Hickman skis 291 k in 24 hours

By Mike Coil Explorebigsky.com Contributor

At the sixth annual Equinox Snow Challenge held March 24-25 in West Yellowstone, Kat Hickman of Bozeman set a new course record by cross country skiing 291 kilometers (175 miles) in 24 hours. The previous record of 269.5 kilometers had also been established by Hickman in 2010. While another competitor, Alex Lussier, went further at 319 kilometers, he covered part of the course on a snow bike.

The Equinox Snow Challenge is fundraising event sponsored by local merchants and businesses. All proceeds are used to benefit the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation and Big Brothers and Sisters. Athletes can compete in cross country skiing, running or snow biking or any combination of the three. The event derives part of its name from the fact that it is held around the spring equinox.

Events included a 24-minute category for kids, and three-, six, 12- and 24 hour categories for adults. Athletes chose a category and then tried to complete as much possible distance in that category within the time allotted. Team included up to eight people, and team kept at least one skier on the course at all times during the 24 hours. Six teams participated in the 24-hour category. The winning team “49 Nordic” amassed 397 kilometers.

This year’s event included a category for snow bikes, modified mountain bikes with oversized tires allowing riders to travel on snow. The ski and snowmobile trails around West Yellowstone are perfect for snow bikes. The top snow biker, Jill Hueckman, covered 213 kilometers in 24 hours.

The event is held at the Rendezvous Trailhead in West Yellowstone. Many of the participants set up camp at the trailhead for the weekend. The parking lot was used as a staging area for the event and was full of campers and pickups as the athletes settled in for Saturday and Sunday under bluebird skies. While the sunny weather created soft snow conditions at midday, the nighttime temperatures rendered perfect skiing and a fast course.

The USFS provided grooming throughout the event to keep the trail in near perfect condition. Bonfires were stoked through the night to add ambiance to the start area, and many of the participants had support crews that provided food and drink each time the skiers completed a loop of the trail.

The Equinox Snow Challenge is now in its sixth season and growing every year. The original race in 2007 had about 30 skiers. This year’s event included about 110 participants; eight of those were bikers, and 12 were kids in the 24-minute category. Full results from the event can be found at equinoxskichallenge.com.