Winter of 2005 will be remembered as a big bust. The non-outdoors types enjoy dry roads and warmer temperatures, but those of us who enjoy an invigorating romp in the white stuff have been disappointed by the lack of snow.
The week leading to the 2005 Vasa was a test for those of us that live downstate. There was really nowhere to train, and most folks wondered if it was even possible for the Vasa crew to host a race while daily temperatures were above freezing. Only two inches of snow had fallen in the Traverse City region since Wednesday.
The drive to the race start on Saturday morning was not encouraging. The surrounding fields were brown, and the temperature was 30 degrees. As one got further away from the Grand Traverse Bay, the temperature dropped, and it was about 28 degrees our new temporary starting point at Timber Ridge.
Due to the lack of snow, the organizers decided to move the race to Timber Ridge, where the trail was usable due to ample shade from the trees and careful grooming by the crew. The 50K freestyle race would be skied by completing two 25K loops. The 50K classic race was cancelled, as there was no way to set a decent classical track.
A call went out to volunteers to assist with shoveling snow on bare portions of the trail. It was difficult to tell where the snow was added, as the entire trail had excellent coverage for the 25K loop. The climbs were very difficult, as skiers were forced to shorten their stride in an attempt to get a decent push on the ice under the dry powder.
The downhill runs were fun and for the most part, safe. A few skiers pushed the envelope a little too far and found themselves sliding on their backsides, but the biggest problem for most racers was that the snow was inconstantly grabby and slippery. Sometimes the skis ran fast, and then a few meters away, they lurched in slow snow.
Ample aid stations provided refreshing cold drinks, cookies, and fruit. One of the members of NordicSkiRacer.com, Mike Heidinger, didn’t bother to carry a drink or energy gel. “Last year, I stapled the gel to my bib, but never used it. So this year I decided to just grab a drink at the aid stations. I was fine.” Heidinger finished the 50K race with an excellent time of 2:35.04.
Most skiers were wise to carry some fuel with them, for nothing is more disheartening than bonking during a race.
This year’s race was fast, as top competitors Andy Triebold of Spring Arbor and Joey Graci sprinted to the 50K in 2:14, with Graci winning by only six seconds.
The finish at Timber Ridge seemed easier than the regular finish, as it wasn’t necessary to ski the murderous hills that destroy the souls of so many competitors. The sun, obscured by clouds and trees, wasn’t able to push the temperature much over 35 degrees.
Hopefully, 2006 will bring consistent snow to Michigan. Our economy needs snow for skiers and snowmobilers to play in. After all, aren’t we the “Winter Water Wonderland?”