MORE than 1000 cross country skiers will take to the high plains early tomorrow for the Kangaroo Hoppet.
The Aussie contingent will include three winter Olympic team members.
One of their greatest challenges will come from Valentina Shevchenko, who carried the flag for Ukraine at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi.
The Hoppet’s Alan Marsland said snow conditions would reduce the marathon classic to 36 kilometres.
“We have had to cut six kilometres from the course,” he said.
“It’s an area that is exposed to the wind and sun and, while we had enormous snow falls last month it really hasn’t snowed since.”
Marsland said the northern hemisphere skiers were again set to dominate.
Last year’s Hoppet was won by Russian superstar Alexander Legkov, who later won gold in the 50-kilometre race at Sochi.
“Headline international acts include Swiss skier, Valerio Leccardi, who finished just seconds behind the winner in this year’s Engadine Ski Marathon; Barbara Jezersek from Slovenia who has been training here for months; American Lauren Fritz and Shevchenko, who only arrived on Tuesday night,” Marsland said.
“Leading the challenge from Australia will be Mount Beauty’s Phil Bellingham and Porepunkah’s Paul Kovacs, together with another from the Kiewa Valley, Esther Bottomley, Aimee Watson and Jessica Yeaton.
“Bottomley is a triple Winter Olympian while Bellingham and Watson contested their first Olympics this year.”
Now in its 24th year, the Kangaroo Hoppet is the largest southern hemisphere race of the Worldloppet series of 20 cross-country ski races, which sees 135,000 skiers taking part globally on four continents.