IditaSport return fills void in winter ultra-racing

by • January 20, 2014 • trailmixComments (0)161

Some of Billy Koitzsch’s best memories are tied to the IditaSport racing scene. As a teenager in the early ’90s, he rigged fat-wheeled mountain bikes before the popular fat bikes even had a name. He and some of the veteran ultra racers of their time, including Tim Kelley, Richard Larson and others pushed their limits over frozen tundra … just because they could. The IditaSport race – which offered ski, bike and foot categories – was something he looked forward to every year.

Billy Koitzsch bikes in one of the earliest IditaSport races, celebrating with a red-hair dye job. Courtesy Billy Koitzsch

Billy Koitzsch bikes in one of the earliest IditaSport races, celebrating with a red-hair dye job. Courtesy Billy Koitzsch

When the well-known race dissolved after 2001, it seemed IditaSport would become a distant memory. Other wilderness races evolved: The Susitna 100 and Little Su 50K replaced IditaSport’s shorter distances, and Iditarod Trail Invitational’s 350- and 1,000-mile races took up where IditaSport’s  Extreme and Impossible categories left off.

But, still, Koitzsch said, he missed IditaSport.

“The IditaSport has been a major influence in my life,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have raced in many of the different IditaSports: IditaSport 100, IditaSport 160, IditaSport Extreme (350 mile). The IditaSport was the race that started all of the ultramarathons.”

In fact, he credits the race with a lot of the innovation we see in today’s winter adventure gear.

“This race has sparked ideas, passions and inventions – right down to the evolution of the modern day fat bike,” he said. “I always thought this race should continue because it was what got me into winter adventuring.”

And continue it will. Koitzsch and his wife, Erica, have worked since August of 2012 to get the race back. It will be held Feb. 7-11, with two distances: 200 miles and 100 kilometers.

Resurrecting the IditaSport was an effort to fill a middle-distance void between some of today’s most popular fat bike races – the Frosty Bottom’s 25- and 50-milers, and the Iditarod Trail Invitational’s 350- and 1,000-milers. The White Mountains 100 is limited to 50 lottery winners, and the Susitna races stopped operating after 2011, and Koitzsch thought it was a thing of the past, too (turns, out that race has revived, too; see more details in our accompanying sidebar). That got him motivated to see IditaSport rise again.

“I thought if I was going to bring back such an influential race, I might as well give it its original moniker,” he said.

Billy Koitzsch, always one for fashion, sports a multi-colored snow suit and red-dyed hair for the 1996 IditaSport. Courtesy Billy Koitzsch

Billy Koitzsch, always one for fashion, sports a multi-colored snow suit and red-dyed hair for the 1996 IditaSport. Courtesy Billy Koitzsch

Koitzsch said this year’s race will feature all of the modern amenities that make today’s wilderness races more safe. There will be tracking devices and checkpoints every 30 miles, as well as reflective trail markers to guide racers.

“I feel it is important to know where all the participants are on the race course, especially in an Alaskan winter environment,” he said.

Still, he pointed out, “No matter how safe I can plan the race to be, Mother Nature always has the last word. I can help the racers with their creature comforts at the checkpoints, but what happens in between is what makes winter adventuring in Alaska so unpredictable and so appealing for the participants. These safety precautions do not make the race any easier.”

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