In might be the novelty of skiing in places that are inaccessible any other day of the year, the challenge of “Carnage Hill” — one of the ungroomed sections of the route — or the camaraderie of being with a group of kindred skiers who decide to make the 30K journey. Whatever their reasons, 600 hardy folk will brave the freezing chairlift ride to the top of Mission Ridge in February to the starting point of the annual Hog Loppet cross-country ski event.
This noncompetitive trek from the Wenatchee-area ski resort to Blewett Pass, sponsored by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (LWSC), is in its 26th year, and its loyal band of followers, though eclectic in equipment, age and ability level, return each year to “do the Loppet.”
In Swedish, where loppets are common, the word means “ski trek.” There’s even an international sports federation of cross-country ski marathons called Worldloppet. The “hog” part of LWSC’s trek name is derived from the Swedish word for high, “hög,” so this translates loosely into: high-country ski trek.
The opportunity to do this kind of long-distance, cross-country ski tour is rare in this country; the nearest known similar trek is in Michigan.
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giddy day on skis
“The whole event has a giddy feeling to it,” said Bruce Bendickson, 56, of Wenatchee, a commercial real-estate appraiser who has skied the Hog Loppet at least a dozen times and will be there in February. “Getting up to the top it’s extraordinarily pretty, then you think, ‘What are we getting ourselves into?’ ”
This trepidation is due in part to what some know as Carnage Hill, and what Bendickson calls the “Walt Disney Zone,” a section early on the route that would make a great scene in a 1960s-era goofy comedy.
“This stretch is ungroomed and nobody gets through there without crashing,” he said. “It’s ski, plop, ski, plop, ski, plop, and it’s just a hoot.”
Though a reliably skiable track is laid out for most of the trek, this area is too steep for the snow groomer. The ability to laugh it off, pick yourself up and keep going is a trait that seems to run in the blood of career “Loppeters.”
“It takes a certain amount of positive energy to think you can complete these things,” said Andy Dappen, 59, content manager for the website Wenatcheeoutdoors.org. “Most people who do outdoor sports tend to be folks who enjoy life — gusto people — and they’re excited to be out and excited that the day’s here to do it.”
Dappen skied the trek for several years with his daughters when they were in their teens, and he appreciates the diverse and welcoming group that turns out for the event.
“What I like best about it is the variety of skiers out there — you see every subsection of the backcountry/cross-country/Nordic continuum, from modern skating skis to people with wood skis wearing old-time wool knickers and knee socks,” he said. “It’s a wide spectrum and all are having a great time.”
Chris Clark, 66, of Leavenworth, an avid cross-country skier who works in wine sales, hasn’t missed a Loppet yet.
“It’s a combination of pushing your limits a little bit and the amazing experience of being up in a place you wouldn’t normally get to go,” she said. “I love to push myself athletically, and I like that it’s supported, so if for some reason you get injured you can bail out.”
Picnics and photo ops
Many people make a day of it, picnicking along the route and (weather permitting) stopping to photograph stunning views of Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak and the Stewart Range. And though the trek is not a race, one person is known for being the first to glide into Blewett Pass every year.
Klev Schoening, 56, who has become somewhat of a legend among Hog Loppet fans, insists the first time he pushed himself to the finish he was trying to make it home for his child’s soccer game in Seattle. Schoening, a self-employed contractor who “converted” from alpine to nordic skiing years ago, stresses that the Loppet isn’t a race and he doesn’t want to make it one — he just likes to push himself and has a loose goal of trying to finish in two hours.
“I don’t know if I can do that and still be polite to all the great volunteers,” he said. “I don’t come from a racing background, but we like to challenge ourselves and everyone does it in a different way.”
Loppeters as a group gladly welcome newbies to try one of their favorite ski outings.
“It’s fun to introduce people to this event from all ability levels,” said Schoening. “To meet the challenge and overcome (it) can be euphoric.”
Kathryn True is a Vashon Island-based freelance writer and cross-country skier.