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Fairbanks' Ski for Women attracts colorful crowd

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Psychedelic hippies, wigged fairies, caped superheroes and a whole lot (or forest) of skiing birch trees — the costumes of this year's Ski for Women event at Birch Hill Recreation Area on Sunday provided entertainment for nearly 150 skiers.

For 10 years, the annual Ski for Women event has attracted females of all ages to a non-competitive event full of color, laughter, food and prizes. It has also encouraged women skiers of all skill sets to get out skiing without fear of competition. The proceeds from the event go to the Interior Alaska Center for Nonviolent Living.

Sylvia Slotnick created the Fairbanks event 10 years ago after reading about Anchorage's version.

"The basic idea was to get women out," she said.

Slotnick pointed out that most athletic events in town tend to be dominated by men. She thought a women's ski event would help people feel comfortable and build camaraderie for events.

Fairbanks' version started simply — a timed course with a small potluck afterward. Through the years, though, it has grown into a full-blown women's affair with big donated prizes and elaborate decorations.

About three years ago, Slotnick handed the event's planning over to a committee consisting of Peg Bowers, Chris Broda, Margaret Mannix, Linda Garcia and Nancy Hanneman.

"Our purpose is to have people out enjoying the ski," Mannix said on Sunday before the event. They stopped timing the "race" a couple of years ago because some people were still being scared away by the thought of competition.

The truth is, people can ski as much or as little as they like, as fast or as slow as they want. Mothers bring their young daughters for their first time on skis or drag them behind in a sled. High school and university skiers whiz through the trails. Women bring their friends and make the event a social one.

"Over the years, we've evolved with our own Fairbanks flavor," Mannix said.

Broda, who the other committee members called the creative force of the event, picks a theme each year to help decorate the course. Last year, the trails were lined with pink flamingos. This year, they were decorated with bright pinwheels.

Broda is also a member of the group, the Ladies of Leisure, who arrive each year for the ski in force. They also come dressed in themed costumes.

They have been Barbies, Raggedy Anns and Avatars. This year, about a dozen of the ladies looked earthy dressed as birch trees.

Though the event is for women, some men participate or contribute in other ways.

"We've had wonderful men support this," Bowers said.

For example, members of the Nordic Ski Club groom the trails, Fred Raymond of Raven Cross Country donates two pairs of skis for prizes each year and Kent Karns emceed the outdoor portion of the day.

When the race begins, the brightly costumed mob takes off in a colorful blur. They trickle back in to the arena in their own time.

After most skiers return, they are invited back inside the ski center for a potluck. This year's lunch included salads, breads, desserts and about a dozen different Crock Pots full of food. Those who registered for the event were entered into door prizes and raffle prizes.

Mary Ann Sweeney and Pam Laker brought their young daughters out to the ski.

Sweeney's daughter Evelyn Mills, 5, wore a blue tutu on top of her ski boots. A member of Junior Nordics, it wasn't Mills' first time skiing.

"We loved it, but we did take a shortcut," Sweeney said. "It's a tradition now for us."

Laker and her daughter Zarah Laker-Morris, 6, finished at about the same time as the other pair.

Laker said they came out because they "wanted to support the cause, and what a great way to do it."

Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,