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Skiers brave the cold for 18K, 7.5K races Sunday at Soaring Eagle

Blake Hillerson, front, and Steven Gromatka came in first and second place for the 18K freestyle division of the Soaring Eagle New Year's Challenge Sunday. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Brisk temperatures didn't keep everyone home Sunday - skiing enthusiasts braved the cold to race in the Soaring Eagle New Year's Challenge.

A total of 24 skiers participated in the 7.5K or 18K freestyle races. No one participated in the 1K kids/family race.

Event organizer Janine Weideman, a member of Itascatur Ski/Bike/Run, said cold temperatures and icy roads probably played a part in no one participating in the kids/family race.

"It was -15 degrees earlier in the morning," she said. "I don't think parents wanted their kids out when it was that cold."

But those who showed up had a great time, Weideman said. The temperature got warmer by the time the race started at noon, she added.

Blake Hillerson, 25, of Fargo, N.D., was first in the male division to cross the finish line in the 18K freestyle event with a time of 49:50.7, followed closely by Steven Gromatka, 20, of Alexandria, with a time of 51:52.6.

Kathryn Ladig, 21, of Bemidji, was the first female to finish the 18K freestyle, with a time of 58:51.1, followed by Julie Virkus, 56, of St. Louis Park, with a time of 1:06:19.

In the 7.5K freestyle division, Summer Ellefson, 15, of Park Rapids, came in first in the women's division with a time of 25:13.3. She was also the only female to participate in the 7.5K.

Jakob Bjerkness, 15, of Minneapolis, was the first male to finish the 7.5K with a time of 31:17.7, followed by Brent Bjerkness, 41, of Minneapolis with a time of 31:18.9.

After the races, awards were given out and hot soup was served in the warming house. Complete race results are available at

Soaring Eagle is located 8 miles north of Park Rapids on the west side of Highway 71.