TRAVERSE CITY — Veteran marathon skier Bill Greene called Vasa trail conditions “almost perfect” Thursday, two days before the 38th annual two-day Vasa Festival of Races at Timber Ridge Resort.
“The track is stomped down,” he said. “It’s like concrete. It’s fast.
“The deer have been running on top of the track and even with their hard hooves they’re not breaking through the crust. I’ve never seen that. Usually, we’ll see indentations two to three inches deep. But it’s so solid the deer are staying on top of it.”
That’s quite a change from past years when officials wondered if there would be enough snow on race day.
“These are the best ski conditions we’ve had in at least a decade,” Pete LaPlaca, Vasa president, said.
“The course is bulletproof. We were just walking on it (Thursday), making sure the aide stations were OK, and you couldn’t even see our footprints. It’s real fast. Everybody is going nuts over how good the conditions are.”
About 750 to 800 skiers are expected to compete in classic and freestyle races this weekend. In addition, a fat bike race will make its Vasa debut Saturday afternoon.
Temperatures are expected to be in the teens Saturday morning.
“The forecast looks good for the next two to three days,” LaPlaca said. “I heard we could get up to two inches of snow, but we don’t need it. It (trail) can’t get any better. They’re grooming every morning and they’ll be grooming through the night (tonight).”
The 50K classic skiers will be the first on the course, taking off at 8 a.m., with 17 waves to follow throughout the day. The 50K skiers will do two laps since Riley’s Loop will not be in use.
“Because of all the snow we’ve had, it’s been a hassle trying to keep Riley’s Loop open,” LaPlaca said. “The drifting has been driving us crazy.
“We’ve (Vasa) had equipment problems — and even TART has had its groomers break down because they’ve had to run them every day. They’re used to grooming every two or three days, but this year it’s been every day. It’s taken a toll on the equipment.”
The 25K loop that will be in play Saturday is ready to go, though.
“We were just out at Jack Pine, at one of aide stations, and there’s 30 to 36 inches of base,” LaPlaca said. “Our volunteers were going to be down at ground level handing the water up to the skiers going by, so we built a ledge for them to stand on.”
The bike race will be the last wave of the day.
LaPlaca said there are a “lot of irate skiers” who are upset over sharing the groomed trail with the fat bikes. Some decided not to buy grooming badges this winter.
“We’re doing the best we possibly can,” LaPlaca said. “We’re doing it (fat bike race) on a one-year trial basis and we’ll see how it works. Ninety-nine percent of the skiers will be off the trails. We designed it so there should be no skier-biker contact.”
Michele Howard, who is working on the fat bike race, said 63 riders were entered as of Thursday. Registration is still open until an hour before race time Saturday.
The fields in the 25K event will be highly competitive, Howard said. The men’s race features Grayling’s Jorden Wakeley, Grand Rapids’ Matt Acker and Traverse City’s Sean Kickbush and Jason Lowetz — the top four finishers in the Noquemanon 50K race in Marquette two weeks ago.
“There was only about a two-minute difference between Jorden and Matt,” Howard said. “This is half the distance. It could prove to be a great race.”
The women’s field includes Grand Rapids’ Danielle Musto and Traverse City’s Arianna Whittaker. They were second and third at Marquette.
Wakeley and Musto won fat bike races at Crystal Mountain last month.
Wakeley has been coming over to ride the Vasa once a week for the last month.
“It’s good. It’s fast,” he said of the trail. “I’m excited. It’s such a short race anything can happen.”
Wind chills were at minus 30 in Marquette two weeks ago, Wakeley said, but it will be much different Saturday.
“I checked the weather report and it’s going to be perfect — 20 degrees and sunny,” Howard said.