see the continuity and intergenerational aspect,” he said. “This weekend was really inspiring; it’s actually a lifelong sport.”