- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Skiers lined up under the faint yellow glow from a street light on Casper Mountain. Beams from 40 headlamps illuminated the dark night.

“I can tell it’s going to be super soft on the downhills,” race organizer John Kirlin said. “Good Luck is exactly its name, good luck.”

Some racers wore thin, colorful spandex suits. The Jan. 15 event wasn’t their first race and would likely not be their last. Others wore jackets, snowpants and thick gloves and hats. For them, the night would be more about skiing 3.1 miles than racing for the finish.

They all talked as they shuffled into place.

Casper skier Matt Bowman was focused on not getting lost. It was his second race of the season and only his 10th time on skis.

“It’s a blast to be way out there,” he said. “But at times it can be a little scary in the dark.”

But he wasn’t going to let a little eeriness stand in his way.

Chatter from skiers waiting to start died only long enough for Kirlin to yell “go.”

Bowman and 39 other racers were part of the Wednesday night Headlamp Series on Casper Mountain. It’s one of a handful of grassroots ski races sprouting up in the state focused on giving people an affordable way to be enjoy nature and be active - even if it does require a certain kind of person to Nordic ski race in the dark.

Kirlin started the series of six races three years ago. Each one is about three miles and starts under the lights at the Casper Mountain Trails Center. Kirlin marks the course with reflective tape on red flags and skis behind the last person to make sure no one stays the night on the mountain.

“I wanted to get something in the community where people could be active and have fun again,” he said. “We used to have the Ski Chase and Cowboy State Games, but when I came back from college there really wasn’t anything.”

The first season brought an average of about 15 racers. The biggest event hosted 23. Last year was a bust with thin snow and warm temperatures.

This year the numbers keep climbing. Thirty-one skiers came for the first race and 33 for the second.

The races complement a community mountain bike race series which has more than 100 people showing up for some evening races.

“A series like this makes people want to stay in a town,” racer Colby Frontiero said. “With the wind and the weather, this gives people in Casper something to do.”

The best part? It’s only $5 to race, and they have prizes.

Kirlin wanted to keep it as low cost as possible while still providing insurance. People shouldn’t have to spend $50 or even $100 to participate like they do in some of the bigger, more commercialized races.

Casper isn’t the only town with community races popping up. Sundance held its first Bear Lodge Blast in February as a way to showcase the community’s new trails.

“We wanted to be able to have something fun for the weekend, but also help people realize that our trails are out there,” said Brian Sebade, one of the race’s organizers.

He didn’t charge anything for the first race, and offered a chili feed with prizes after. About 15 people showed up. He hopes to hold another one this year.

Before the Casper Mountain races and before the free race in Sundance, were the Starlight Streak races in Laramie.

Held by the Medicine Bow Nordic Association, the Wednesday night races have attracted between 15 and 40 people at each race for five years.

“It’s a fun way to do a hard workout,” said Christi Boggs, founder of the race series, president of the Nordic Association and one of the University of Wyoming Nordic ski team coaches.

Boggs runs four or five races each year, depending on snow condition, along with three weekend races for the community.

Races are another way for people to become involved in skiing, she said. Participants in the night races can leave a donation - usually of $5 - and the money goes to different ski-related activities. Each event is slightly different, whether a sprint or classic or skate-style race.

“They’re short, they don’t cost much, and they’re low pressure,” Boggs said. “I love the opportunity for everyone to have a race.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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