Inaugural White Mountains 100 hits the trail

By Teri Anderson
Sun Star Contributor

The gun went off at 8 a.m. Sunday for the start of the White Mountains 100, the first human-powered, 100-mile winter ultra race held in the Fairbanks area. Fifty stalwart souls took off to ski, bike or run their way through the looped course that starts and stops at milepost 28 on the Elliott Highway.

“There’s nothing like this in the interior,” said Ed Plumb, National Weather Service meteorologist, hydrologist, and creator of the White Mountains 100. “The closest winter race we have is the Susitna 100.” Plumb raced the Susitna 100 in 2006 and 2008. Last year he skied the 350 mile Iditarod Invitational from Knik to McGrath. But the White Mountains 100, he said, is “quite a bit more challenging.” Plumb said the Susitna 100 inspired him, but its trail is mostly flat river travel and he wanted something different for Fairbanks.

“This course is everything but river travel,” said Plumb. The race starts at Wickersham Dome trailhead and goes across steep terrain, along sharp turns, over river ice, and past jagged limestone peaks. The course is a scenic loop that repeats only the first six miles. “The beauty in this course,” said Plumb, “is that it’s not an out-and-back.”

Plumb had been turning over the idea of starting a long endurance race for about five years, but didn’t think many people would be interested. Then, last Memorial Day weekend, He was hiking in the White Mountains with Ann Farris when she asked him, “Ed, have you thought out organizing that race again?”

Two months later and just eight days after creating an official website, the White Mountains 100 roster was full and quickly overflowing its 50-place limit. “Apparently I tapped into a niche.” said Plumb. “The roster started filling slowly, first with people I knew, then it sort of spread like spam.”

The waitlist grew and people came right up to his driveway to beat the mailman and get their applications in. “I didn’t have a strategy to handle this,” said Plumb.” Everything about this race has been surprising me.”

UAF Research Assistant Max Kaufman, number 41 on the roster, said he signed up because the race was filling up fast. “You want to be part of the inaugural event,” he said.

Plumb said he wanted to keep it a local race, Alaska style, and was also concerned about the impact that too many racers would have on the trail. “I had to cap it at 50,” he said, “I didn’t want to have 100 people out there. The White Mountains is my backyard too.”

Plumb is confident, based on the impressive turnout for its inaugural debut, that the 2010 race won’t be the last. “I don’t see why the White Mountains race won’t happen next year,” Plumb said before the race. “It’s kind of fun to go 24 hours without sleeping.”

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