By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff
The Chewelah Cross Country team is hosting their first home meet of the season on Saturday and it’s not your average meet. Unlike a cross country race that’s on a golf course or based around a soccer field, Chewelah’s 49 Degrees North race is based on the ski hill. It’s the first year that the ski hill has hosted the event.
“It is very unique, I know in my running career I’ve never raced at a ski hill before,” Chewelah Cross Country coach Melissa Burkey said. “We were somewhat limited as far as being able to groom the course since the resort is in the Colville National Forest but to me running a course like this is the essence of cross country running.”
The meet will feature a rough trail instead of a road or lawn and runners will be climbing for the first mile. There’s also the fact that the race is in the woods – not a city park – that the more hearty people in Chewelah spend their time.
“A lot of people sign up for mud runs or warrior dashes now because they want novelty and a fun a fun challenge, and I think this course will provide both,” Burkey said.
Chewelah provide the unique challenge of not having many places open to traffic, have some kind of trail system and provides an area close enough for parking and facilities for spectators. The ski hill is also perfect since the infrastructure is already there right in the middle of the Colville National Forest.
“49 Degrees North has all of those things and the owners and staff have been incredibly generous in allowing us to host an invitational there and helping us set up the race course,” Burkey said. “They support the community in a lot of ways, and we also have a lot of parents and some staff members from the school volunteering the day of the race. That’s the great thing about a small town– we are a close knit community and together we support our youth and their achievements.”
Planning for the race wasn’t easy. The Chewelah Cross Country staff began mapping the course in June, clocking the distance using one of the trucks from 49 Degrees North. Using Google Earth they made adjustments to get the exact distances they needed: a 5k (3.1 miles) for the high school and citizens’ race and a 1.5 mile course for junior high runners.
“We wanted a trail that would be in a loop rather than an out and back,” Burkey said. “We wanted a course that would be challenging but fun and would still be somewhat spectator-friendly.”
Eleven other high school teams are competing along with Chewelah and four other junior high teams are coming. Four NEA League school teams will be at the meet: Colville, Freeman, Lakeside and Newport. There’s also a citizen’s 5k so anybody can lace up their running shoes and join the race. There is no entry fee but a $5 donation is suggested. Concession will also be available for purchase and the proceeds will go to benefit the cross country team.
“One perk of how the course is laid out is that spectators can see the runners three times during the race (including the start and finish) from the comfort of the lodge deck,” Burkey said. “That is definitely a perk for our spectators. My mom used to joke when my brother and I ran cross country that she ran more than either of us on race day as she ran from spot to spot to try and see us run.”
The Chewelah Cross Country team has already had two meets and a jamboree under their belt. The new runners know what to expect, Burkey said, and the seasoned runners have a better idea of what their goals are for the season.
“They did especially well on Saturday, despite the downpour we had all day in Coeur d’Alene all but two of my athletes that competed beat their personal records and one set his record for the season thus far.”
The course opens at 7:30 a.m. while sixth grade race begins at 9 a.m. The varsity women’s race begins at 11:15 a.m. while the varsity men’s race begins at noon.