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High School

2000 Kangaroo Hoppet

September 19, 2000

The 10th Kangaroo Hoppet was run on August 26,2000 at Falls Creek, Victoria, Australia, located 4 hours from Melbourne. About 1500 people participated in the 42k Hoppet, 21k Australian Birkebeiner, and 7k Joey (name for baby kangaroo) races. I haven't done other World Loppet races outside the USA, but this race is quite different than any in the Midwest. The temperature was always around 32F, snow was good, and the visibility changed constantly.

The X-C ski area is located at the top of the Bogong Highlands area, about 7000-ft elevation. As you travel up the mountain, there is no hint of snow until the final 2k of road climbing, yet the need to dodge a kangaroo and wombat did add to the adventure. The tree cover is mostly eucalyptus trees, which are quite interesting in winter since they do not loose their leaves.

The race literature stresses to "ski with a partner". I took me a while to gain a full understanding of this statement. The Hoppet is a figure of eight double loop with each loop heading out into true alpine wilderness. The day before the race I teamed up with an Australian skier who knew the course and also wanted to ski the first loop. First thing he said was, "I usually don't ski alone". Since the cloud cover was very low and winds were strong, the visibility was at times almost zero and we couldn't see the terrain at all. Out in the open areas, the course is marked with orange poles every 30 meters. We skied from pole to pole, at times not even able to determine up from down.

When we arrived back at the midpoint after 21k, we stopped to speak to two Scandinavians. I said, "It's good to see people again!" Their reply was, "We tried to ski the loop but turned back because of the visibility." That exchange certainly made that 21k loop worthwhile. I have to admit thinking, "chock one up the Americans!" although my partner was an Aussie.

Early on race day, the weather looked the same-low clouds, strong wind, and low visibility. I still hadn't seen the mountain! As racers entered the starting gate in groups of 100, the clouds began clearing, the sun peeked out, and the whole area looked absolutely beautiful!

As was suggested by my Australian friend, I had rilled as much structure into my skis as possible and it paid off. The snow was fast and the course was groomed to perfection. Now, all I had to remember was to ski on the left and pass on the right! It's not just driving on the left in Australia, it's a whole different mentality, including sidewalks, and even ski trails!

The first 21k loop starts by circling through a wide open bowl called "Sun Valley". At about 10k, you climb the famous "Paralyser", a steady 2k climb through a eucalyptus grove, then back out into the open highlands, followed by a great 1.5k downhill runout called "Blade Runner". The skiing was exceptional, especially now with visibility!

The second 21k loop sends you through beautiful "Sun Valley" again before heading out in the opposite direction into the wilderness. The loop is well known for two difficult climbs. "Wallace's Wall" at 28k is followed shortly with "Riley's Revenge" at 30k. Before you recover from the "Wall", you are faced with the "Revenge", steeper and longer than any hill in the American Birkebeiner. The last 10k gives up the elevation gained from the two climbs and crosses through wide-open valleys. This would have been a great way to finish had it not been for winds that literally "stood you up" and then "stopped you in your tracks."

At the finish you are treated to warm food and drink and the chance to mix it up with people from 23 different countries.

I ran into a German skier at the airport who happened to be in my age group. He was eager to show me his World Loppet passport, and also wanted to know my finish time. It was nice to see that I had finished well before him. Chock another one up for the Americans!

After this, I certainly will pursue more World Loppet events. I strongly recommend the Hoppet to the avid skier/adventurer. But, get out and roller ski as much as possible before you go!!

John Garrett

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