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Chile & powder: Chama Chile Ski Classic offers two days of cross country ski, snowshoe competition

The Chama Chile Ski Classic, in its 47th year, includes Nordic and classical-style cross-country skiing. (Courtesy Chama Chile Ski Classic)

A decade or so ago, the Chama Chile Ski Classic was scrambling to find enough entrants.

But the event, entering its 47th year this weekend, has not only persevered, but it has thrived, with about 300 overall participants in 2019.

“It seems like the event is gaining momentum and moving forward, especially with the marketing through social media that we haven’t had previously,” said race co-director Melissa Clark.

Race officials also have aligned it with the Southwest Nordic Race Series, which has helped its exposure.

“It’s an interesting process,” Clark said. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve become involved with other qualifying races in the Southwest, so that’s kind of helped things. We offer some qualifying things and you can participate with other race schedules in the area.”

Several years ago, fat tire bicycle racing and snowshoe racing were added the slate of events. The latter has proved to be so popular that another race was added, while the former was eliminated because organizers felt the bicycles did too much damage to the course.

And it is that course that helps make the event so intriguing, said Jon Dellios of Albuquerque, who has attended it many times.

“It’s on the (Cumbres & Toltec) railroad bed for part of the course,” he said. “It’s a small, narrow-gauge railroad, and part of the course runs along that railroad bed, which is really neat because trains can’t go at a high pitch but trains do go up the mountain, and that lends itself to be an excellent course.”

Then it diverges into the backcountry, Dellios said, where it really gets interesting.

“There are a couple of little spots in the trees, but mostly we’re skiing on big, open, rolling meadows,” he said. “Unbelievable beautiful vistas as we ski along. Over the years, we’ve had remarkable grooming, so the course is in excellent shape, and makes it so much easier to ski.”

One of the aspects of the course, however, is that it remains primarily ungroomed until the weekend before the race, Clark said. That means locals can’t get out and do in-depth scouting of the terrain to get inside information that could give them an advantage.

“Our permit with the Forest Service is very short, and everything we do is volunteer, so we can’t get people out there to keep it groomed,” she said. “So the locals can’t get out there and time themselves and have a plan of action. I think that makes it fun and different. You don’t have a home crowd being out there and being able to practice and win every race. It allows outside people to be able to come in and be competitive.”

The two-day event features the Nordic-style races Saturday, Jan. 18, of 6-kilometer and 18K distances, with a 6K snowshoe that is a qualifier for the USSSA Nationals. The afternoon will include clinics for beginners, freestylists, advanced classical-style and even yoga for racers.

On Sunday, Jan. 19, the classical-style cross country ski race will slide off with 6K and 12K distances, along with a 12K snowshoe race. Sunday also will feature a Mardi Gras-themed costume contest.

“I think the fun environment in the community that revolves around the race is my favorite part of it,” Delios said. “As the community has grown, more and more kids and families are involved and that makes it more fun. The Chama Chile Classic is a really fun event and could be attractive to anyone who wants to spend time in the winter conditions in the snow. You don’t have to be a ski enthusiast to enjoy the weekend.”

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