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TOP TWO FINSHERS: Dick Knowles, right, of Haines and David Axelrod of La Grande begin Sunday's Cross Country Classic at Anthony Lakes. Knowles finished first and Axelrod took second. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
TOP TWO FINSHERS: Dick Knowles, right, of Haines and David Axelrod of La Grande begin Sunday's Cross Country Classic at Anthony Lakes. Knowles finished first and Axelrod took second. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

ANTHONY LAKES Dick Knowles, an accomplished and quick-witted cross country skier from Haines, was joking.

However, there was more than a trace of truth in his words.

Knowles was talking to skiers gathered for the start of the fourth-longest Nordic ski race in the Northwest Anthony Lakes 16-mile Cross Country Classic.

Knowles was warning the skiers of the challenge ahead of them on the course late Sunday morning. The skiers were on a high-altitude course with several tiring climbs.

If you are not careful you will lose a lung on some of these hills, Knowles said. ...You are going to see stars at the top of some of them.

Taking Knowles words to heart, most of the skiers paced themselves so that they finished tired but not exhausted.

Nobody reported seeing stars but everyone viewed a galaxy of natural wonders. The course offered breathtaking views of Angel Peak, Gun Site Peak, Grande Ronde Lake, Crawfish Basin and Crawfish Lake.

It is beautiful out there, said Colleen Hessel of Baker City, the winner of the womens division.

Most of Sundays race was on the Elkhorn Byway trail that opened in December. The 6.6-mile trail starts near Anthony Lakes Nordic Center and ends at the summit of the mountain on the Crawfish Basin side of the Anthony Lakes ski area.

Racers skied on the Elkhorn Byway for most of the race and then finished by going around Anthony and Lily Pad lakes.

The race started at 7,100 feet and reached a top elevation of 8,100 feet. At the midway point skiers climbed 900 feet in 1.8 miles. Still, the course had many descents.

It seems like there are more uphill portions because the downhill parts go by fast, Hessel said.

Another finisher, Charlie Gillis of La Grande, plans to ski in the race again next year.

Id come again in a heartbeat. There are lots of opportunities to climb, he said with a smile.

Gillis has regularly skied the Elkhorn Byway since it opened.

Knowles, one of the top-rated masters division Nordic skiers in the world, won the race in a time of one hour, 35 minutes and 58 seconds (1:35:58). David Axelrod of La Grande placed second in 1:36:05.

Hessel clocked 1:43:04 in winning the womens race. Jeanne Wadsworth of Bend took second in the womens division in 1:43:04.

The temperature during most of the race was 10 degrees, making things both easier and more difficult for skiers. Knowles explained that at this temperature there are many ice crystals in the snow. The crystals provide traction, making it easier for skiers to kick but harder for them to glide.

Knowles, the head of Anthony Lakes Nordic Center, said the courses terrain is not difficult but that altitude and distance make it challenging. Knowles believes the popularity of the race will grow in the future.

It could be our signature event in the ski area, Knowles said.

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