Steamboat skiers travel cross county to compete in Birkebeiner
Steamboat Springs — Each year, 10,000 skiers from around the world step to the starting line of America’s largest cross country skiing event, the American Birkebeiner, which takes place in the towns of Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin.
This year, 15 racers traveled from Steamboat Springs to the Feb. 20 event.
The Steamboat men were led by Josh Smullin, who finished the 51-kilometer course in a time of 2 hours, 19 minutes, placing 13th overall and fourth in the men’s 30-34 age class.
“This was only my third race of the year,” said Smullin, who is pretty busy as a Nordic coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. He has raced in the Birkebeiner five times now but has missed the last few because of coaching obligations.
“I love the Birkebeiner because there are a good amount of top racers there,” Smullin said. “It’s the biggest race in the country, so the top guys feel like they’ve got to be there.”
Another top Steamboat finisher was TJ Thrasher who placed 124th among the men and 16th in the 35-39 age class.
“I think I went out a little too strong,” Thrasher said.
It was his first time racing with the elite men’s group, and he admits the excitement may have gotten to him early.
Other finishers included Jesse Wilkins, who was 275th among men and 51st in the 30-34 age class; Andrew Cheesebro, who was 576th among men and 92nd in the 25-29 age group; Kent Eriksen, who was 625th among men and 44nd in the 55-59 age class; Allen Belshaw, who was 675th among the men and 82nd in the 55-59 age class; William Cheesebro, who was 2,048th among the men and 226th in the 30-34 age class; and Christopher Sias, who was 2,314th among the men and 264th in the 45-49 age class.
Steamboat women hold their own
“It was amazing,” Steamboat’s Tasha Thrasher said of the race. “The atmosphere, the fans and the events that surround it make me want to go back every year. You get addicted to it, and the spirit you feel makes me feel like I’m somewhere in Europe.”
It’s a feeling that has touched the entire Thrasher family.
On Saturday, Tasha’s husband, TJ, brother-in-law, Craig, and father-in-law, John, all raced in the event. Her son Tristan competed in the Junior Birkie and the Barnebirkie Friday, bringing the unofficial count of Steamboat athletes to 15 ½.
Tasha Thrasher finished 81st in the 42nd annual Birkebeiner race and was 11th in the 40-44 age class.
Other top female finishers from Steamboat included Heather Gollnick in 27th among women and fourth in the 40-44 age class; Katie Lindquist Eriksen, who was 35th among women and fifth in the 44-49 age class; Nicholette Durkin, who was 56th among women and sixth in the 30-34 age class; Melissa Detzner, who was 119th among women and 13th in the 30-34 age class; and Susan Theis, who was 636th among women and 103rd in her age class.
Lorelei Ernst raced in the shorter 24-kilometer Kortelopet skate race. She placed 250th among women and was 20th in the 45-49 age class.
Many of the Steamboat Springs racers arrived in Wisconsin hoping to reach their own personal goals
“It was my first Birkie ever,” Gollnick said. “I was thrilled with my finish. I’ve only been skate skiing for two years, so I didn’t really know what to expect.”
Gollnick, a long-time triathlete, said she set her sights on qualifying for the elite women’s group next season, which meant she needed to finish in the top-50 of the women’s group. She may have gotten more than she expected at the starting line.
“There were lots of flying poles, lots of flying skis and lots of falling skiers,” Gollnick said. “It’s a different dynamic and something I’ve never experienced in a cross country ski race.”
At the finish line she wasn’t sure where she had finished, but she was happy to have raced and was looking forward to next year.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are normally pretty quiet around the base area of Steamboat Resort this time of year, but a lot has happened since the ski area closed following the 2020-21 season.