Get out your cowbells, your lycra and your Nordic winter spirit—and maybe pack a chisel to chip away at that frozen snot waterfall you know is going to happen. It's almost time for the 37th annual North American VASA. Scroll down to the list of VASA-inspired events this month and you'll find that you don't have to wait until February 9 to get involved. Pre-VASA fun starts as early as tonight!
But first, we check in with VASA Race Director Lisa Taylor to find out what's to love about this Northern Michigan Winter tradition:
What is your favorite part of the North American VASA?
Seeing the community involvement that goes into it. The world of aerobic—biking, running, etc.—events has expanded exponentially recently. But the VASA has really held its own. It's an all-volunteer organization. No one gets paid. Yet, our volunteer-to-skier ratio is 1 to 2.5!
Apparently grilled bananas help fuel that volunteer spirit. Care to explain?
Through the years, many of the aid stations prepare fun food for their volunteers, then share it with skiers, in particular the back of the pack, less competitive skiers. Grilled bananas are offered every year by the “Rock” aid station from Roberto Corona and his crew. Blueberry soup was a secret special at the finish line one year, and ALL aid stations grill bratwurst for volunteers. The more social skiers have not been shy to ask for a bite of their own.
Northern Michigan winters have become so fickle. Do you lose sleep over snow conditions?
Luckily for me as race director our board members are the biggest ski fans in the world and they LOVE talking about the snow conditions. Speculating on them, the excitement of making plan B. So I totally defer decisions on contingency to them.
Anything special happening for this 37th VASA?
The continual improvement of the trail system is a highlight to look forward to, and the Timber Ridge venue is really a vibrant and lively place to be. It is now in its eighth year of being at Timber Ridge.
What if I'm just a lowly Weekend Warrior-type skier. Is there a place for me in this race?
Like many races nationwide, the Vasa race has evolved to recognize the less “die-hard” skier. In a mission to recruit more skiers, shorter races like the 6K and 12K have been added to the event. And today’s quality, high–tech grooming equipment has made the ski trails very safe, in that icy spots can be “ground up” (softened) then smoothed out. A 6K at about 3.7 miles and double that for the 12K (7.4) would have most folks, even less experienced, out for about an hour. All skiers will be greeted with hot soup at the finish.
I seem to remember that hotshot, elite skiers used to come from all over the country and the world for this race. But I haven't heard about that lately. What's up with that?
[The reason is that] there are no more “factory” teams in the world of Nordic skiing, for example, a “Fischer” team or a “Swix” team. These factory teams used to fly sponsored skiers to races far and wide. Many of the top skiers are out West and can’t afford the travel. Also, many ski races were overseen by technical councils, like the United States Ski Association, and had a list of requirements for races dubbed as part of the Great American Ski Chase. This Great American Ski Chase is now called the American Ski Marathon Series, after organizers realized it was important to not just focus on the elite skier. The new series, which chose VASA last year as the National Championships for Masters, wanted to recognize the value of getting MORE skiers, not just FAST skiers.
If I am just a fan, where is a good place to watch from? Any special tips for getting the most out of the event?
The start and finish, both at Timber Ridge which keeps several big bonfires burning, are the best locations to watch. Music is playing all morning long, and the color commentary is provided by Tim Brick of Brick Wheels. Some folks head out to the roads to some key spots, but this is the exception. The veteran fans dress warm, bring a thermos of hot chocolate, and of course bring their cowbells to cheer on the skiers. Also watch for the race at the front, when it often comes down to a final sprint to the finish.
Here's your VASA calendar:
January – Start Training at Timber Ridge
The home of the North American VASA, Timber Ridge Resort, is in full winter mode and cross country skiers and snowshoers are the beneficiaries of their hard work. Owners, Kristin Levesque and Gordon Waggoner, report that business has been brisk since the first snowfall. Gordon has purchased a brand new Kuboda tractor and grooming equipment to improve grooming on their myriad of trails. Once again they are offering night skiing on their lighted trail loops. For 2013, a single day trail pass is only $10. An individual annual pass is $99 and a family pass is $119.
