March 18, 2023
Contributed by Eric Ness
The John Craig event has been held on McKenzie pass since about 1935. It honors a mail carrier who laid out the route of the current Highway 242, and who later froze to death near the summit in a small stone house. The event has evolved from a full-on west to east ski, to an up and back (from Sisters), sometimes as a fully timed race and others as a more casual tour.
This year, a group from CONC skied the course two weeks prior to the event to scout for logs across the road, and noted a deep drifting of snow about a half mile before Windy Point (which is about halfway to the summit). Later that night, unbeknownst to the skiers, a 20,000 lb groomer from the Mount Jefferson Snowmobile Club (MJSC) attempted to clear that drift and found themselves in enough of a self-triggered avalanche that the groomer was pushed across the road.
Safety dictated that the event not cross this area, so a new 12 mile route was plotted out by MJSC consisting of a loop between Benson and Hwy 242. Unfortunately, the Forest Service was not informed in sufficient time to sanction the new route, so this year’s John Craig was a very short up and back to the area of the avalanche on Hwy 242. However, MJSC had already groomed the alternate route, so even though it was not the official route MJSC members stationed on the course gave a wink, and many skiers returned from the avalanche area on this route. For those of us who were not concerned about “race times”, it turned out to be a very fun route in a new (for skiers) area.
Following the event, a pizza party had been arranged at Takoda’s restaurant in Sisters. Weather was good enough to sit outside, which facilitated getting to know a few of the other skiers. The big event in my mind, was the presentation of the John Day award following the pizza party. This award recognizes one person in the state Oregon Nordic Club (ONC, our parent organization) who has demonstrated outstanding service to the club and sport, and who champions the club’s charter of promoting skiing and community. CONC’s Sue Sullivan was this year’s awardee, which is kept a secret right up to the award presentation. Fortunately, our ONC representative (Jerry Sebestyen) was out of town, giving me an excuse to ask Sue to attend the pizza party and ONC meeting (which turned out NOT to be after the pizza party). Anyway, Sue was totally surprised by the award presentation, which she totally deserved!