It’s the 37th Annual North American VASA Ski Races the weekend of Feb. 9-10 and, whether you’re a semi-pro skier or just a curious local, The Ticker has the all the details you need.
First the basics: pros and recreational skiers alike will partake in 50K, 27K, 12K and 6K freestyle and classic cross-country events on the Vasa Pathway. The lineup also includes the Hagerty Gran Travers 16K and 16K Classic. Every event begins and ends at Timber Ridge RV and Recreation Resort in Traverse City. Between 500-600 skiers are expected on Saturday and 200 on Sunday.
We caught Race Director Lisa Taylor off the trails long enough to get the scoop:
Sun or Snow: The North American VASA has a contingency plan that involves changing the route to hit the best of the available trails, shortening the race distances, or canceling.
“Last year, we set deadlines for making decisions, and communicated this to all registered and potential skiers through email,” Taylor says. “We announced we would make a final decision by the Wednesday evening before. Fortunately, we had a good snow and then planned to use a shortened route.”
The race was canceled only once in the past ten years because the conditions were too icy and dangerous.
Cowbells & Soup: Spectators line the finish at Timber Ridge with cowbells in hand (only a few will admit they missed a friend cross the finish line because of the warm burning fires and food). Chef Michael Bauer of Traverse City St. Francis will prepare the soup. And what’s soup without bread? Stone House Bread will donate their artisan bread for the event.
Kid Gloves: Kiddos absolutely welcome; there are Junior VASA races for children (5 & under, up to age 15) with distances of 1K, 3K and 6K.
“Watching the Junior VASA is like watching the pied piper,” Taylor smiles. “Volunteer and skier John Briggs will lead the races with a small crew whose only mission is to show the kids how much fun it is to ski. All kids get medals, and adults cheer them on. It’s fun to watch when you realize most have never been on skis in their short little lives!”
Follow Me: Love a good race but don’t want to break a sweat? Volunteers nearly match the number of skiers at the VASA, so join the fun without any of the training. Longtime volunteer coordinator Linda Deneen is the volunteer coordinator and is ready to take all comers.
Prep & Landing: The groomers are the folks at Tart Trails Inc., a crew of guys headed up by Jim Dombrowski.
“The team of groomers has already been out 17 times this winter, tending to the trails,” Taylor adds. Before the races, they make final passes of the trails starting at 4am; “forerunners” are then sent out on every inch of the course to do the final prep of the classic tracks. “They divide and conquer,” Taylor notes.
Old Timers: In the beginning, founding fathers Vojin Baic and Ted Okerstrom wanted to create a ski race for their friends and family who skied. Both have strong European roots (Sweden and Yugoslavia) and loved skiing and wanted their children to know it and love it.
“This year there is the possibility of having the founding members out to start the races and greet finishers,” Taylor says. “Vojin and Ted are in their eighties. As a race director of an event that has been around for so long, it is with great respect that I honor the folks who had such great vision to start something like this.”
For more on the VASA, visit www.vasa.org.