Alaska Ski for Women, in its 27th year, returns to Anchorage this weekend
Sally Burkholder and Ann Mize had a simple mission when they founded Alaska Ski for Women in 1997: to get more women onto the trails.
The duo achieved that and more, creating an event that attracts nearly 1,000 skiers annually and enriches Anchorage’s already active outdoor culture by inspiring generations of locals to hit the slopes.
The 27th edition of the Alaska Ski for Women will return this weekend, with a Friends and Family Ski on Saturday and the main event on Sunday at Kincaid Park. It will be the first women’s ski since the death of Mize, who died in Colorado last month after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
The original idea behind Alaska Ski for Women was a response to what Burkholder and Mize saw as low levels of women’s involvement in local ski races in which they competed.
“All in all there would be maybe 10 women and 100 men in the race,” Burkholder said.
Mize, a physical education teacher and coach at Dimond High School, and Burkholder, a physical education teacher and coach at Bartlett High, began brainstorming why the participation rates were so biased.
“But we were like, ok, how come there aren’t more women skiing? And so we tried to think of all the reasons why women don’t ski,” Burkholder said.
The duo quickly began breaking down those barriers. First, for those who didn’t want to walk alone, it was mandatory in the early years to bring a partner, spurring a number of friends and mother-daughter tandems.
They made it beginner-friendly by adding beginner races on flatter tracks and shortening some of the tracks. They continued to give the uninitiated a nudge by offering classes and free waxing.
“I think the first year we ordered 200 bibs, and I think 700 people signed up…so we were just blown away,” Burkholder said.
From there the event grew and after about 10 years it was passed on to a new generation, Burkholder said.
Olympian Kikkan Randall, a regular at Run for Women and Ski for Women, grew up thinking that events like Ski for Women were a standard in communities across the board. As she got older, she realized that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“(I realized) how unique it is that for 27 years we’ve had a long-standing event that offers women a welcoming, humble opportunity to come out and be sporty, to meet and do something that contributes as well.” really good causes,” said Randall, executive director of the Anchorage Nordic Ski Association.
Ski for Women supports organizations working to end domestic violence in Alaska. The minimum ski donation is $35 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under.
The race has evolved into a costumed extravaganza over the years. The event this year includes a classic race, a freestyle race and the non-timed party wave on a 4-kilometer route.
Randall said the women’s ski allowed her to be both competitive and enjoy the fun and frivolity of dressing.
“If I learn early, that combination of you can be a really serious racer and you can also put on a tutu and have glitter and get together with all your friends and have a great time,” she said. “I think this is such a good lesson to teach young women that there are two sides and they can coexist.”
This year, former ADN sports editor Beth Bragg, who has covered women’s ski for decades, is one of the judges in the costume contest.
Online registration is closed, but in-person registration and bib pickup is open Thursdays from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Midtown Mall. Last minute registration is also available at Kincaid Park on Saturday and Sunday.
The event traditionally falls on Super Bowl Sunday, but this year’s women’s ski takes place the weekend before. Burkholder said the original ski for women prompted other cities to launch similar events explicitly for women and eventually helped fill the participation gap they noticed at the beginning.
“One of the nice things for me is that there are just as many women racing (at the Tour of Anchorage) as men,” said Burkholder.
And as the number grows, so does the positive experience on the trails, Randall said.
“In my role here as CEO, I appreciate what it takes to make these events happen,” she said. “We have long-time volunteers who had the vision before women’s events were a thing and said, ‘This will be worth it.’ I just really appreciate it now, and I think I understand a little better the impact these events are really having on people’s lives. There will be many women out there on Sunday who have never skied before and this can be their gateway to a lifetime of healthy activity.”
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