Chama Chile Ski Classic seeks Pagosa competitors

With another snowy winter upon us, it seems important to find ways to embrace this ubiquitous wet, white stuff. The 36th annual Chama Chile Ski Classic, to be held Sunday, Jan. 18, offers Four Corners residents a chance to do just that.

In fact if you are a beginning skier you might literally get the chance to “embrace” some snow as you slip on your skis and fall into it. More experienced skiers will have to content themselves with figuratively embracing the snow and the winter season. Participants can choose from cross country ski and snowshoeing races for all ages and abilities. In addition, there are plenty of fun, non-skiing activities to entertain those who have no intention of ever donning skis or snowshoes.

The Chile Ski Classic is a celebration of snow, with years worth of tradition behind it. “There is a lot of folklore surrounding the CCSC,” said race co-director Nancy Dervin. “From what we are able to put together, the CCSC is in its thirty-sixth year, although some Chama locals claim the race is more than fifty years old.” 

The race appears to have been started by three Albuquerque men, William “Rex” Shurtleff, Don Elliot and Wayne Shaver, said Dervin.  She explained that, according to Shurtleff, the first CCSC was probably held in 1972 or ’73 —1973 being consistent with the 36th annual being held in 2009.  For approximately five years, this trio came to Chama every winter weekend to sell and rent skis, give ski lessons, and manage the CCSC. 

In it’s heyday, the CCSC attracted a good crowd of cross-country skiers (over 200 skiers some years, according to Shurtleff).  Sometime around 1977, the organization of the race moved into the hands of the Mountains & Rivers sports store, in Albuquerque.  It continued to be a well-attended event for a few years. But as time went on, certain factors eventually impacted the race negatively.  First, the event lost its organizers from Mountains & Rivers.  They apparently sold the business and no one picked up the race.

Another factor that affected the race was the long drought of the 1990s in New Mexico, Dervin told The SUN.  Because of the lack of snow, many cross-country skiers exchanged their cross-country gear for alpine skis because the mountain resorts were still making snow.  Finally, the growing popularity of snowmobiling drew people away from cross-country skiing. So, for a variety of reasons, the CCSC dwindled down to become mostly a “locals-only event.” 

Next, the race was organized by a variety of Chama residents namely John Beaver, Joe Puma and Bob Porter, among others, and more recently by the Chama Chamber of Commerce.  Finally, Che Johnston from High Country Restaurant took over management of the race for a few years, with support from the Chama Valley Rotary Club.  Nancy Dervin and her husband Larry became organizers of the event after the 2006 race.  This year, fellow Chama Rotarian, Lynette Cannon, joins the Dervins as race co-director.

Before moving to Chama a few years ago, the Dervins lived in Los Angeles where they were avid trail runners and race directors. Even now, from their residence in Chama, they continue to organize three yearly trail races in the Los Angeles area. After joining the Chama Valley Rotary Club they went to volunteer for the CCSC in 2006.  There were only about 18 skiers that year, said Dervin.  “Because I was looking for a way to give something to the community, because I love outdoor sports and mountain sports in particular, and because I’ve gained some experience directing trail events in Los Angeles, I thought it might be a good use of my energy to help with the CCSC,” Dervin said.

The past couple of years the Dervins have made good use of the Internet to market the race and had 75 entries in 2007 followed by 85 in 2008.  “The big snowfall last year actually cost us some skiers from Taos and southern Colorado, because of road closures.” 

And this year promises to be bigger than 2008. “We are very excited that the UNM ski team and their coach, Fredrik Landstadt, will be skiing with us this year,” Dervin said. She went on to say that she is also excited that one of the original CCSC race directors, Rex Shurtleff, will be skiing the CCSC in 2009.  “It’s like having the race come full circle again,” said Dervin.

In addition to the cross-country ski races, the 2009 weekend event will also feature Sno-Ball Balloon Rally. Bob Lindig normally organizes the Sno-Ball Balloon Rally in Chama in February each year, but Lindig contacted the Dervins this year because his usual Martin Luther King Jr. event was cancelled and he wants to come to Chama over that weekend to fly the balloons.  “I think the balloons will add a great ambiance and festive atmosphere to the race weekend.  Hopefully they will have good flying weather,” said Dervin.

In addition to all this, the Chama Chamber Chile Cook-Off will be held, and Cook’n Books will host a writing and book-making workshop. 

In 2008, the CCSC finally began to capture the fancy of Pagosans. Last year, Addie Greer, who owns Summit Ski & Sports, brought a group of strong, athletic ladies over to Chama to ski the CCSC.  Greer has been busy recruiting her compatriots again for the 2009 event, said Dervin.  As well, the brand new Pagosa Runner’s Club, coordinated by Ed Furtaw, has several members who are looking forward to skiing the CCSC this year.  

This year CCSC race organizers have decided to offer both competitive and  “citizens” 5K and 10K fields.  Additionally, there will be a 5K snowshoe race.  There will also be combined events to award “King and Queen of the Mountain” to the fastest times in the 10K Ski/Snowshoe division and also “Prince and Princess of the Mountain” awards to the fastest times in the 5K Ski/Snowshoe division. 

To make the racing options more diverse, there is also the opportunity to compete as a team. The “Chama Team Competition” works like this:  two or more team members ski as individuals.  Members’ individual times are added together and divided by the number of team members to give a team time.  The fastest team time wins.  Teams may consist of two to four skiers each. 

And, attention Pagosa skiers: According to Nancy Dervin, the race directors would like to add a “Pagosa Team Competition” to the docket. Team members are also eligible for individual awards.  The three fastest times in each of ten-year age divisions for the 5K and 10K will be awarded medals. 

So, if you love to compete, gather up some skier friends and head to Chama for a taste of victory. A traditional awards ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on race day at High Country Restaurant with live music and free green chile stew to all skiers.

For additional event information about the Chama Chile Ski Classic and Snow Fiesta, visit their Web site at or phone (575) 756-1926.

Photo courtesy Chama Chile Ski Classic
Racers line up at the start line to participate in the 2008 Chama Chile Ski Classic. The 2009 Lowe’s Chama Valley Supermarket Chama Chile Ski Classic will be held this year on Jan. 18 for participants of all ages and abilities and Pagosa skiers are expected to compete.