OK, just so everybody knows, none of these guys is me....
By MIKE NORTON
Man, what a perfect skiing weekend we just had. Every weekend I think it can't possible get better (except for that slushy rainy New Year's weekend) but then the combination of snow, temperature and atmosphere just gets better. For the first time in a while, I left the snowshoes behind and got out on the cross-country trails by the Old Mission Lighthouse with my skinny-skis.
I meant to go out for an hour, but I ended up taking two, listening to a little Bruckner (the fourth and fifth symphonies) on the old IPod. There'd been almost no wind, so the pines and spruces and hemlocks were all dusted with fresh snow, and there was enough new stuff on the trail to give me a decent amount of traction. The experience got me thinking about how you can forget about something you really enjoy if you neglect it for too long.
Which brings me to the subject of the North American Vasa, one of Traverse City's great winter events - a massive cross-country ski race that's been going on for the past 35 years, bringing hundred of skiers to the Traverse City area in mid-February. (This year's Vasa Festival of Races will be held Feb. 11-13.) In recent years, a lot of new events have been added the area's February lineup - the Cherry Capital Winter Wow!Fest, the Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival, the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival all come to mind - but the Vasa is still the king.
More than most events, I think the Vasa plays to who and what we are as a community. Not just because it's out in the snow, but because the people who organize the race have really worked hard to make it an event that every skier can enjoy - not just the hard-core competitive skier. Even though it's been chosen to host the 2012 American Cross Country Marathon National Masters - a major coup in the ski racing world - most of the folks who compete each year are not professional racers.
The main Saturday race, which features 12K, 27K and 50K loops, in either freestyle or classic styles, is one of 14 U.S. events listed in the prestigious American Ski Marathon Series, where most of the nation's elite and professional ski racers compete. Sunday's 16K traditional-style race, the Gran Travers Classic, is an equally prestigious event for old-school Nordic skiers, and one of the events in the Michigan Cup classic race series. But over the past decade, race organizers have added a wide range of other events for skiers of all shapes, ages and skill levels: 1K sprints for preschoolers, 3K freestyle and classic events for older youths, and even noncompetitive tours for those who prefer to enjoy winter's natural beauty at a more leisurely pace.
And after all, there's a lot of beauty to appreciate. The Vasa is held on a beautifully crafted trail that winds through the dense pines and hardwoods of Michigan's Pere Marquette State Forest, just east of Traverse City. Since 2005, the start and finish lines have been at the Timber Ridge RV and Recreation Resort, whose trails connect to the main Vasa system. Hundreds of spectators come to watch the race and enjoy the festivities that surround it. Over the past three decades, the Vasa has become a treasured part of winter life in Traverse City.
Want to find out more about the Vasa? Here's their web link http://www.vasa.org/ and here's their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/North-American-Vasa/135050486535054
The Vasa may be Traverse City's best-known winter event, but it is by no means the only one. The dense forests, towering hills and stunning shoreline views that make this a favorite summer resort area also lure thousands of visitors here each winter for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other cold-weather sports. On Feb. 5, for instance, yet another major Nordic ski race is held a few miles to the north in the village of Mancelona, near the Shanty Creek Resort & Club, known as the White Pine Stampede, it, too, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. To learn more about them, go to http://whitepinestampede.org/