Volunteers are gearing up for the Buckwheat Ski Classic. The cross country ski race is on March 25, but starting in early March volunteers were driving up to Log Cabin, B.C. from Skagway, Alaska two times a week to set tracks for the course.

The last two years the race was rough – the weather was too warm and the snow was sticky. “This year it’s amazing,” says race organizer Jeff Brady. “It’s been really good all winter.”

The race was started by its namesake, Buckwheat Donahue, 31 years ago. As the story goes, Donahue lived in Skagway, and one day he was at the library looking at pictures of cross country skiers from Whitehorse. He liked the look of the women in tight ski clothes, which is a far cry from the baggy clothes the backcountry skiers of Skagway wore. He wanted to lure some of those cross country skiing women to his neck of the woods, so he dreamed up the ski race to bring the two nations together. Donahue’s event was a success, and he continued organizing the race every year.

In 2002 Donahue had had enough – he said that he was so busy organizing the race that he “didn’t have time to flirt.” However, the race was so popular that a society was formed, the Log Cabin Ski Society. It’s volunteer run, and it’s responsible for maintaining the Log Cabin cross country ski trails. The Buckwheat Classic is a way for the society to raise money to pay for the snowmobiles that set the ski tracks.

It’s not an ordinary ski race. There’s always a theme, and participants are encouraged to dress up according to that theme. This year’s is “Oh the places you’ll ski,” a riff on Dr. Suess’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. The racer who has the best Dr. Suess-themed costume wins a trip for four to the Upper Dewey cabin out of Skagway. The group gets helicoptered up to and down from the cabin, and is provided with a meal. The prize entices racers to really get into the costumes. “It’s because we want people to have fun with it,” says Brady.

Race volunteers keep their eyes out for their favourite costumes. There are usually five or so costumes that really stand out, and the volunteers get together after the race to choose the winner.

Along with that, there is a cash prize for first, second and third place winners of the 50 kilometre leg, one for the men and one for the women. There’s no prize for winners of the 25 or 10 kilometre legs, just the glory of the race.

And it is a glorious race. Another thing that sets apart the Buckwheat from other races is the carved snow castle that’s at the main first aid station in the middle of the race. The Team Alaska snow carving crew (who won the first prize in snow carving at Rendezvous this year), start work on the castle this Wednesday, March 22.

On Sunday about 20 volunteers were at Log Cabin stomping on snow to get it ready for the carvers. Brady says they have fun with it. “It’s a big party up there, really, with barbecued burgers.”

This year they’re carving Whoville, “So it will be magical, I’m sure,” says Brady.

The casual racers tend to be those who dress up in costumes. For them, the snow castle is a place to stop and rest. There’s a man dressed in a kilt giving out tastes of Scotch. There are trays of oranges and chocolate, and a barbecue in the middle of the snow carving. Volunteers serve burgers and hotdogs. For some, the race ends there. Serious racers zip by. Some yell out, “Emergency!” and the man in a kilt runs alongside them to tip a taste of Scotch into their open mouths.

The last chance to register is on Thursday, March 23 between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Sport Yukon. Along with the 50, 25 and 10 kilometre leg options, kids can sign up for a five kilometre leg. The 50 kilometre race starts at 10 am, the 25 kilometre race starts at 10:15 am, the 10 kilometre race starts at 10:30 am, the five kilometre kids’ race starts at 11:30 am. All Alaska time. Further information available up upon registration.

Yukon Ski Marathon Postponed

Attention cross country ski enthusiasts: the Yukon Ski Marathon, organized by the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club, has been postponed to April 2 due to weather conditions. Registration will stay open until March 30.

For more information go to www.XCSkiWhitehorse.ca.