There is one word that describes the Nordic ski racing experience in Michigan: Unpredictable.
As a 24-year veteran of the White Pine Stampede, I’ve learned to prepare for a wide range of conditions. On average, the race conditions are on the cold side, with temperatures at 20 degrees or lower. But we’ve also had races with temperatures well below zero, events when Mother Nature dumped feet of snow the night before the race, or days when it was so icy that every downhill was scary beyond belief.
The 2005 White Pine Stampede would prove to be a balmy race, as the temperature at the start was pushing 30 degrees, and it was nearly 50 degrees at the race finish.
Those that competed in the 50k event (shortened to approximately 43k due to thin snow) had a very comfortable start. The starting line was moved about 1k to avoid a very thin and dirty field. This left us with a narrow starting area that only allowed about 20 skiers to line up per row. A few yards up the trail, there was only one skating lane and two classical lanes.
For those of us that were lined up in the third row, the start was typically crazy, as skiers raced for position to shouts of “Keep your poles in!” Many of us jumped from the skating track and used the classical tracks to double pole past slower competitors.
The first hour was fast, and by pacing myself with excellent skiers such as Dick Fultz and Steve Smiegel, I was able to reach my goal of reaching the 20k marker in under 60 minutes.
The course was in very good shape, with a few dirty patches and one or two icy turns. Due to the lack of snow, the race organizers arranged for the 50k skiers to complete a loop two times. A long, arduous sun-drenched climb created a lot of suffering. After a few twisting descents, we were faced with a grueling climb that seemed to take forever. The downhill runs were often scary fast, especially for those who jumped into the classical tracks. Unfortunately, on the second loop, this was no longer true as temperatures had turned much of the base into mush. The climbs had the consistency of mashed potatoes, and the second hour was a true test of one’s conditioning and mental fortitude. Flouro waxes are the solution for these types of warm, wet conditions, but a ski must also have a very open structure to channel the moisture away from the ski.
The race volunteers are to be commended, as there was plenty of water, Gatorade, and other food available at multiple places throughout the race course.
Finally, at about the 35k marker, we reached my favorite part of the course, Fiber Optic, a straight run that features a tough climb that is followed by several rollers. By jumping into the classical track, I was able to nearly glide to the top of the next hill!
After passing the last aid station at 39k, we crossed the road that parallels the Shanty Creek golf course. The snow was thin and slushy, and the sun was absolutely brilliant. It took at least 15 more minutes of very difficult skiing to reach the final climb to the finish line, where all finishers received their medals and a well deserved feast of Fudge Stripe cookies and cold drinks. There was no need to hurry into warm clothing, as the bright sun warmed the area to 50 degrees.
The 2005 White Pine Stampede was the warmest I remember experiencing. We’ve also suffered in 17 below zero weather. The warm weather is comfortable for standing around, but miserable for racing. Next year, I’m hoping for 20 degrees and TONS of snow.