BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — A year ago, Pete LaPlaca was worried about a lack of snow.
That's not the case today as LaPlaca, president of the Vasa Board of Directors, prepares for the 37th annual event this weekend at Timber Ridge Resort.
"No ulcers for me this year," he said, laughing.
"Right now the conditions are as good as we've had in five years. We're golden. With the base we have, we'll be skiing into March."
The only concern, LaPlaca said, is that conditions are so good there's the possibility recreational skiers might go out on the course, unaware of the race.
"We've had calls during the week, people wanting to come up here because they've heard the skiing is great," LaPlaca said. "We're scared to death that citizen skiers will be on the Vasa trails while the races are going on. We have posted signs at the trailhead off Bunker Hill as well as on the Headwaters that it will be very dangerous on Saturday before 2 p.m. and Sunday before 10:30 am. "
LaPlaca said some callers have been directed to Shanty Creek and Crystal Mountain, which have their own cross country ski trail systems.
"My biggest concern is on the Headwaters trail," LaPlaca said. "It's raised, it's narrow and it's fast right now. The skiers are going to be moving at high rates of speed. Legally, we don't own the trail so we can't tell anybody to stay off. However, we don't want anyone to get hurt, whether it's a citizen or a racer."
LaPlaca said the groomed Meadows Trail will not be used for any of the races and is available for citizen skiers, including those who like to ski with their dogs.
Williamsburg's Eli Brown will defend his title in the men's 50K. Brown was second in the Noquemanon 50K classic two weeks ago and 15th in the Boulder Mountain Tour 30K last weekend in Idaho.
"That's (Boulder Mountain Tour) the second biggest race in the country," Brown said. "The 30K race loses a 1,000 feet of elevation so it's a pretty high-speed race.
"There was a good group of fast, young guys there," the 40-year-old added. "I tried to keep up with them. There was a pack of 14 in front of me the last half of the race. I couldn't catch them. We were going so fast we averaged 18 miles-per-hour. It was almost like a bike race."
Brown held off Houghton's Michael Brothers and Minnesota's Matt Zak to win the Vasa a year ago.
"We'll see who shows up," Brown said. "I'm sure it will be competitive as usual."
Lake Ann's Amy Powell, who won the women's 50 last February, will be in the 27K.
She was third in the Noquemanon 50K freestyle and then won last Saturday's White Pine 40K.
"I'm a little bummed," Powell said. "I love the 50. I especially love it when Riley's Loop is open. But I'm going to Italy (next week) for the worlds (masters championships) and people are telling me not to do a 50 before I get on a plane while trying to recover for a week of racing."
Powell will ski 10, 15 and 30K freestyle races in Italy and she hopes to qualify for a U.S. relay team.
Powell said she was "pretty tired" after skiing 50K and 40K races on consecutive weekends.
"They were both soft conditions," she said. "I went to ski this past Tuesday — I coach in the middle school program — and, oh my gosh, I was so tired I could barely keep up with the kids."
Although temperatures are expected to dip into the low single digits tonight, the forecast calls for a high of 30 on Saturday.
The first race, the 50K classic, starts at 8 a.m.