Arriving in Marquette on Friday in 50+ degree temps & bright sunshine in January was certainly a bizarre surprise, even to the weathermen who called for 46 degrees. With Amy & I both racing classic in the Noquemanon, we needed to find out how we were going to get kick, and fast! We made a quick stop off to stride a bit at the Blueberry trails to find that we got decent kick on TOKO yellow hardwax, which was a bit of a surprise. The cost of that was a huge leaf collection in a short time, as it was blowing 20 to 30 & blowing tons of debris into the tracks. So, with that, we went to the Superior Dome to gather some intel from those in the know.
The consensus of everyone we spoke with, who were all locals, was that they all disagreed. One was sure it was “hardwax all the way, been testing all week in these conditions, it’s not supposed to freeze hard tonight” another “crowns, it’s going to ice” another “klister binder covered with hardwax” another “Rex PowerGrip, the hardwax for icy tracks” and the best one “it’s too early to tell. Be ready to try everything tomorrow.” So, the intel gathering mission was a bit of a bust, and we had to get out of there before our heads spun off.
We went back to AuTrain, to our wonderful hostess’s home (Nancy Ford-Cihak, Thank You Nancy!), to try to RELAX, clear our heads, and THINK about the situation. I cleaned all the leaves off the skis, which lead to a full scale re-waxing process which FAR outlasted the short ski we did at Blueberry, and Amy & I discussed that we would commit to Klister binder for her one pair of skis, as the risk was little as her skis have a great klister pocket, and you can cover the klister with hardwax in the worst case. I prepped one pair with hardwax binder and one pair with klister binder, so I was covered.
Just then, the rest of the crew arrived, and turned the panic level up to “Maximum,” declaring all previous weather data obsolete and proceeding to rewax their entire bags of skis. Bags and bags of skis. So, by about 10 pm, we had just about anything ever invented for a wax pocket, installed and ready to race.
On the road about 6:45am, making great time to Ishpeming, to find the most amazing boilerplate conditions you have ever seen. Rockwell hardness. As hard as the Black Mountain 30k Classic 2004, except this is the Noquemanon, which has even more wicked descents by comparison. A snowcat was grooming till the very last minute and you could not tell the cat had just tried to hydraulically till the boilerplate - it was an impervious surface. The icy abrasive tracks LAUGHED off my violet hardwax.
Amy informed me that our snow thermometer was reading -10C, which we translated to English & Fahrenheit using a cold can of hardwax, and it turns out to be 14 F! Wow! Call it a hard freeze then. Let’s look at klister shall we.
I chanced into Michael Myers, a classic soldier of fortune with Rossignol / Toko, who told me what he did; Toko Multiviola klister, then Multiviola plus Toko Orange klister 1:1 on the second layer. I did that, and had but a moment to check it (it hooked up but felt a tad draggy at first). I went with it, was graciously given a wonderful starting place by my fellow racers, and had about 75 seconds to spare (CLOSE ONE).
The boilerplate was absolutely shocking in the first K’s of the race. The way the skis rattled in the tracks made so much noise you couldn’t hear anything else. The wicked downhills were also impervious to an edge if you wanted to slow down from 40 mph (?) to avoid the fallen skiers in front of you. Iit was impossible to slow down at all, so there were loads of broken poles. The race organizers were awesome in providing Swix loaner poles, and I saw MANY of them in use.
Dropping down onto Deer Lake or Teal Lake in the first K’s at full speed was thrilling, shooting across the lake double poling faster than ever, very fun. Imagine the thrill of neck snapping speeds as you shoot onto the Dead River for the 5k river section, to see a MUST MAKE turn, or end up in open water! We were told it was black ice which only looked like open water, but it was a distracting illusion! The Dead River was 5k of absolutely hard frozen slush, despite being groomed every day in the past week, re-routed each time as water seeped through the snow to turn it into ice (THAT’s not a yellow flag in the least, is it).
It was amazing that anybody had any kick wax left after that, but the mountain-like climbing section of Granite Point required good kick, and then the surface mysteriously turned into wonderful snow right through about 8k to go. It was great snow, great kicking snow, and so much better than the boilerplate, which while thrilling, was not that easy to kick up. That would be around 20k of great skiing snow followed by the second section of boilerplate !
Frozen Forest Floor
Amy described the final 5k as “frozen forest floor.” It would be an exaggeration to simply call the last few K’s brown snow, and leave it at that. The course workers did an amazing job with what they had, as you skied the brown ribbon thru the woods completely devoid of snow, from almost 10k out from the finish, and this included a railroad crossing which had an exposed RAIL ! What could they do, they were really fighting nature. Everyone was glad that they held the race at all given the state of conditions.
It was great to see the most-ever Michigan Cup skiers up in Marquette, and so many of them earned bells! I’d like to give a shout out to first time 50k classic marathoners (I believe these are first timers, and there may be some I missed): Joann Cavaletto, Julie Houle (5th overall!), Bill Ganser, Susan Brian.
We only remember the adventures in life, and this was a memorable one. Oh – did the klister work? Mike Myers said his skis felt a little draggy too, AND he seemed to lose kick as things went on. My draggy feel was perhaps fixed on the River section. I seemed to fall back on the climbs and bridge up in the downhills and double pole sections. My skis had about 80 % of the klister at the finish, maybe less. I saw some skis with nothing on them at the finish, and some which looked unused. Amy covered a layer of multi plus orange with yellow hardwax, had icing, tried to cover it in Blue, smeared it all in, gave up on it, raced, and found the skis improving as the K’s rolled on, and she got a 2nd in age in her race, the 25k classic. See you there next year - stride it!
Photo from Marquette Mining Journal