TRAVERSE CITY — Temperatures are expected to be in the low teens Saturday morning for the White Pine Stampede.
That will feel “balmy” for Eli Brown and Alex Vanias.
Brown and Vanias were among several local skiers who survived grueling conditions last Saturday in the Noquemanon Ski Marathon in Marquette.
Brown, who resides in Williamsburg, finished third overall in the signature 50K classic in 3 hours,14 minutes, 54 seconds. Vanias, a 23-year-old from Leroy, placed 16th in 3:32:20.
“What an epic day,” Brown said. “It was freezing cold. We had whiteout blizzard conditions. At the end, the general feeling (among skiers) was, ‘I made it and I’m alive.’ It was a memorable day for everyone.”
Brown and Vanias will be among the headliners in the White Pine 50K. Brown is the two-time defending Vasa 50K champion. Vanias is the defending White Pine 40K winner. Vanias plans to race the 50K freestyle Saturday. Brown is debating between the 50K freestyle and classic.
“It will depend on how I feel Saturday,” he said.
Brown is still feeling the after effects from the frosty Noquemanon — zero degrees with 15-to-25 mile-per-winds that created swirling snow and zero visibility at times.
“When it’s that cold the snow turns to sandpaper,” Brown said. “It’s just a lot of work. The winner’s time was probably the slowest ever.”
What made it more difficult for Vanias was his wax.
“It was only the second classic race that I’ve done,” Vanias said. “I don’t have the waxing technique down. My skis were super slow.”
It didn’t help that the falling snow was working against him, too.
“The tracks would fill up in less than a minute,” he said. “If you weren’t with somebody, you were probably breaking a new trail.”
Brown said he was surprised to see Vanias in the classic race instead of the freestyle.
“He’s a really strong skater,” Brown said. “It was neat to see him do that, but I heard he had a long day out there. We all had a long day.”
Vanias said his reason for picking the classic race was simple.
“That’s the big one there,” he said. “That’s where all the competition is.”
Wisconsin’s Karl Nygren won the 50K classic is 3:08.57. Nygren and Alaska’s Brent Knight set the pace.
“It was like, “Go ahead,’” Brown said. “I knew I couldn’t keep that pace for 5K let alone 50K.”
Brown settled back into a pack with about 20 other skiers. It stayed that way until the final 5K
“The two guys in the lead had about eight minutes on us,” Brown said. “Then one (Knight) encountered some trouble. He blew up. I made up eight minutes on him in the last 4K.”
Wisconsin’s Chris Pappathopoulos moved into second, just under six minutes behind Nygren. Brown then edged Knight by five seconds for third. Knight collapsed at the finish.
“I thought I was racing for fourth and I took third,” the 41-year-old Brown said. “ To be up there with those young bucks was pretty enjoyable.”
Now Brown and Vanias have their sights set on the White Pine. Vanias finished nearly five minutes ahead of Williamsburg’s Milan Baic last year.
“Last year I took the lead right away and nobody challenged me,” Vanias said. “I went at my own pace, which is what I prefer to do. I had good skis last year.”
Baic is competing in the world masters championships in Europe and is not entered.
Vanias won the Cote Dame Marie Ski Loppet 26.4K race at Garyling’s Hanson Hills two weeks ago in 1:16.03.
Brown is just getting back into racing after spending part of December in Switzerland and Italy with the U.S. ski team.
“I’m testing skis, testing waxes for the team,” he said “I’ll take any opportunity I can to hang out with those guys. They have amazing energy. It’s really special to be around them, especially this time of year with the Olympics coming up.”
Brown will rejoin the team in March for the final races of the season, which are scheduled for Sweden.
In the meantime, Brown’s focus is on the White Pine, Vasa and the Birkebeiner in Wisconsin.
The White Pine will feature races of 10K, 20K and 50K. All will start at Mancelona High School. The 10K will end at Schuss Village while the 20K and 50K will finish at the Summit at Shanty Creek. All three distances will have freestyle and classic divisions.
The White Pine is a Michigan Cup race. For more information call race headquarters at 587-8351