The White Mountains 100 starts Sunday north of Fairbanks and boasts perhaps the strongest field in its six-year history.
“The competitiveness is incredible in almost all categories this year,” race director Joel Homan said in an email. “Of the three categories (ski, bike and run) for both male and female racers, all but one winner from last year’s race will be back this year and three record-holders will be defending their titles.”
At 8 a.m. Sunday, 78 racers (51 bikers, 14 skiers and 13 foot travelers) will leave the Wickersham Dome Trailhead at mile 28 of the Elliott Highway. The event has a 40-hour time limit but most will finish within 24 hours.
Started in 2010, the course covers a 100-mile loop on packed trails in the White Mountains Recreation Area.
“The WM100 is remote and never crosses a road, but because of the awesome BLM cabin system set-up we are able to provide lots of comforts while people push their limits,” Homan said.
That includes hot food such as baked potatoes, meatball soup and Ramen noodles, plus bunks for those who need to rest.
Course conditions are reportedly excellent. Fairbanks received more than 50 inches of snow before Thanksgiving, providing an adequate base despite limited snow since then. A recent snow dump has helped to soften the rock-hard trails while problematic overflow on Beaver Creek has since refrozen. However, creek crossings could feature ice, overflow or open water.
Also new this year is that all racers will carry SPOT tracking devices. Their progress can be followed in real time at the Trackleaders link on the WM100 home page (www.wm100.endurancenorth.org/ home).
As for the race roster, the bike division is stacked with elite riders.
The women’s race features a likely duel between Heather Best of Fairbanks (a three-time champ) and Amber Bethe of Anchorage (a two-time winner and course record-holder). Neither has lost at the WM100; this will be their first head-to-head meeting. Adding intrigue is the entry of Anchorage’s Lael Wilcox. Among her endurance exploits is biking the 2,745-mile Tour Divide route in a record 15+ days.
Men likely to be in contention include Josh Chelf, Tim Berntson and Will Ross of Anchorage plus Heath Sandall, Tyson Flaharty and Kevin Breitenbach of Fairbanks.
Chelf holds the course record of 7 hours, 53 minutes from 2014. Last year, Berntson edged Chelf by a single minute for his third WM100 win.
Ross, meanwhile, recently claimed the world’s biggest fat bike race, the Fat Bike Birkie in Wisconsin, for the second straight year. Flaharty was a strong runner-up to Berntson four weeks ago in the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational.
In the ski division, Dash Feierabend of Tok, Shalane Frost of Fairbanks and Max Kaufman of Fairbanks headline the field; all are past WM100 champions. The trio claimed the first three spots (in the aforementioned order) at this month’s 45-mile Chena River to Ridge Endurance Race.
In the female foot division, defending champion and record-holder Teri Buck of Anchorage takes on three-time winner Laura McDonough.
The men’s foot division appears up for grabs. If he finishes on foot, John Shook of Fairbanks would become the first individual to complete all three race disciplines.
Another novelty this year is Eric Troyer, who will attempt the course in a kicksled (basically a small mushing sled). In 2014, Elliott Wilson finished in 18 1/2 hours riding a unicycle.
Editor’s Note : We’ll be talking with Kevin Breitenbach about the White Mountains 100 Race on the Weekly Dose of Fat Show # 99 on Friday.