Midwest Racing Season PreviewNovember 30, 2016
As of the end of November, we’ve already seen skiable snow come and go in the Midwest, which, if you’re a glass-is-half-full type of personality, is a pretty good start to our cross-country ski season!
The 2016-17 season brings the usual mix of changes to the skinnyski racing landscape, including a few big changes, some new events, and a few that are fading away.
Once again, the American Birkebeiner leads the way as executive director Ben Popp and his crew continue to improve upon North America's largest cross-country ski race. One of the biggest changes this season involves the Birkie’s step-sister, the Kortelopet. Long living in the shadow of the Birkie, this season the Korte enters center stage as the event moves to a premiere course layout and new date. Ditching the old loop around the Telemark trails, the Korte will now start at Hwy OO and race right into Hayward to finish at the same point downtown as the Birkie. And to avoid conflicts with its big brother, the Korte now moves to Friday (which it will share with the Prince Haakon race, also on a new course). The move to Friday certainly brings the race into the spotlight, but may impact some junior racers, which have long dominated this event, as they will now have to take a day off from school (though many have been doing this in previous seasons). Besides the Korte and Prince Haakon shuffling, the majority of the kids’ events will moved back to Thursday.All of this means that Saturday now solely belongs, once again, to the huge American Birkebeiner races. And not to be outdone by all these changes, the Birkie itself will sport a brand new start area, complete with a warming building and new trailhead facility. This change closes the book on Telemark Lodge, as the new start area will be accessed from Cable via Randysek Rd. There are also a number of minor changes, including the expansion of the finishing bridge such that it will span all four lanes of traffic on Hwy 63. The Birkie has a number of other improvements in the works as they undertake Phase II of their Capital Campaign
Point to point races are a logistical nightmare, requiring negotiations for land access, special permits, numerous road crossings, arduous grooming, and loads of volunteers. And nowhere is the task more herculean than the Vasaloppet USA. For many years, organizers have maintained 58K, 42K and 35K point to point race courses that eventually all funneled down to a legendary finish on the streets of downtown Mora. Last year’s difficult snow conditions, coupled with a fortuitous purchase of snowmaking equipment, saw the organizers put together an amazing race course that started and finished on the streets of Mora -- and was a huge hit with the racers. This year, the locals have been busy using past lessons learned to redesign their course to make it easier to maintain as well as developing alternate course layouts for snow sparse seasons (coupled with their snowmaking abilities). Their primary mission is to continue providing an excellent point-to-point race, but should Mother Nature “rain” on those plans, they have been developing an extended loop of roughly 13K that could be supported with snowmaking. If the race goes full course, expect some changes in the 58K as they have optimized their trail usage while still maintaining three unique races. As a side benefit to all this work, the Vasaloppet hopes to offer a snowmaking loop based out of the beautiful Nordic Center in Mora (and is raising funds to help in this, and other, improvements).
58K field rolls out on Union Street, Vasaloppet USA, February 13, 2016
A number of events on our calendar have also been busy fine tuning their offerings. The Sisu Ski Fest has eliminated a number of double loops and criss-crossings to provide a better race course with the major events now racing 31K and 15K. The Noquemanon has added a 3K loop to the start area to improve the roll out, and eliminated 3K near the Granite Point area to compensate for this change.
The popular Midwest Junior National Qualifier series this season also features a number of changes. In particular, World Junior Championship competition will impact the number of available openings on the team, deeper scoring has been assigned to U18/U20 competitions, restrictions have been placed on fluoro waxes in classic races, and there is now a ban on skiers racing up (specifically U14 racing up in U16).
After hosting US Nationals the previous two seasons, and US Junior Nationals last season, the Midwest will be surprisingly sparse of National level events this season. The one exception is the US National Masters competition coming to Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, Feb 4-5. The National Masters events will feature the City of Lakes Loppet races for their classical and freestyle races, and the series will provide a good tune up for 2018 when the Loppet will host the World National Masters competition (and juggle with the Superbowl). There will also be some SuperTour races - Feb 17, 19 in Ishpeming, MI, and the Feb 25 American Birkebeiner.
Amanda Kautzer stretches for 2nd place, U18 girls, Junior Nationals, March 11, 2016
US Nationals this season is out at the 2002 Olympic venue in Soldier Hollow, Utah (which also will host the World Junior Championships in March). Junior Nationals competition is in another famed Olympic venue - Lake Placid, NY - with the U16 Championships at Farmington, Maine. Happening the same week as Junior Nationals, the collegiate NCAA Skiing Championships will be at Franconia, New Hampshire. And for those looking to take on their northern neighbors, the Canadian Nationals will be at the beautiful Canmore Nordic Centre in the shadows of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta.
Every year there are a few newbies on the racing calendar. This year a new race with an old name, the Double Pole Derby, seeks to revive the grand old tradition of a holiday race in Hayward with the event showcasing the new Birkie start area for a citizen races on Wednesday, Dec 28th. The day before, juniors can take in a high school race in Spooner -- the Spooner Dash on Dec 27th. Pioneer Midwest also rolls out a new race, christened the Winter Warmup, in which it will host 5K and 10K races at Elm Creek on Christmas Eve. And while not a new event, the Loppet Invite high school race on Jan 7th might as well be a brand-new event: they will test drive a possible State Meet format with classical, freestyle and team sprint events -- all in one day!
Into the Sunset
There are a couple of events that will not be appearing on the calendar this season, for a variety of reasons. The Peter Westra Sprints are being retired, the Winter Trail Assail races in Wisconsin have thrown in the towel, and Our Neighbors Race won’t make a run this season. There are still some “undecided” events that aren’t showing on our calendar, so check the calendar throughout the season to see if some of those eventually get off the fence.
With December here, we’d be remiss if we didn’t draw focus to the weekly race series that happen throughout the Midwest. These usually mid-week events offer skiers a great chance to work on their speed (looking at you, skiers over 40…) and fitness with short distance evening races.
Check out the full race calendar and start penciling in your own racing schedule. And remember to check our Racing Outlook for updates on upcoming events, as well as the Race Calendar for changes, cancellations, as short-notice additions.
Get those skis out of storage and start waxing, people!
Note: Remember to change the category in the Race Calendar header if you’d like to view high school or collegiate race schedules.