by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's known as the Bloomsday of winter. Langlauf, Spokane's 10-kilometer cross-country ski race, is the largest and longest-running public Nordic ski race in the Northwest. Last year's race was cancelled due to lack of snow, but that's not the case this year. The trails at Mount Spokane, where the race is held, are packed and powdery, with snow predicted the day before the race. It's all adding up to great conditions for the Feb. 12 Langlauf competition.

"We expect about 400 people at this year's race," says organizer Tim Ray, who started Langlauf 28 years ago. "We usually get about that many people, with an average of 50 elite racers."

At least one of those elite racers, Torin Koos of nearby Leavenworth, Wash., won't be participating in this year's Langlauf, as he usually does. As a member of the U.S. Olympic cross-country team, Koos is busy with another race -- in Turin, Italy. Since he's the record holder for the fastest time at Langlauf, this year's race is anybody's game.

"Our participants range in age from 10 to 80-plus," Ray says. "We get people coming to Lauglauf year after year because we're known as the best-run and most fun 10K Nordic race around the Northwest. Racers come from as far away as Montana and Canada, as well as the Methow area."

So how does Langlauf work? Like Bloomsday, there's a mass start with four start zones -- Elite, for the fastest racers; Fast, for those who can ski fast but not all-out; Sport, for experienced skiers in good shape who never need to stop; and Fun, for beginners, very young skiers and those who just want to enjoy the scenery. This year's course begins on the snowmobile road below the Selkirk Lodge and follows the trails past junction four (where water is available). Shadow Mountain is the halfway point at 4,890 feet in elevation. That's an elevation gain of 640 feet, for those who are counting. The finish is just above Selkirk Lodge.

"The race offers a mix of terrain without being too difficult," Ray explains. "It's the course we've used for the past six years."

The first rule in this race is no skating. Langlauf is strictly a classical-technique event, so slide and glide is the way to go. Next, a Sno-Park permit is required to park in the lot next to the lodge. (See for permit dealers.) Fines are hefty for those without permits. A third rule is no waxing of skis in the lodge. The good news is that Fitness Fanatics will apply the kick wax du jour free of charge just before the race.

"We have a great hot soup lunch catered by Europa free for all participants," Ray says. "It's served with Great Harvest rolls and cookies along with hot apple cider from Walter's Green Bluff Fruit Ranch."

After all the feasting, special trophies are awarded to the overall male and female race winners. Age-class winners are given unique Langlauf fleece vests and medals. More than $4,000 in prizes are also given away to Langlauf racers and volunteers. A ski trip to Methow Valley's Sun Mountain Lodge or the Rendezvous Huts, Nordic ski equipment and restaurant certificates are a few of the goodies.

And there are some other fun awards thrown in the mix. The Woolies Award is given to the Langlaufer dressed in the best Norwegian gear. The Woodies Award goes to the first-place man and woman who finish the race on wooden skis and are dressed in Woolies attire.

"Every year we get about 30 people who dress up in knickers and wool skirts, some imported from Norway," Ray says. "It brings us back to the roots of cross-country skiing."

The name Langlauf also hearkens back to the origins of Nordic skiing. It's Norwegian for "through the woods." More than 5,000 years ago, primitive skis were used as a means of travel in Norway. Today the Birkenbeiner, a popular 58-kilometer touring race in that Scandinavian country, celebrates the famous flight for survival of Norway's young king-to-be in 1206.

Ray has participated in Nordic ski races in Norway and Sweden. In fact, he dreamed of skiing even when he lived in the tropics as a military brat. When his dad was transferred to the Inland Northwest, Ray was able to fulfill his dream, learning to downhill and cross-country ski. He says he enjoys cross-country skiing the most because it's like hiking in the woods.

But how did Langlauf come about?

"Langlauf was primarily my idea with some of my friends," Ray reveals. "We wanted to bring cross-country ski racing to Spokane."

If you get yourself up to Mount Spokane this Sunday, you just might catch a bit of the Winter Olympic spirit right here in the Inland Northwest.

Langlauf registration opens Sunday, Feb. 12, at 8:30 am at the Selkirk Lodge on Mount Spokane. Entry fee: $25. Visit or e-mail or call 922-6080.

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