For the second year, BRICK WHEELS is operating out of the Timber Ridge main lodge with daily ski and boot rentals as well as equipment repair and waxing. They also rent SnoBikes which are used on separate specially designed trails.
January 8 – VASA Ski Club Junior Program Begins
The VASA Ski Club Junior Program invites 6th, 7th and 8th graders from all schools and home schools to join in a fun-filled winter of cross country skiing. Instructors will teach both skating and classic techniques. The main goal is to have fun while gaining skills in an excellent life-long sport. Sessions will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-5:30 pm at Timber Ridge and will run from Jan. 8th to Feb. 28th. One-way bus service is available from West Middle, East Middle and SEAS to Timber Ridge. The cost for the season is $75 which includes a season trail pass at Timber Ridge and a season ending pizza party. You can rent equipment for $40 for the entire season or store your equipment at Timber Ridge at no charge. Registration forms are available at vasaskiclub.com. For more information call John Pflughoeft at 231.946.2588.
January 10 Vasa Early Registration
Don't miss the price break on early registration. Find out more at VASA.org.
January 10 We Ski Program Begins
Our hugely popular family We-Ski Program is entering its fourth year. It has been sold out each year and is limited to 90 participants. There are still openings for the 2013 sessions. As always, the program will be conducted on three consecutive Thursdays in January starting on January 10th. Applications can be printed off the VASA website and new participants will be given priority. The program is a joint effort between the North American VASA, the VASA Ski Club and Timber Ridge.
Our goal is to either introduce new people to cross country skiing or help you elevate your skiing capabilities. We have nearly 20 trained instructors who will be conducting classes in both classical and freestyle techniques. Costs for the program are very modest at $35/family or $20/individual. This fee covers the entire program and includes a hot light meal after each class. You can also register in person at Timber Ridge Resort at Hammond Road and 6 Mile.
January 12 Winter Trails Day
The fourth annual Winter Trails Day will be held at Timber Ridge from 11am to 2pm next Saturday Jan. 12th. TART Trails, the VASA Ski Club, Brick Wheels and Timber Ridge resort are teaming up to offer free use of the trails, introductory ski lessons, guided snowshoe hikes and use of equipment rentals. Anyone interested should visit TraverseTrails.org for additional details and online registration. Brick Wheels is providing free use of classic cross country skis and snowshoes on a first-come basis. Skate skis will be available for rent at a discounted rate. VASA Ski Club members will instruct beginner ski lessons starting at 11:30 am and snowshoe hikes will be led by outdoor enthusiasts.
January 20 Volunteer Dinner, St. Francis High School
The North American VASA could not have survived a year without the dedicated efforts of more than 300 volunteers. As we prepare for the 37th annual Festival of Races, we have a very strong crew of veteran volunteers at all locations. Even so, organizerS could use a few more interested folks for either indoor or outdoor activity. Please contact Linda Deneen at [email protected] if you can spare a few hours the week of Feb. 3rd. If you like to ski, we could use one or two more forerunners for early morning skiing to set the groomed trails. Contact Bud Huber at [email protected] if you would like to join an enthusiastic group of skiers on Feb. 9th or 10th. The annual volunteer informational meeting/dinner will be at the St. Francis High School gymnasium on Sunday January 20th starting at 5:30 pm.
February 8 Pasta Dinner
The VASA pasta dinner will be served at Timber Ridge from 5:00 – 8:00 pm on Friday as a benefit for local youth ski programs. Fresh pasta, a choice of sauces, bread, salad and beverages will be included for a reasonable "all-you-can-eat-carbo-load" price. Meal prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. It will easily be the best deal in town!
February 9 37th Annual North American VASA, Timber Ridge Resort
6K, 12K, 27K, 50K freestlye and classic
February 10, Hagerty Insurance Gran Traverse, Timber Ridge Resort
6K, 16K Classic